Saturday, September 11, 2004

Remembering S11 

Today, the media - and the blogsphere - will be full of commentary and reflection on the third anniversary of September 11. Since today starts earlier in Australia than it does everywhere else (I'm not counting Pacific islands), I might as well get in early.

There's little doubt that for my generation S11 will be what John F Kennedy's assassination was for my parents and grandparents. I don't mean a source of endless conspiracy theories for the political fringe dwellers, although that will be the case too (I have on my lap as a write, the first edition of the first conspiracy book ever published about the JFK assassination; Thomas G Buchanan's "Who Killed Kennedy?" It took Buchanan, who quite appropriately was a communist, a year to see his theories in print; for the new millennium's Grassy Knoll crowd, the power of the Internet insured that it was only days if not hours before the "Jews/CIA/the Bush junta did it by flying remotely controlled planes to unleash the New World Order" meme started circulating around the world). No, what I mean is S11 was one of those rare moments that define the collective memory of a generation. We will always remember where we were and what we were doing the moment when the news broke that a plane has hit one of the World Trade Centre towers.

I certainly can. Because of the time difference between New York and Brisbane, it was towards the end, rather than the beginning, of September 11 (or 11 September as we Australians prefer it). I was trying to have an early night; I already went to bed and switched off the lights in my room. I still wasn't quite asleep though when around half past ten PM I heard one of my flatmates (who today also happens to be a blogger) say "Shit!" rather loudly before a few moments later coming down the corridor and knocking on my door. "Mate, you have to see this," he said. This better be good, I thought. It wasn't good of course; not in that sense. For the next four and a half hours we sat transfixed in front of the TV, watching with disbelief the smoke billowing out of the skyscraper, then the second plane hitting the other tower, the third explosion at the Pentagon, and then the World Trade Centre collapsing into rubble.

SMSs were flying thick and fast that night. I don't know of any of my close friends who were not awake and following the crisis as it unfolded live on our screens. We didn't really know what was happening, or who was behind it all (after all, until the second plane smashed into WTC, a freak accident was the most popular explanation for the first crash), but somehow we all understood then and there the seriousness of what has just happened. Instinctively we knew that this was a watershed - not in a rather melodramatic and cliched sense of "the world has changed on S11" (for overwhelming majority of us it didn't) - but we knew that this was a portent of things to come; serious things, or as my flatmate would say, "serious shit." We knew it even in Australia, a world away on the other side of the globe. I remember one of the last SMS I received that night, around 3AM September 12 our time; it simply said: "It's war."

By that stage in 2001 I was already a veteran of many years of political involvement and even more years of political interest, but both have been quite mundane and down-to-earth. I haven't been expecting that so soon after the end of the Cold War we would all have to start living again through another international crisis. I would have never guessed on September 10 that so much of my spare time over next three years would be filled with the Middle East and the Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terror and the war against Saddam. I'm sure it was the same for many if not most of you who are reading this.

It's going to be a long war, which hopefully will never evolve into a world-wide conflagration, a world war with WMD thrown in for good - or rather bad - measure. Just fighting another Cold War will be difficult, expensive, destructive and painful enough. But there is no other option. Many still delude themselves that it didn't have to be like that; or that we can still stop the train of events if we do X or Y or Z. But these people forget that this is not a war of our choosing. Not because our past actions didn't matter at all, but in a sense that it's one of those rare moments in history when two diametrically opposed systems of values face each other across a chasm - you can change some policies, do some things differently, but nothing will ultimately change the fact that this world is too small for both to indefinitely coexist with each other in peace.

Many have in the past underestimated liberal democracies. It was a bad mistake. The road will be hard and it will be long; there will be victories and there will be setbacks; but I know that in the end we will pull through this one too.

P.S. These are some thoiughts and reflections from other bloggers: Pieter at Peaktalk (and here), Instapundit has a roundup, and Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has another excellent round-up. There's more from Dean Esmay, and Oxblog.


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