I was at work when news of the Twin Towers broke. We started getting phone calls and comments from people passing by the office – a plane had hit the Empire State Building and/or the White House, there were bombs in New York, rumours that sounded wild and crazy and, sad to say, more like a movie than anything that was likely to be happening. We did what everyone does in the Information Age when your boss doesn’t like you having a radio in the room; we clicked onto the internet, and that’s when I realised that something big was happening – using the net was like surfing through treacle. Then I started getting emails from an online friend based in NY – fear, confusion, no way of contacting relatives in the vicinity of the Towers, a human face to the emerging tragedy. I don’t recall getting much work done for the remainder of the day, the BBC’s website finally yielding photos and a gradually emerging picture of the day that would go on to define the 21st century. After getting home I spent the rest of the night in front of CNN, watching home videos from a whole new world.
It’s hard to say that my day-to-day life was changed dramatically by 9-11. My friend’s family was found to be okay, and hey, I’m in Britain. I wasn’t there (I was there following year, and perhaps the hard-nosed reception at Newark Airport was a symptom of what had happened). Heck, even when we faced the July 7 attacks in London the country adopted its typical ticked-off disdain for anyone who’d be so crass as to blow up public transport. I’m not going to sit here and claim to have any insight into the whole thing – leave that to those who were in the Towers, office workers and firefighters, cleaners and cops. A lot of voices arose in the days, months and years after events, ranging from those predicting Imminent Terrorist Apocalypse to those who claim the whole thing was an inside job, but to me the real stories are those belonging to those who were attacked directly, those who ran into the Towers to save them, and those who toiled in the wreckage for weeks afterwards. All today’s memories really belong to them.
So I’ll remember 9-11, and I’ll play The Rising and The Hands That Built America, and I’ll look at vertical gardens and wireless electricity and watch Doctor Who fan videos on Youtube and remind myself that most people actually don’t want to kill each other or fly aeroplanes into office blocks. They want to hang out with their friends and family, do their jobs, chill out and be creative, and that’s true whether you’re in New York or Dudley or the Middle East.
Because when all is said and done, 9-11 may define the opening years of the 21st Century, or the War on Terror, or George W Bush’s presidency, but it doesn’t have to define us.