Early afternoon, ten years ago today, I was sitting in a meeting at settop box manufacturer Pace’s head office near Bradford in England. Like all settop box manufacturers, the place was full of TVs all tuned to different channels. As the meeting progressed, I noticed a movie playing that had some extremely impressive special effects. Very shortly afterwards, however, we realised that the same movie was playing on multiple channels and that those channels were CNN, Sky News and Fox News. The meeting came to an abrupt end at that point and all eyes remained glued to a battery of screens showing the horrors unfolding 6000 miles away in lower Manhattan.
Many people speak of feelings of fear that day but I don’t remember that. I do remember horror and shock. The thought that a human being could be evil enough to perpetrate such wanton violence against anyone, civilian or military, was chilling in the extreme. I had been brought up in the UK during the troubles in Northern Ireland so terrorism and public awareness of it was always around but the acts of the Irish extremists paled into insignificance compared to the actions of the al-Quaeda suicide bombers that day.
Thinking back now, 10 years later, I still feel horror and shock at the events of that day but I also remember feelings of unity and hope in the days that followed. I also remember the stories of the heroic acts of the fire, police and medical crews who rushed to the scene.
The events of September 11th, 2001 led to 3000 dead at Ground Zero, two wars still ongoing, increasing xenophobia at home and abroad and a culture of fear in the US that has resulted in a significant erosion of personal liberties in the name of national security. The world is a different place now but I would hope we can look back on the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and concentrate on the spirit of unity and purpose that existed back then – a nation banding together in adversity, politicians of all parties working together – and carry those lessons forward to today when our society is becoming increasingly polarised and our Congress logjammed.
I was scheduled to fly back to the US on September 12th, 2001 but, with air travel stopped and airports in chaos, I ended up extending my trip a week until our travel agent could find me a route home via a regional airport a couple of hundred miles away. The USA I got back to was a very different place from the one I had left only 8 days earlier.
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