Another September 11 has come around: fifteen years since the twin towers came down. Every scribbler in the world will join in pouring out torrents of ink on What It All Means.
What can I add? My view on September 11 remains what it has been for quite a while. That is, that the period between 28 February 1991 (the end of the Persian Gulf War) to 11 September 2001 was the long weekend off from History, when the bit of civilization we usually call the West had an unchallenged supremacy in ideas, commerce and military capacity. The destruction of the World Trade Centre and the attack on the Pentagon heralded the arrival of the remarkably durable alternative worldview of Islamism. And the willingness to attack non-combatants then and since (in Bali, and London, and Madrid, and Paris, among others) suggested the limits of what military power could (and can) achieve.
Image from here
So much for the big ideas. I certainly remember where I was when the news broke. I’d been studying late in the Matheson Library at Monash University. I caught the bus back to my flat and got home at about 2250, made some dinner and flipped the radio to the BBC World Service. The stories that NewsHour started with were all fairly unremarkable and I went into the kitchen to wash the dishes. I walked back into my room to hear the radio saying “so another plane just went into the building?”. I remember listening to the radio for the next hour or so, and then thinking to turn on the TV. I remember how surreal the news seemed, with the announcer saying to a journalist in Manhattan who was reporting by telephone “hang on … I’m not sure what’s going to happen next”. He sounded as confused as everyone else.
It’s too soon (still) to start writing about the long term impact of that day, either for me or the world as a whole. I suspect most people my age have lived most of their adult life in the shadow of that event. Those who took the Queen’s shilling, naturally, and who suffered in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere. But also that much larger pool of civilians like me who have enjoyed the period of change and innovation and intermittent prosperity of the last few years, but in the knowledge that it might all be swept away by a war cry and the roar of bombs.
Do you remember where you were when you first heard of the September 11 attacks? And do you think they’ve affected how you’ve lived since?