One year on – Remembering 9-11 (written September 2002)

Moving past the sadness and looking forward

11 September 2002

On this saddest of days it is almost churlish to say that it is time to move on. But it is. So many people, in the USA and elsewhere have suffered as a result of the attacks on America a year ago today. The images of that day will always be with us. But the significance of the day extends well beyond its tragic events. And actions taken now will define the geopolitical and economic life of our planet for a generation.

Worryingly the AWSJ in its leader today states:

“Our duty today remains not only to avenge those deaths…Mr. Bush’s new pre-emption doctrine is a strategic breakthrough appropriate to this new era…”

Surely the modern response is not to not about fighting violence with more violence. It is about finding a way to common and better understanding, it is about diplomacy, it is about closing the terrorists’ access to funds, it is about exchanging information, it is about better intelligence.

Defence used to be about deterrence. It should remain so. As I have said before the doctrine of pre-emption sets a dangerous and belligerent precedent.

Issues have become muddled. A small and widely unknown group of terrorists led by a Saudi outcast, became, a year ago, a household name led by the world’s most wanted man. That he and his followers should be brought to justice is not in any doubt. That we have failed to do so is an inditement of our intelligence efforts. It also says a great deal about the ability of his followers to garner support and protection from the Muslim world. It is especially worrying that the Americans have done so much to enrage rather than engage the overwhelmingly peaceful Muslim population since September 11.

Americans still appear to have a sense that their great nation is under siege. That they are at war. That questioning the administration’s hawkish leadership is somehow unpatriotic. In Asia we are right to express our concerns about the possibility, and the impact, of an unending confrontation.

We can express our sadness, offer our condolences and our support. We should pay our respects. We should be moved by today’s ceremonies in New York, Washington and Somerset County, Pennsylvania. But in time the USA will need to listen to and engage with friends; unilateralism will move the world further to the precipice.

Where were you on September 11th?

10 September 2002

I remember only too well where I was as the attacks on America took place. I was at 1,000 feet turning right to start a circuit at Kissimmee Airport in Florida on my first and as it turned out only flying lesson.

I have always wanted to learn how to fly. I had the time. And I had enrolled in a Flying School in Florida. There were no backgrounds checks, not in those days. I provided my credit card details. The school booked accommodation and lessons.

The trip was fated from the start. Climbing out of Hong Kong on Continental’s non stop flight to Newark the plane had a cabin depressurisation at about 28,000 feet. It was eerie. It was quiet. It was not an explosive decompression. There was just a silence. The plane dived to a lower altitude. People (too slowly) put on their oxygen masks. But everything was working; there were no holes in the plane. The engines were still turning. We leveled off. The pilot (who had presumably changed his trousers and negotiated with ATC in Hong Kong and Guangzhou) advised that a valve had failed, that we would dump fuel for at least 75 minutes (we were meant to be flying over 16 hours non stop) and that we would return to HKG.

So United flew me to Orlando the following day.

Kissimmee was foggy on the Monday. The only flying was IFR. No use to me. My first lesson was booked for 9.00am on Tuesday 11 September. I walked out to the plane with my Norwegian instructor. We checked the plane. My mobile rang. I did not pick it up; I switched it off. Did not want the distraction. It turned out to be a friend calling form New York to warn me what was happening.

We taxi-ed to the end of Runway 15. Took off. Climbed and turned. And ATC tells all planes to land immediately as US airspace was now closed. He explains to another pilot on an open frequency that a plane has hit the world trade center.

We landed. Tied the little Cessna down. And went to watch TV in the lounge at the FBO. The room was full with instructors and want-to-be pilots; people taking multi-engine and commercial licenses. Everyone knew that the industry they loved would never be the same again.

The school was closed all week. All the Florida flying schools know each other and by the end of the week all were helping with records of past students.

That weekend a hurricane blew through Orlando. It was time to go home. The dream is postponed. Indeed the dream may even be cancelled. The magic of flying became a nightmare that day.

As I flew back through Newark on another stunning Autumn day this was the view from the airport – six days after the attack the fires were still burning and the smoke still hung over the city.

Let us hope that on tomorrow’s anniversary we can all mourn or reflect in peace.

The following article is from the 10 September edition of The Guardian newspaper. There is a great deal of wisdom here: the copyright in the article is of course owned by the author and The Guardian newspaper.

Terrorism is truly a great evil and we’ve made it worse

Hugo Young in The Guardian – Tuesday September 10, 2002

A few months after 9/11, I wrote a column alluding to terrorism as the largest threat facing the world, and the campaign against it as inevitably the central concern of all right-thinking governments. The brutal crime committed on that September morning, and the global upheavals that have grown out of it, seemed to engulf all other crises. The event defined international, and even a lot of national, politics. What happened at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon was inextinguishably prime. I wrote this without much thought. It seemed so obviously true. Such, I think, was the mindset of many people as the year 2001 turned into 2002.

That casual judgment, however, did not pass unchallenged. There were and are those who reject the setting of terrorism as the priority of priorities, and regard this ranking as itself a threat to the peace of the world. I’m not referring here to the anti-American fellow travellers who have surfaced in the past year, and seem able to persuade themselves that Osama bin Laden is a folk hero. I mean people, mostly on the concerned and moderate western left, who regard the very elevation of terrorism to the top of the list as part of the problem, not the solution, an essential prop for the warrior mind of President Bush.

Without it, for example, the US would still be a free country. Such has been the hysteria induced by 9/11 that Americans have seen some of their freedoms brutally whit tled way. Elements of the police state – nameless suspects, judgeless detentions, unlimited breaches of habeas corpus, for non-Americans and also in some instances US citizens – were swiftly imposed on the land of the free. Only now is a scattering of federal judges beginning to get a grip on this and ask questions. Such profoundly un-American activity has caused little outcry. It would not have been tolerated except in an atmosphere that reduces every problem other than terrorism to insignificance.

What we lack, people began to say after the dust from the twin towers settled, is perspective. The simplistic priority has been married to simplistic solutions. Believing that the potential terrorist now defines the shape of everything, our rulers have imposed too much security, allocated vastly too many dollars to the Pentagon, and falsely inflated al-Qaida terrorism into a threat that justifies whole new assaults on the world order by the US and such allies as will go along with them.

Only by raising terrorism into this giant ogre, threatening the lives of innocents all over the world, would it ever have been possible to soup up war fever against Iraq, a country that has not been shown to have anything to do with what happened a year ago tomorrow. That’s another count by some of the moderate left against, primarily, George Bush and Tony Blair.
The left looks, too, at the missed opportunities to do what really matters. Mesmerised by 9/11, they say, world leaders have hastened quicker than ever to neglect the environment, hunger and poverty. Those should be top of the list of any fair assessment of what deserves their attention. Terrorism, which can never be entirely wiped out, is a distraction. It should take its place in a balance sheet which records that, at a fundamental level, 9/11 really changed nothing in a world rife with injustice, violence and danger – especially the world as seen from Gaza, Cairo or Islamabad, and not just New York City.

I wish I could agree with this call for mature insouciance, one year on. But I do not think it is rationally available. It seems to me that what happened has in no way been exaggerated, and that it did indeed profoundly change the world. What has happened since was not due to a misperception of the threat but to the sheer limitations of the mainly American technique and mindset in responding to it.

A wholly new phenomenon was born that day, which makes every westerner, and every modernistic easterner, look over their shoulder every day of the week for the religious fanatic and suicide attacker who is stateless, nerve-less and unamenable to negotiation of any kind. The crime of 9/11 not only will never be forgotten, it set a benchmark and a precedent, entirely outside the state system, that legitimised in a certain kind of fundamentalist mind actions of a similar sort, against which we have to be on our guard at all times. There’s no way this can be talked down, or smoothed out of existence. It imports into the modern world something the modern world has so far proved incapable of dealing with.

The modern world, the target of these crimes, offers only old responses. The most valuable response would be intelligence, but we do not have it. This is without doubt the scariest aspect. Even on its own soil, the vast US intelligence apparatus has spent a year failing to track down the source of anthrax attacks on prominent individuals. In tracking al-Qaida, the CIA and the special forces appear to be almost as vainly impotent. Look at how close they said they got to Bin Laden in Tora Bora, before letting him slip. We learn that pinpoint intelligence efforts against such elusive enemies are extraordinarily difficult.

So the alternative is introduced: sweeping laws, or non-laws, that gather up hundreds of ill-defined suspects for detentions and interrogations that have led, as far as we’re allowed to know, nowhere. These desperate flailings are a substitute for effective action. They do incalculable harm to the quality of life of a great nation, without any compensating benefit. Terrorism is indeed the greatest threat to life, but the response can seemingly do no better than amplify the threat to liberty.

The displacement effect is seen still more clearly, and more dangerously, over Iraq. Unable to catch Bin Laden, we turn to Saddam Hussein. Two different phenomena are parlayed into one. Attacking Iraq might conceivably unseat Saddam, though the legitimacy of doing so remains substantially wanting. But in any case, our leaders seem indifferent to the consequences for the original campaign, the post-9/11 super-priority, which was supposed to be against al-Qaida terrorism. Going into Iraq, whatever else it might achieve, will have the certain effect of recruiting more of the Islamic street to al-Qaida’s misbegotten cause. Yet it was to further this possibility, and work out its logistics, that Mr Blair went to see Mr Bush at Camp David, their way of marking the first anniversary of 9/11.

These enemies are all mightily dangerous. They offer plausible threats, though for Saddam any action would surely carry greater risk than for Bin Laden. There has been no mis-categorisation of the evils in the world, for without freedom from the suiciders, what state can organise itself to address inequality and injustice and other causes that seem to legitimise the terrorist? But our responses, so far, have made the problem worse. That’s our inadequacy. It’s why the anniversary finds the world, instead of buoyed by reassurance from the great defenders of order and legitimacy, uniquely depressed

One year ago….

9 September 2002

This will be a week of reflection and worry. September 11th is still so fresh in our memories. There remains a fear is of further attacks likely with the same elements of surprise and shock as the devastating attacks of a year ago. And there remains the threat of war in the middle east.

Certainly the world is a scarier place. In part because a sleeping America has been woken. The world’s mightiest fighting machine only had some fourteen fighter jets ready and armed at the time of the attack on the World Trade Centre. A new doctrine of pre-emption is now used to justify pending attacks on nations perceived as a threat. In part also because the attacks have allowed the USA to isolate themselves; rather than engage the rest of the world they have disengaged. If you are not with us you are against us. The US has less friends now than in the aftermath of September 11th and significantly less international sympathy and understanding.

There will be a frenzy of flag waving this week. George Bush will be engaging the United Nations on Thursday 12th in New York. His speech, symbolically being made in the city so violently assaulted a year previously, will set the tone for the diplomatic engagement or war.

Just maybe enough civilian lives have been lost in the “war on terror” on both sides. Lets all take a deep breath; let us be sad, but not vengeful, let us be watchful but not paranoid. Let us go about our daily lives this week in peace. And why don’t we all make an effort this week to better understand the people around us.