I saw this posted on facebook, from an Australian news site, that had a bunch of pictures of 9/11 and posited it as the most terrible moment of our age.
I remember 9/11, and how it felt to hear the morning rock DJs in Vancouver on my clock radio, talking about this event that was clearly outside of their usual, as I woke up, and trying to understand what they were talking about, then going to the computer briefly, and then the TV. I *think* I saw the second plane hit, live? but I’m not sure. Everything was replayed continuously and I at this point can’t recall how early I woke up. I know I saw the towers come down. I was late for work and then basically spent my day going from news site to news site, trying to find out more information.
It was shocking, it was horrific, and I guess we all wondered if it was the first of a series of attacks on North America. What’s going to happen next? The first place I lived when my mum and I moved to the US in the 1970s was Mount Vernon, 26 minutes by train from the City, and even though I hadn’t been back since I think 1986, visiting with a friend from Queens, I felt a connection to NYC as I imagine most people who have spent time there do. So even though I didn’t have any friends living or working downtown at that time, it still felt personal. The volume of images and commentary, and the fact the US media is largely based in NYC meant that we had access to so much more than would have been the case if it had happened in, say, Saskatoon, but really that’s the whole point, isn’t it.
I am the cynic who commented at the start of the first Gulf War that they timed it so Peter Jennings could announce it to the country on the ABC evening news, 6:30 pm Eastern. We used to watch while we ate dinner; we were living in Philadelphia at the time. I also somewhat by memory and mostly by reading all the spy novels I could get my hands on, was pretty aware of the terrorism–bombings and kidnappings, mostly–that were common in Europe and the UK during the 60s and 70s. North America had been inexplicably spared much of this, or at least what there was was on a relatively small scale, and scattered around. Patty Hearst, that truck bomb under the WTC, the Oklahoma City bombing. I read a lot of Tom Clancy, too, and I imagine I was not the only one who would have had second thoughts at that point about going to a stadium for a big sporting event.
9/11 was awful enough to get me to set foot in a church, for a mass, despite my absolute contempt for the Catholic Church and their policies in the face of AIDS. I left the back of the full-to-bursting church before the priest finished his sermon, as he decided it was appropriate to condemn abortion in the middle of it.
It was definitely a before and after moment, and there have been tangible changes to all of our lives as a result.
In a way, though, I think the most terrible moment of our age was the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. The invasion of Afghanistan was relatively straightforward, there was a clear connection to the attacks, and there was an enemy we could name. But Iraq…I was living in Canada, and we were just aghast at the whole idea. Peace demonstrations in the US were being shut down with rubber bullets, tear gas, wooden projectiles. There were demonstrations all over the world, including in Canada, and literally hundreds of thousands of people bothered to march in protest. I don’t think the US news carried much of this. They were busy showing Colin Powell lying to the UN, George Bush lying to the US, Tony Blair lying to the British.
That misbegotten, profit-driven, shit-show has led to unknowable numbers of dead and injured, and a slowly spreading pool of coups, destruction, and terror that has directly affected whole regions, as well as creating literally millions of refugees trying to escape American bombs dropped by Americans and by our doughty allies, and by those pesky Russians, on top of the home-grown religious terrorists whose bountiful arms are largely courtesy of shortsighted US policy and action, and whose funding is courtesy of Putin. Refugees that many Americans want as little part of as possible, which is really just doubly chilling.
9/11 was the pivot point. The moment the terrorists returned the serve in a game going back decades but which to that point had been contested almost exclusively “over there.” But when you have whole cities in Syria destroyed, whole cities in Iraq destroyed, whole cities in Afghanistan destroyed, thousands tortured, imprisoned and killed over the past 15 years, hundreds of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach a safe haven, hundreds of thousands of refugees in appalling camps in Jordan and elsewhere, we are really spoiled for choice for “most terrible moment” of the 21st century.