It struck me yesterday, as I was spending time with my girlfriend’s two younger step-sisters, aged 12 and 13, that we now live in a world where an entire generation have been born post-9/11. These two girls are no ignorant children- they have been brought up to remember the terrible occurrences of 11th September 2001. But remembering that they happened is different to having actually experienced it. In the same way that I remember those who lost their live in the Second World War, but cannot actually claim to have experienced that feeling of loss live, the same can be said for these young people. I don’t need to explain what happened on that day because we all know. We don’t need to relive such horrible events.
I was only young. I remember the day. We were at a residential camp away from school, and I must have been 11 and approaching my final year as a primary school student. Our teachers had the radio on all day, and had concerned looks on their faces, but to their credit they waited until the evening to explain to us that whilst we had been abseiling, dragon boating and rock climbing, some very bad people had done something truly evil to the Twin Towers in America. At that time, I was too young to understand the significance of the attacks, but I understood that a great tragedy had occurred and that lots and lots of innocent people- people who, to their mind, were simply going through a normal day at work- had lost their lives. They had woken up that morning, gone through the same routine they had countless times before, and had probably even said “I’ll see you tonight” or something horribly ominous to their loved ones, before setting off to work. Little did they know that they were never going to return home again. For me, that’s the truly tragic reality behind the whole thing.
Watching video footage years later, at an age where I was able to comprehend who had carried out the attacks, and why, the shock factor is still incredibly high. Witnessing people throwing themselves from the high windows of the World Trade Centre is distressing to say the least. I try to imagine being put into such an impossible position where, already knowing that help won’t make it and I am going to die, I have to choose between being engulfed in flames and dying or jumping from a window and dying. Nobody in the 21st century should have to make that choice and yet, in 2001, in the greatest and most powerful nation in the world, here were everyday citizens being faced with that horrific choice. In a totally blunt way, I can understand why a few seconds plummeting and then instantaneous death would be more appealing than a long, painful and lingering fate at the hands of flames and destruction, but that doesn’t actually make the reality any easier to accept. Here were normal people being forced to choose how they died before the decision was made for them. Countless documentaries have uncovered the mobile calls and text messages from people trapped in the burning towers, and each and every word they speak and write is harrowing when you realise that you’re listening to the voices of the dead. You can feel the hope disappear as they go from waiting for rescue, to losing hope to any rescue, to eventually losing any hope of even surviving the ordeal, telling their wives, mothers, brothers, sisters that they love them. One infamous moment simply ended with a man saying goodbye and announcing he was going to jump. As if jumping was just a formality. As if jumping to your death was a normal thing.
And the next day, in the headlines, there was just one name that appeared above all the others. Osama bin Laden. His name was everywhere. The man behind the whole plot. No, not a single victim’s name was place above his. Instead, the man who committed the atrocity, who brainwashed people into dying for his cause and into taking other innocent people with them, earned himself months of news stories and publicity. He was given the fame he so desperately craved, and this, in turn, helped nurture the fear that surrounded his name, which has indirectly led to the xenophobia we see to this day. A far more appropriate response would have been to ignore him, to give him zero media attention, so that the aftermath to this atrocious act could focus on those who lost their lives. Take away the fear, and you take away the power. Still, I’m not a politician- nor would I want to be- and so far be it for me to dictate what I think should have happened. What happened, happened.
The bottom line is this: a horrible human being manipulated a group of other horrible human beings into taking the lives of innocent people, all for the cause of a terrorist organisation who gained power from fear and hatred. We should never forgive, and we should never forget, and future generations should be taught about this tragic act so that we can learn and maybe, just maybe, build a better future.