Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th 2001 - feeling the fear and shock thousands of miles away

There's only one thing on all our minds today. The fact that it's, unbelievably, 10 years since the attacks on New York which shocked and changed the world. Many people are posting what they were doing on that day including Mark Cole. Ellen writes here about what it was like to be working in a newspaper office on that day. There have been two days in my lifetime that have been like that - when Diana died and 9/11 where people never forget what they were doing.

For me it started. like most do as an uneventful, unremarkable day. I don't really remember much before 3:08pm here, the time this post is being published, which would have been just after 10 in Manhattan. I know that I'd taken 27 month old Anna to our toddler group at Nether Dechmont Community Centre in Livingston. We came home and I put the tv on to catch the Tweenies with a cup of tea as was our habit. Tweenies for Anna, Earl Grey for me, that is.

We never made it to CBeebies, though. The tv switched on to ITV and there was Kirsty Young talking about some attack on New York.

It took a few minutes to sink in that this was actually happening, thinking how many people had been killed. The South Tower had just collapsed a few minutes before.

The first thing I did was phone my husband at work. When you see something like that happen, even when nobody you know is involved, you just want to speak to the people you love. He was shocked, but was told rather tersely by his boss at the time that he was to get on with his work. At least this man had the good grace to apologise the next day when he went home and saw the enormity of it for himself.

I sat there watching events unfold in shock. I remember Kirsty Young talking to her husband who was in New York - and admiring her professionalism as I would not have felt at all happy if my loved ones had been there.

As it all started to sink in, another emotion started to mingle with the shock - fear. The White House had passed just 9 months before from a reasonable (most of the time) Democrat to an inexperienced right wing president who had surrounded himself with hawks like Dick Cheney. This election had been decided on the basis of a relative handful of votes in Florida.  What on earth would this man do in retaliation? How many more lives would be lost in vengeance? How I wished that the dull but essentially sound Al Gore had made it into the Oval Office.

At that point no option seemed off the table. I actually wondered if he'd go nuclear. Thankfully those fears were unjustified, but we have the legacy of the war in Iraq, "extraordinary rendition", torture by any other name, Guantanamo Bay which is bad enough. The whole War on Terror vernacular overshadowed Bush's time in office.

I couldn't get out of my mind that there were other mums at home with toddlers, who'd just maybe had their breakfast, who would have been petrified for the safety of their partners. And many of them would never see them again, would never even have their body to bury. There were children who would never remember their fathers. A few days later, some of the answerphone messages left by people in the Towers or on the planes started to appear on rolling news channels. They were all so full of love. Utterly heartbreaking.

Tragedy was not a new thing - natural disasters and starvation have claimed many millions of lives in equally heartbreaking circumstances. People die, unfairly, every day. But this was different. A huge amount of planning had gone into acts which were deliberately intended to take as many lives as possible. There were 20,000 people in the Twin Towers alone, and heaven knows how many more lives would have been lost if the passengers of United 93 hadn't taken action to wrest control of the aircraft from the hijackers.

Al Qaeda's plan was to attack what they saw as the symbols of western opulence and economic domination. What they did, though, was to claim the lives of innocent, ordinary people. Andrew Reeves  had spent that Summer in New York training catering staff, normal people working in food outlets in the World Trade Centre for not very much money. All of them died, something he found very hard to bear.

I watched the United 93 film on STV last night. It did a good job of showing the disbelief and occasional chaos as Air Traffic Control and the military started to react to events, trying to work out what was going on. It was quite hard to watch the people on the plane itself as you just knew that every single one of them was going to die.

To everyone affected by 9/11, those who managed to escape from the Towers and the Pentagon, those who died, those who loved them, the children who grew up without knowing their parents, the firefighters who made it out, those who didn't, those who jumped from the Towers in desperation, you are all in my thoughts today.

If you haven't already, please take a look around the 9/11 Memorial Site. The names of the almost 3000 killed between the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre are displayed on bronze parapets around the new memorial pools. Anyone can visit the site, but there are special arrangements for families.

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