On the morning of September 12th 2001 I walked into my early morning drama lesson. I was one of five students taking the Drama A/S that year, me and four girls. We didn’t get on, partly through my own usual ability to screw up in social scenarios. I was also a couple of years older- they had gone straight from GCSEs to doing the A/S levels, whereas I had spent two years studying business before deciding to do a quick change and study drama. The previous day we had been working on a Greek Tragedy, the specific one I forget, but it is irrelevant. The plan was to continue on from the previous day and stage a scene set after a battle with dead bodies laying in the streets. Considering the previous days events we didn’t quite feel up to enacting this scene. Later that day, my second A/S module- history- started with a similar level of melancholy and feelings of being unsure exactly what to teach. The teacher started with one single comment- that within a few years she would be teaching the previous days events as part of her history class. Because what we saw on Tuesday September 11th 2001 was history. Living history, with so much death.
We’re approaching the 12th anniversary of that event, and whoever said time goes by so slowly has never really experienced the passage of time. Twelve years has flown by, it’s been very eventful for me in both good and bad ways. But such is life. And I have my life to experience that. The 3000 that died that day no longer have that opportunity to screw up. Nor do the hundreds of thousands that have died since as a result of intervention and the War on terror which kicked off with 9/11. No one could believe the sheer scale of the violence. Conspiracy theories abound because people can’t understand the pure mindlessness, randomness and unpredictability of the violence that day.
I’m currently back at Uni, and I wonder how much my classmates remember of that day. Many would have been 8 years old, some maybe 7, and I wonder how well they remember it. I wonder how well I remember it. How much of it has been filled in with news stories and action replays. How much did I really experience from the Television that day? I got home just before 3pm and tuned in to catch the events as they unfolded. By this time less than an hour had gone by since the first plane hit. Did I see the second hit or did I see that in news reports later? Did I see the towers fall live or did I merely catch the highlights on the evening news? Does it matter? Not really. The specifics of the day in my memory don’t really matter if I saw them live or a few hours delayed. But what does matter is my thought process, sitting there watching and thinking that as I got out of bed that morning to go to Sixth Form, 3000 people were alive, well and preparing for a day at the office, or visiting a world famous location. A dozen more were double checking their plans of chaos, waiting and ready to board a number of planes that would act as dragons of terror, crashing their metal monsters- for that’s what those flights became- into mangled human frames taking their final, shocked and horrified breaths.
This years crop of newly turned teenagers were only about a year old when this happened, they are going to school and learning about these events as history. As something that they didn’t experience or witness. And those starting in Year Seven were not even conceived. They will go into class and learn about an event before their time. Something that they can only look upon as I look upon the Holocaust- something that happened in another era. And that feels strange. It feels almost wrong that there are maturing people who have no understanding of what happened that day, no way to understand the feelings of dread and confusion as I sat with my classmates trying to decide on something, anything to do other than act as corpses in a Greek tragedy.
There are only a handful of events that will be remembered as profound, world impacting, in my life time- that I recall. I remember, very blurredly, the fall of the Berlin wall. I remember Thatcher leaving office. I remember my disappointment at my morning cartoons being replaced with round the clock news of Diana’s death, and I recall exactly how and where my Nan stood as my mother told her of the death of the People’s Princess. And I remember sitting in the lounge, watching as thousands of people perished before my eyes. The true scope of the atrocities and what they would lead to- a decade of war, the toppling of tyrants and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents- could not be contemplated at this time.
9/11 changed something in the world. The spirit of the 90s really ended on this day, until then Islam was seen as just another religion, but 12 men changed this and now Muslims the world over are distrusted, hated and abused for no other reason than their faith. No matter how good they are as a person, there are those that only define them by which Holy Book they follow.
9/11 did more than kill 3000 people. It created a world wide feeling of panic, intimidation and hatred. 9/11 gave rise to the hatred that Muslims experience, and the distrust with which anyone of Indian or Middle Eastern background can face. People are scared to sit next to bearded Indian men on planes (despite the fact the terrorists were clean shaven and not Indian). 9/11 lead directly to our conflict in Afghanistan and indirectly into our conflict in Iraq, which has spiraled into conflicts elsewhere. Those attacked- the “civilised” West have now become aggressive and war like, responsible for far more deaths than the 12 highjackers on that day.
This is the legacy of 9/11. A new world where fear and distrust is rife. Where less than 5% of the UK population is seen as some sort of violent invader and should be sent “home”, by which they mean anywhere but here. Looking at the world around us today I can’t help but imagine what world we would live in if 9/11 had not occurred. Would we have intervened in Afghanistan? Would the second Gulf war have happened? Hussein needed toppling, but were the reasons for our intervention just and right? Does it even matter if they are? Would we have seen the rise of “new Atheism” and as a result would I be involved in as many projects as I have been?
When events of such magnitude happen, they don’t just occur in that single second. 9/11 wasn’t just a few short hours one sunny Tuesday. 9/11 is the shooting of Arch Duke Ferdinand, it is the invasion of Poland, it is the discovery of America, it is the invention of the steam engine. It is a single event that has repercussions from that point on, drastically changing the world. Those 12 year olds going into their second year of secondary school are living in a vastly different one to which they could be- and they have no understanding of that. Of how things may have developed and the world they could be living in because this is the only world they know and have ever known.
As we approach the 12 year anniversary of 9/11, lets not just mourn the passing of 3000 innocents, but look at and mourn the passing of time and the world in which we live, drastically and irreparably altered because 12 men boarded planes.