So, it’s the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Centre atrocity. I can’t quite believe it.
It seems it was only a few years ago I was sitting in my office, having had a particularly stressful morning dealing with cretins from a (sadly unnameable!) firm of so-called ‘professional consultants’, when the call came in.
My mother had seen the report on TV, and rang me to tell me that ‘A small aircraft had crashed into one of the Twin Towers!’. That was, at the time, the assumption; the newsreaders were speculating that the pilot had been dazzled by the brilliant sunshine, and the mental image that came to mind was of a small private jet, a Cessna or Lear, off-course. An accident.
While she was still on the phone, another report came in, and she relayed to me that they were replaying the film of it…
Of course, it wasn’t a replay. It was the second plane.
And immediately, we both grasped that this was no accident, even while the newsreaders were scrambling to catch up with what had happened. Work stopped as calls were made, the office internet went down (it was Before Twitter and Before Smartphones), and it was a time I hope never to see repeated.
Even 7/7 didn’t have that frantic, almost dreamlike quality – it was awful, yes, but it was bombing. Londoners, having lived and worked through the IRA, knew bombing, even if suicide bombing was unknown. But maniacs flying passenger jets into buildings? No, that was unheard of. That was different. That told us the world had changed...
As I walked home that evening, I saw a cluster of people around the local TV showroom (now demolished) watching the replay of the towers falling in total silence. Another sign that the world had changed.
And a couple of years later, I was watching 'The West Wing', episiode three 'A Proportional Response'. In it, the new President's staff doctor is killed in a terrorist attack and his reaction is to angrily deny that a 'proportional response' (blowing up a few non-occupied targets) is the correct way forward.
He cites ancient history:
President Bartlet: "Did you know that two thousand years ago a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation? He could walk across the Earth unharmed, cloaked only in the protection of the words civus Romanus -- I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome, universally understood as certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens."
Of course, this being a drama series about liberal wish-fulfilment he's quickly confronted with enormous casualty figures and the likely consequences of such action, and quickly backs down (It's noticable that a sign of the awfulness of his dilemma is when he begs a cigarette from one of the Joint Chiefs - would that scene be allowed today?).
But I come back to that scene again and again. How many British and American lives have been lost not in the initial actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the rebuilding afterward? The media loves heartwrenching pictures of children playing football and accepting sweet from soldiers, yet the reality is often quite different.
And we see that - despite the pundits assuring us that the 'moderate Muslims' do not endorse the actions of the extremists - they clearly either have no control over them, or no desire for control over them.
And I wonder again if that initial impulse for a non-proportional response, so decried in the modern world where we like to think ourselves 'better than them', isn't right after all. How are we better than them, if we needlessly spill our own blood in futile attempts to win over people who cannot be won over? Who do not want our freedom?
If 'bridge-building' and 'hearts and minds' and all the other concessions haven't brought about a halt to the actions of the few extremists, perhaps it's time to see if abject, pants-wetting fear of the dreadful consequences of NOT checking them will do the trick with the general population...