I doubt there will ever be another day I can recall as graphically as 9/11. My birthday was the previous night (I was born on 11 September, but in NZ of course the attacks happened on 12 September NZST) so I had just been asleep for a couple of hours when a friend from the UK texted me telling me to switch on the TV as a plane has flown into the World Trade Centre.
I switched on CNN and spent three hours transfixed watching the towers get hit and then eventually collapse. To the end of my days, I will recall those awful scenes of human beings on the upper levels of the twin towers jumping to a quick death rather than face a certain slower death.
Within an hour it seemed half of New Zealand was awake – or at least half of my friends. We were texting and talking to each other in disbelief, and even then with some anger about who had done this.
Around 5 am I headed into work at Parliament. Most of the day we did nothing but watch the televisions. Around 7 am though I had an idea. I went to our NZPA/Reuters feed. Normally I set it to NZ Politics, but swapped it over to International General. This covers stories from anywhere in the world which may be of interest to New Zealanders.
I scrolled back five hours looking for the very first story on the attacks, and found it. A one sentence story that just reported a plane had how one of the WTC towers. A couple more bland stories followed and then the all important story reporting a second plane had hit the WTC, turning it from a possible accident to a certain attack. I read every story of those first few hours, as each new detail unfolded with horror.
So much has been written about the attacks, and how the world changed that day (and it did). But my thoughts remain of the 3,000 souls who perished. They were not part of any war. They were not in a war zone. They were just you and me – people at work, plus of course the brave fire fighters and police officers who died trying to rescue others.
And such a terrible blow at New York itself. You see New York is not really an American city, it is a global city. We have three global cities – New York, London and Hong Kong. They may be physically part of the US, UK and China but they are global hub cities, with workers from scores and scores of different countries.
I recall the inevitable black humour that emerged within hours. Maps showing a lake where Afghanistan used to be. I also recall Yasser Arafat donating blood to help the American Red Cross out, Australia declaring under the ANZUS Treaty that they stand ready to help the US strike back, as was NATO under the NATO Treaty.
At the time the US was not engaged in any significant overseas wars. And it is long forgotten, but Bush had been an isolationist President. He was actually sceptical of US even getting involved in former Yugoslavia. I worry that tomorrow’s students will regard 9/11 as a response to Iraq and Afghanistan, when in reality it was the other way around.
Iraq is highly debatable, but few would dispute that the US couldn’t allow this attack on their homeland to pass without those responsible being held accountable. International law clearly allows you to strike back after you have been attacked. The notion that all the US could do was send polite letters to the Taliban asking for those responsible to be extradited was farcical. The US did of course ask the Taliban to hand over those responsible, but they refused.
But despite that I recall how the Greens organised a protest march for later that week. Not to protest the slaughter of 3,000 civilians. But to protest against the United States responding. I was outraged and angered. In my mind they were the latter day Neville Chamberlains. but worse than that, the timing was so appalling. The death toll was still rising daily, and these people were marching against the United States, not against the terrorists. They were marching on Parliament and I was determined that a message go out that not all Kiwis hated the US. So I managed to arrange a US flag. Not a normal size one, but the largest one my “supplier” could locate – off memory it was 60 feet long. When the protest arrived at Parliament we unfurled the flag from our balcony. It was so huge it needed half a dozen of us.
Sadly it only got to stay up for a few minutes as some tosser from (off memory) Marian Hobbs’ office complained to the Speaker, and he sent security to make us take it down.
Anyway 10 years on, and the world has changed forever. Apart from anything else, air travel will never be the same again. Osama bin Laden is dead, and Al Qaeda much weakened. Somewhat remarkably they have not managed another successful attack inside America again.
I often wonder what would have happened if 9/11 had not occurred. Bush may have stayed an isolationist and who knows how this may ave affected his presidency. He may have ended up a one term President, or he may have ended up a less controversial two term President.
But it is too easy to focus on the big global aspects of 9/11. Today my thoughts and memories are on the 2,977 who died in the attacks (excluding the hijackers) and their families. Special thoughts to the 100 or so nine year olds who were born after their fathers died in 9/11.
The other strong memory is the brave passengers and crew of United Flight 93. They knew their actions would probably lead to their deaths. Logically they knew they would probably die anyway, but it still takes courage to rush armed hijackers – not to save your life, but to save others. Thanks to them, the plane did not reach Washington DC.
Horribly, it might not have made DC anyway. Two F16s had been ordered to intercept it. But they did not have time to arm the jets, so if it were not for the passengers, the F16s would have had to ram the 757 which would have have been a terrible (yet necessary) act.