Friday, 11 September 2009

Remembering September 11th

The attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the destruction of United Airlines flight 93 on a September morning eight years ago has become a defining moment of our age. Quite apart from those directly affected by the attacks, the globalisation of the media ensured they were experienced by everyone with access to a radio, a television and an internet connection. This has meant we all have our own experience of September 11th, our own stories to tell.

I had just finished an 8-2 shift and was taking a slow walk home when one of my regular customers pulled up. As she was heading in the direction of Hanley she asked me if I fancied a lift and never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I accepted. As she was driving she told me a couple of jets had been hijacked in America. So I phoned forward to home to tell CBC to put News 24 on.

When I got in I wasn't at all prepared for what the telly was showing me. Vast plumes of smoke were streaming out of jagged holes punched in the sides of the Twin Towers. The clipped efficient tones of Jane Hill informed us what had happened, following it up with footage of the second plane striking the south tower of the World Trade Centre. I remember getting online and trying to access news websites on my rusty dial up connection - but there was no chance. BBC, ITN and even Ananova were impossible to load. Shortly after this the BBC broadcast footage of smoke billowing out of the side of the Pentagon.

I can remember we were both stunned. We watched as it all unfolded on TV - the collapse of the towers, Bush being informed, Blair's first statement, speculation about who was responsible. I was able to get onto the UK Left Network and wrote a brief post breaking the news to the list. Perversely, thanks to some of the more cracked elements of the far left having a presence, it was only three hours after my post that the first conspiracy theory did the rounds and some started lauding the attacks as an anti-imperialist action against the USA that should be welcomed.
Nevertheless there was a list consensus the USA and UK would use September 11th as a pretext to erode existing civil liberties and to launch wars against troublesome Middle Eastern regimes. Predictions that have unfortunately come to pass.

As the day wore on into evening and night our TV remained on. I remember hearing unconfirmed reports a fourth jet had been destroyed, that coordinated truck bomb attacks against government targets were feared and lastly, before we headed to bed, news of missile strikes on unspecified positions in Afghanistan.

Over the next few days there were discussions at work and furious debates on the far left about who was responsible, why it was done and what would an appropriate response be. Anti-imperialism and building an anti-war movement were at the forefront.

Looking back at it now, personally speaking the tragedy did not affect me politically beyond bringing into sharp relief some of the arguments I'd been convinced of years previously. Politically and culturally as defining a moment it was, had the attacks not happened I doubt the early 21st century would have been much different. The erosion of civil liberties has been a long term tendency going right back to Thatcher in the 1980s. Afghanistan and Iraq were already in the crosshairs of the Bush presidency. The September 11th attacks acted as a catalyst, speeding up the implementation of existing domestic and foreign policy objectives.

As I said, everyone has a September 11th story. Where were you when you heard about it? What did you do? Has it affected your politics? Let's hear what Completely Sectarian, Everyone's Favourite Comrade, Dave's Part, Enemies of Reason, HarpyMarx, The Daily (Maybe), HC Leftie, Shiraz Socialist, Splintered Sunrise, Stroppyblog and Though Cowards Flinch have to say.

44 comments:

claude said...

If you're totally bored, here's my memories of it at Hagley Road to Ladywood.

Dave Semple said...

I'll let Paul answer for himself in an article, if he wishes. I was at school; we were in the computer labs and one of the teachers who knew I was a person of Views came and told me what had happened.

At the time, we had no idea what was going on - who had done it or why. There were some crazy ass theories flying about. Sad to say that being a kid, I adopted the attitude that the Americans had it coming for the shit they'd been up to in the rest of the world.

I've long since changed that tune, with the help of many American friends and a greater faith in the working class of all countries.

HarpyMarx said...

Done mine, thanks for the tag.

hcleftie said...

At the time I was working with unaccompanied minor asylum seekers in Kent. The vast majority of the kids we worked with were afghans and iraqi kurdish. The first thing that I knew about it was when I had a phone call from the police saying that they were predicting 'big problems' in the area I was responsible for and that I should get down there quick. Unsuprisingly the boys were keeping a low profile, fearing an increase in the already substantial local hostility. We had one incident involving a gang of squaddies and a shotgun, but no-one was hurt.

How did it affect my politics? At the time I wasn't that engaged politically; the pragmatics of the situation were such that politics was something that was felt mainly in procedural terms. After leaving this job and doing some more studying I was lucky enough to work in a think tank in the British Council who saw it as part of their remit to improve / explore British relations with the muslim world. This brought me into contact with some amazing thinkers and activists and the international reflections on 9/11 and the GWOT in this context were huge factors for me in my political trajectory.

JJR said...

I was working the swing shift for an insurance call center in Houston, Texas. My dad witnessed the attacks live, downstairs; I was still asleep. He rushed upstairs and woke me up shouting "terrorists have just flown planes into the World Trade Center".

"Holy shit!" I said, and flipped on the upstairs TV and looked dumbfounded at the smoldering towers that filled my TV screen.

I heard reports also about the Pentagon; I have a friend who lives in DC, and though there was no reason for him to be anywhere near the Pentagon that day, I worried about his safety until I was finally able to get through to him on his cellphone in the late afternoon.

My biggest fear as I drove to work that morning was not that more attacks could happen, etc, it's that my country would unthinkingly haul off and nuke someplace for revenge. I'm glad I was wrong about that, at least. I did not support the invasion of Afghanistan; I viewed this as a job for INTERPOL, not a military response. That was an unpopular opinion and brushed aside by most of my fellow Americans. People talked about a "New Pearl Harbor" but I protested that in 1941 we KNEW who did it...the Rising Sun painted on the Zeros left no room for doubt, but that THIS was different.

I definitely thought the attacks were a textbook example of "blowback", though, i.e. you reap what you sow. Again, nobody wanted to hear that. I was just starting library school at the time and was one of the very few anti-war graduate students in the whole program (there was about 4 of us in the entire SLIS program), arguing against the war and our more jingoistic classmates on our online virtual community.

Jim Jay said...

My workmate rang me up and told me about the first plane - but we were having running jokes with each other so I thought it was a set up, particularly when he rang to tell me about the second plane. Then I walked past Dixons and everyone was just staring at the news, it was a very eerie collective experience.

I remember one person saying something along the lines of 'we should kill the arse-holes responsible' which aside from not making sense seemed very unrepresentative of the mood.

I think we realised this would mean war, we just didn't know who it would be against.

Did it effect my politics? Not sure it did really.

Obviously it ended up defining my political activity for years to come, but as someone who was already a socialist and anti-war activist I think I had a very well established 'place' to fall back into when it happened.

Dave O said...

Working for a small circulation daily newspaper. And yes, it was 'hold the front page' time.

I remember having to put the calls in to New York and speaking to some very frightened people.

By the end of the day I was pretty traumatised myself, just watching the endless loop footage and wondering what sort of a world I had brought my not-yet-one year old daughter into.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

As time goes on the event becomes more powerful because it grows in distance from the abuses that the Bush regime carried out in it's name, which is the greatest shame of 9/11.

paddy garcia said...

Was wandering around at teh DSEI demo around Canning Town and found myself in the local Holiday Inn and it was showing live on the TV. First thought it was an accident, but then it all became apparent, I quickly texted everyone I know to turn on the TV, that the Yanks were getting a bloody good hiding. I felt elated, it was payback time, especially for the other 9/11 in 1973 which was very close to home for me.

SamG said...

Watching 9/11 was like watching a movie. It didn't seem real, I was captivated and entertained.

It was only later when some of the sombre films came out that the human cost affected me.

I actually think 9/11 has influenced film making itself.

CWIer USA said...

I had gotten far too drunk the night before, and I had no work or school planned on 9/11. My Dad came into my room, knocking on the door to wake me up, hysterical. "The White House and World Trade Center have been hit!" he yelled. I didn't understand. I tried to go back to sleep, but then went to the TV and realized "everything has changed."

I was a 21 year-old enthusiastic CWI member by that point who had recruited working-class youth with many more young people brought around us through campaigning against cuts, talking politics in social circles and by engaging with the anti-globalization movement.

Within a week of 9/11, only one new recruit would even talk to me about politics; he's still an active CWIer. The rest were asking me if I was going to quit "the socialist club."

Perspectives of a "youth revolt" were interrupted. I became demoralized, but still active. It was like the wind had been knocked out of me by repeated punches to the stomach. My first three years in the Marxist movement were as follows...Fall of '99: Seattle WTO struggle. Fall of '00: Nader campaign. Fall of '01: terrorist attack.

I retreated into lots of study of Marxist, labor movement and Black liberation texts. Not until the run-up to the war in Iraq and the movement against invasion did I become energized again.

Paddy: I would hope that you regret feeling "elated" about workers in the U.S. being killed by terrorists. Please clarify.

There were likely Chilean-born workers who fled the Pinochet dictatorship killed in the attacks.

ModernityBlog said...

I was writing something on the PC, with the TV on in the background, I used to be a news junkie.

I watched as it unfolded, live.

Did it change me politically?

Not a lot, but I was shocked that so many people took pleasure in the unnecessary deaths of the people in the WTC (Paddy Garcia's just one of them), and it made me realized just how many weirdos seem to savor 9/11, as a form of schadenfreude, and how dangerous such attitudes are, politically and socially.

skidmarx said...

I'd been reading a book by John L.Casti on the connection between maths and other fields, and that morning when a Bosnian friend came round I pointed out to him that the chapter on Maths and War is headed by a quote from Trotsky;
"You may not be interested in war, but war may be interested in you." Forty-five minutes later my friend rang up to tell me to turn the TV on.
Initially I was quite confused, wondering if the Empire State Building was going to be next. Later on I remembered that a friend who's now an Oman-based novelist had told shown me a pamphlet of some Saudi Islamists back in 1992, who used more invective on the Saudi monarchy than the SWP ever did.

paddy garcia said...

No regrets at all, as unlike you and some others on the left I don't tend use the ruling class definition of "terrorism" nor condemn actions using the same language either.

Andrew Coates said...

Disregard Paddy CWI'er - most of us were shattered by 9/11. We felt deep sympathy for the victims.

And I speak as a Francophile European who is about as far away from the US left as you can get.

Jim Denham said...

I was walking home through Birmingham town Centre and was approached by a very excited, elderly Stalinist member of Birmingham Trades Council who told me something along the lines of "America's been attacked...it's not our way, but it's the way things are now" (not an exact quote, of course). I do remember that he seemed pleased. As did the SWP at the Trades Council a few days later - in fact their most prominent representative was giggling with glee about it.

Anyway, I retreated to a pub and watched those unforgettable scenes on their big screen. I can remember thinking how much I hated that old Stalinist and how much I never again wished to be associated with the kind of "left wing" filth who could write this sort of thing:

"paddy garcia said...
Was wandering around at teh DSEI demo around Canning Town and found myself in the local Holiday Inn and it was showing live on the TV. First thought it was an accident, but then it all became apparent, I quickly texted everyone I know to turn on the TV, that the Yanks were getting a bloody good hiding. I felt elated, it was payback time, especially for the other 9/11 in 1973 which was very close to home for me."

Jim Jay said...

To add a bit more info;

I was a member of the SWP at the time and the attitude was very mixed. One local member told me how he 'danced with glee' when he heard the news and we had a monumental row, others were more worried about what the front page of the paper was going to be as we were going to have to sell it.

As I remember it was 'bitter fruits of US imperialism' and the text displayed no glee or approval, although apparently it didn't use the word condemn. The paper went down very well on the streets of Colchester and we laid on some extra sales as we were selling more than normal and getting no abuse.

Whilst I carried on with the routine my main concern was that this meant war - which is a very bad thing.

Jim Denham said...

"The bitter fruits" headline was sickening, Jim. It meant "they had it coming" - something that the academic Mary Beard *did* actually write in the horrible middle-class anti-American 'London Review of Books'.

Phil BC said...

I don't think there was anything wrong with that head line at all. In the immediate aftermath people were casting around for an explanation. It was far better socialists clearly and unequivocally argued the blowback perspective than falling in with the Bush/Blair mainstream and pretending these hate-filled zealots hated the west simply because we have elections and porn.

Jim Jay said...

It doesn't mean they had it coming. It offers an explanation as to why it happened - not that it should have happened.

Opening para;

"THE FULL horror of the attacks in the US was breaking as Socialist Worker went to press. Very many innocent people had been killed or injured." Read on...

ModernityBlog said...

It makes you wonder, if those people who could take pleasure from the 9/11 atrocity or be elated by it, if they would have a similar attitude should a large plane be forcibly crashed into an office building in London?

Jim Jay said...

Oh - and for further interest the headline on the front page of The Socialist was 'world crisis deepens' and the article (which is longer and fuller than the SW one) can be found here.

Jim Denham said...

Phil BC: if you think the American working class did, indeed "have it coming", and you deny that these Islamofascists simply hate the "West":

"It was far better socialists clearly and unequivocally argued the blowback perspective than falling in with the Bush/Blair mainstream and pretending these hate-filled zealots hated the west simply because we have elections and porn."


... then you and I are not just in disagreement: we are on opposite sides.

Phil BC said...

Do you read anything before you launch into one of your ludicrous tirades, Jim?

Cast your eyes to the post that sits atop these comments. Here's the relevant bit for the hard=of-reading:

"Perversely, thanks to some of the more cracked elements of the far left having a presence [on the UK Left Network], it was only three hours after my post that the first conspiracy theory did the rounds and some started lauding the attacks as an anti-imperialist action against the USA that should be welcomed."

Hardly an endorsement!

Jim, no one in those towers "had it coming". But what *helped* place them in harm's way were the policies US governments have been pursuing in the Middle East since the 2nd World War. I thought looking at the total picture to explain (not excuse, *explain*) things was ABC for socialists - but not for you it seems.

Phil BC said...

Mod, in answer to your question I don't remember many so-called anti-imperialists celebrating the 7/7 attacks on the Underground.

ModernityBlog said...

PHil, neither did I.

But my point was concerning the *planes* smashing into buildings, and how a few, like, Paddy Garcia probably accept it as a legitimate tactic?

CWIer USA said...

Disgusting Paddy. Did you celebrate 7/7? I almost threw up reading your reply. Not kidding. What about Trotsky's definition of individual terrorism, Paddy?

I'll stop replying, though; cool heads do not prevail on this issue.

paddy garcia said...

My head is perfectly cool if yours isn't unlike you I am a consistent anti imperialist.
Trotsky's definition of individual terrorism is just that, individual terrorism not mass armed struggles for national and class liberation. There is a difference, unfortunately some on the left deliberately seek to blur those boundaries in some misguided belief if they use the same hysterical language of condemnation as ruling class it somehow makes our cause more legitimate, more legitimate for who I ask? For the people of Iraq or Palestine for example? Where 7/7 or 9/11 fit into Trotsky's definition I quite honestly am not so sure,I suggest its a bit borderline whether they were legitimate tactics against very real oppression.
I agree with Jim's Stalinist friend that's its not our way but its the way things seem to be now. Until things change, despite my personal feelings I remain politically ambivalent on these matters. That's the best response I can give I'm afraid.

skidmarx said...

no one in those towers "had it coming".
Well maybe those working for large financial institutions. And those at the Pentagon can hardly claim to be innocents.
The "either with us or against us" ideology of the War On Terror grew out of the idea that the dead of 9/11 were universally heroes, and that no criticism could ever be brooked of them or the actions Bush wanted to take to avenge them.I agree too that individual terrorism doesn't work.But I'm not going to accept that Osama Bin Laden is the greatest villain in history because he happened to kill Americans.
http://www.tabloidcolumn.com/rivers.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YOh-rpvjYg

ModernityBlog said...

"those working for large financial institutions. And those at the Pentagon can hardly claim to be innocents."

misanthropic nonsense, there were plenty of cleaners, shop workers, even hair dressers, etc in the WTC

there is an unspoken assumption behind that argument "can hardly claim to be innocents." that therefore, it could in someways be justified, etc?

What a strange way of thinking?

SamG said...

The attack of 9/11 was sickening but it was one sickening event among many others, many of the other sickening events were perpetrated by the US government, many were committed against communists and some of the world's poorest people.

Also many of the other sickening events are apologised for by the likes of Jim Denham, so he should get off his high horse!

skidmarx said...

misanthropic nonsense, there were plenty of cleaners, shop workers, even hair dressers, etc in the WTC
I would have thought that most of the cleaners would have started early and have finished by the time the planes hit.Are you trying to claim that everyone in the Towers was on minimum wage and none of them were bankers?

there is an unspoken assumption behind that argument "can hardly claim to be innocents." that therefore, it could in someways be justified, etc?
Just as you did on the Afghanistan thread on Dave's Part, you've taken part of what's said and made your own assumptions about what it implies.Does your blind reactionary prejudice make it impossible to see where I say that individual terrorism doesn't work? Even if someone had taken out Bush and Cheney in a surgical strike, I might have been cheered, but I'd still think it was counter-productive.

What a strange way of thinking?
Fairly normal if you're not a cheerleader for Western imperialism.

ModernityBlog said...

Skidmarx,

Self evidently, buildings the size of the WTC have cleaners and other workers in there throughout the day.

Within the WTC was various small shops, run by fairly low paid assistants.

etc etc

That's excluding the people on the planes, unless you think their meaningless murder was justified?

Please do engage with the issue and tell us in detail your views, bringing up outside nonsense does not clarify your views one bit.

skidmarx said...

Generally large office buildings are cleaned by workers who come in early in the morning and leave before the regular working day starts.
In detail - I don't think that any of the deaths on 9/11 were politically productive. But I don't think that an attack on those running the world's largest financial institutions is exactly equivalent to a random attack on civilians.

ModernityBlog said...

Skidmarx,

But don't you consider that people on the planes were innocent too?

skidmarx said...

Well the hijackers weren't that innocent. What is the point of your question? Is it really to get me to condemn individually every last death? Lets try the reverse on you.Do you think that the bankers who died in the WTC (unless you think they all stayed at home that day) or the people who worked in the Pentagon (and I'm not talking about their cleaning staff) can really be considered innocent of the impact American imperialism has had in bringing war and poverty to the rest of the globe? Go through each group in detail for an extended condemnathon ,please.

ModernityBlog said...

Skidmarx,

I'll re-word it:

But don't you consider that the passengers (not the hijackers) on the planes were innocent too?

skidmarx said...

Modernity - I'll re-state the question:
Were there any people working at the Pentagon or in the financial companies based in the WTC who bear any responsibility for exploitation and oppression round the world? Please go through each group in detail and condemn explicitly.

I saw an American sitcom several years ago where a character playing a mailman initiated the following exchange:
"We're all heroes after 9/11."
"I thought that was just police and firefighters."
"No, it's all government officials."
I think there may be some who consider firefighters to be more heroes than police officers given the NYPD's record:
http://newsone.com/nation/top-5-worst-nypd-brutality-moments/

I think there are two ways of looking at this. One is that there is relatively little difference, that we both agree that terrorism isn't a productive political strategy. THe other is to say that you think that Osama and friends are a bunch of mindless psychopaths who are such a threat to civilsation that Us imperialism becomes an attractive ally, while I think that the attack on one of the world's premier financial institutions and the centre of US warmongering needs a little more sophisticated understanding than would a random act of mass murder.
Not to say I support or justify the attacks. Give it a rest.

The planes were fairly empty of passengers. Are you planning to credit al-Qaida for that?

ModernityBlog said...

skidmarx,

You've just proven why politicos, such as yourself, are never taken seriously

1) you make a singular point about the supposed "innocence" or not of the WTC occupants.

2) Yet when you are asked to elaborate on *that* particular point you become evasive and go all over the place.

3) You seem to hold strong views on the matter, but are partly ashamed of articulating them.

as I said, very strange.

skidmarx said...

Modernity -
you ask four differnent questions about different groups who died on 9/11, and I answer all of them.I ask you questions about the same you you give no answer at all.You are being evasive,you seem to be ashamed of articulating your views, you seem to think that dismissing me as a politico or part of a university set or whatever your insult du jour happens to be is a substitute for actual debate.
So, one more time, were those working for the banks, the hedge funds the accountancy firms and so forth wholly innocent of any responsibility for American economic and political dominance of the globe? Were those in the Pentagon?

ModernityBlog said...

skidmarx,

You've spent more time ducking the questions than answering them with any candour or lucidity.

Thus if you can't be honest about your *own* views then it is unlikely that you would be genuine in any exchange of views between us, therefore I think it is useless to engage with you.

skidmarx said...

Modernity - since you constantly dodge any question put to you, and keep putting the same questions while ignoring the answers given, I think you are useless at engaging in any genuine exchange of views.
Here's another chance. I asked you "Are you trying to claim that everyone in the Towers was on minimum wage and none of them were bankers?"
Or maybe try this one:
"Were there any people working at the Pentagon or in the financial companies based in the WTC who bear any responsibility for exploitation and oppression round the world?"
Go on, give it a go. I'm sure if you're not trying to hide your views it shouldn't be so hard.

Joe said...

The attack was not political. It was an act of war.

Phil BC said...

And is war separate from politics? Of course not. As Von Clausewitz famously observed, "war is politics by more violent means".