It is that day again, September 11th. In fact, it is Tuesday 11th September, the exact day those terrible atrocities took place. The sky outside my office window in London is the same “unbelievable blue” that coloured the Manhattan skyline that fateful Tuesday in 2001. Every time the anniversary swings around, I find myself lost in my thoughts. Last year, on the tenth anniversary, I wrote a post almost defending President Bush’s decision to go to war. Not defending outright, but trying to rationalise the motivation behind what occurred in the weeks and months following 9/11. Today I wish to go a little more personal.
I think we are exposed to too much 9/11. Not because I don’t want to remember or think it’s unimportant to remind people – especially those too young to remember – what transpired that day. But it’s still so provocative, still so raw for so many, that I hope every year the endless parade of photos and videos of explosions, plane parts, falling people, collapsing buildings, Channel 4 documentaries, I hope and pray every year it will be less than the year before. For me, there are different ways to remember and pay tribute. Light a candle. Use photos that aren’t so graphic. Listen to songs that remind you of that day and bring you some therapy (I listen to Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’ album, naturally, and it’s a fantastic album in itself but when you consider it against the background of 9/11, it takes on whole new qualities). Think positively about the new World Trade Center site that has risen in Lower Manhattan.
I was 13-years-old on September 11th 2001. I had just started year 9 a week prior and I was thinking about my final 2 years at secondary school and all that entailed. GCSEs, onwards to college to do my A-Levels etc. But I wasn’t really thinking in any depth or seriousness. I was 13, after all. Hanging out with friends, playing sports, school work – these were the things that took priority in my teenage mind. After 9/11, all of this changed. I came home on that Tuesday evening at around 5pm British time, which would’ve been 12pm in New York City. The towers had already fallen at this point. I came home late as I used to play badminton after school. No one at school knew a thing. Teachers perhaps did, but didn’t mention it for fear of scaring people. I remember having chips with my friend on the way home and the women behind the counter talking vaguely of some plane crash. And then I walked to my house, into my lounge, and saw the TV. My mum had seen the whole thing unfold live on one of the British news channels.
Even though 9/11 did not directly affect me, young people of my generation lost their innocence that day. The world divided into pre-9/11 and post-9/11. America, the West, and Britain as a corollory of that, instantly became a more terrifying place to be. Would we be next? Why do they hate us? What did we do to make them want to drive planes into buildings? I was scared. I was 3000 miles from New York City but I felt fearful for my life and for the world that was my norm. Me and my mum were due to go on holiday to Malta just a month following 9/11 and I remember yelling at her to cancel it on that same evening. I’m glad she didn’t. Sadly, there wasn’t a safer time to fly, but I wish it didn’t have to be that way. Life goes on.
I’ve become somewhat fascinated by 9/11. Not morbidly. But I was 13 and impressionable when 9/11 happened, and as a sensitive soul, I reacted badly to those events. I believe my fear of flying sprang from that period in my life, and it’s a fear which has had ups and downs but seems to be worsening the older I get. 9/11 also played a big part in my decision to study politics at A-Level when I went onto college in 2004. I had become politically interested by age 16 and this was the next step for me. I further went on to study politics and international relations at the University of Manchester, from 2006 to 2009, and wrote my final year dissertation thesis on the consequences of 9/11 and the war on terror. I never thought on that awful day in 2001 that just 7 years later I would be submitting a proposal for a 15,000-word essay on the theoretical and political driving forces behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And that is my point. You can be 13 years old and thousands of miles from a catastrophe, but its repercussions and effects go far beyond the immediate. I am a youth of the 9/11 generation and despite not losing anyone that day, and despite the fact I’m not even American, 9/11 affected me. It changed my life in small but significant ways and I suspect it has had that effect on most people living in the West, especially those who were a similar age as me back then. When we remember 9/11 and pause to honour those who lost their lives, and those who so selflessly gave their lives to help others, we also remember how the world changed that day. We remember times before September 11th 2001 that were filled with less fear, less paranoia and perhaps less cynicism too. We remember that even though this planet is divided into many nations, we share in so many of the same pains. If you do one thing today, hug someone you love.