11 September 2011

September 11th, 2001

On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, I was an undergraduate just beginning my third year of physics at George Washington University in Washington, DC. I had to get up for a lecture. My alarm went off and, instead of hearing music, the deejay was giving a news report, clearly shaken.

"The World Trade Center is gone."

I'm not ashamed to say, I, like hundreds of thousands of other Washingtonians, did my best to get somewhere safe. Nobody knew what was going on, just that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Rumors were everywhere: that more airplanes were coming, that there were clouds of nerve gas coming from the crash sites.

For the average person the attacks came out of clear blue sky. I think this is one reason we were all so shocked, beyond the fact of the attacks and the horror that came with them: times had been good. The economy was slowing but still growing phenomenally, people were getting hired to work in the online sector not just straight out of university but out of high school. Jobs were easy and money was cheap. It felt like not just peacetime, but the first real peacetime, free (or so we felt) from conflicts abroad and financially secure at home, America had enjoyed since the 1920s.

Freshers reading this were 8 then. They've spent most of their lives in a world at war with an undefined enemy.

You can say it's not "really" a war -- and at its core, it is largely a feud between the son of the multi-millionaire Bush family and the son of the billionaire bin Laden family. Whatever you call it, 3,000 died in New York and Washington; and then tens of thousands in Afghanistan; and at least a hundred thousand in Iraq. The overwhelming majority of those had and wanted nothing to do with terrorism, war, crusade, jihad: their common aspiration was to make enough money to feed and house their families, and have enough left over to enjoy life. So too do we survivors.

I remember on September 12th, walking out onto the streets of Washington, where the mayor of the city had deployed the DC National Guard. This wasn't the regular army -- these were Washington DC residents, our neighbors, armed and on the streets more for our comfort than for any real benefit of security. My eyes met those of one guardsman as I crossed Pennsylvania Avenue. In a glance, we both knew we were each shit-scared of whatever could come next. That same day the news began to report American commando raids in Afghanistan, in preparation for an invasion.

Around the world, each of us has far more in common with each other than we do the instigators of this web of interconnecting wars. Each of us suffers from them in some way. I mourn the loss of lives and the and the trauma to those who were left behind. I feel shame for the killing my government has done abroad and the restriction of its own people's freedoms at home. I feel anger at the way the United States government's actions has given an excuse for other states worldwide -- not least Britain -- to make their own residents into enemies in the name of "security".

9/11 was an atrocity. In the past decade it has been compounded and redoubled, like all sin when embraced. The past ten years have been a global nightmare from which we will not easily wake. To vote out Bush, to assassinate bin Laden, to cleanse the deserts with fire and to wash them in blood: none of these restore peace. Only we, arms linked, united against the warmongers and the economic and political devices which let them make war, have a chance of success. It will not be easy work.

So we remember as well the victims of September the 11th, 1973, when one of the most democratic governments in the world was swept aside by one of the most vile dictatorships in our lifetime. There is solidarity between us as there is between survivors of different cancers: we have all suffered the symptoms of a common disease.

I am no person of faith; if faith gives you comfort, then may peace be unto you. The past ten years have been dark and they will not soon brighten. We come out of these years wiser: we do not trust those who make war on the innocent and call it justice, we cannot rely on those who exchange freedom for terror and call it safety, any more than we find comfort in those who take the fruits of our hard work for their own comfort and call it fairness.

We have only the following things: each other; the good work we can do; and the trust and intuition that through these, a better world is possible.

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