The day we noticed the world had changed

This post is a response to my friend Ash Pryce’s post: Living History: a Look Back on 9/11

I remember 9/11 very well because I wasn’t working that day and I watched from about 15 minutes after it started to be shown on the UK news. So I watched the second plane go in and the towers go down.

One of my strongest memories is of being aware that no-one knew what was happening, no-one knew what would happen next, how many were killed (40,000 people worked in the twin towers, so the final figure of 3,000, published days later, seemed like a merciful escape). The tv pundits didn’t have any briefing notes, there weren’t any alliterative sound-bytes from Alistair Campbell. We were suddenly, disorientingly off-script. Anything could happen that morning.

I knew that the world had irrevocably changed. Of course it actually changed a while before: 9/11 was the symptom, the part of the plant above ground, the final signal that we could see. But I knew that the world was about to become darker, nastier, less predictable, less trustable, less secure and less safe. That it would never be the same again.

You are right, ten years is an interesting time-span. It’s long enough for children to turn into adults – five years doesn’t do that – but short enough for adults to feel it was just the other day. And as you point out, twelve years or more is a recognisably long period of time.

So, ten or twelve years on – yes, the Americans and their allies took war to Afghanistan, to Iraq and (hush, don’t mention it) to parts of Pakistan. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay radicalised young men who would otherwise have just spent their teenage years playing street cricket on waste-grounds in Bradford or Finsbury Park.

The other kicker though is the electronic supervision we all live with; with every connection observed, every interaction noted. Orwell, Gibson and Stephenson are overheard in a bar. This is inextricably mixed in with the Randian neo-conservatism that combines a vicious sense of personal entitlement and malign greed and a willful rejection of science and the vindication of a monotheistic faith. It’s an evil mix, and it is bringing about the downfall of the US with the rest of the West tumbling after.

So in the short term, by say 2006, not much had changed much. But the world we live in now, and the world it is shaping to be, is a fuller realisation of dystopian post-democratic, techno-totalitarianism that even I imagined, cynical and fearful as I am, cynical and fearful as I was twelve years ago.

3 responses to “The day we noticed the world had changed

  1. Interesting – on several counts.

    Yes, I also had my “John F Kennedy” moment with Sept 11 2001 – the one where you know exactly where you were and what you did. I was in Norway, on a laboratory trade show in Oslo, and first heard about what happened as rumours – or, mouth-to-mouth news – in the corridors. Went back to the hotel, shortly, and saw some – as you say, erratic, “we don’t really know much” – clips on TV. And then we had a dinner for the representatives at the booth at the trade show.

    Don’t remember much of that – except that the owner’s mother got up during the dinner and asked her daughter, who was also there and who is a talented singer and musician, to play “That’s what friends are for.” Because, as she said, “someone today clearly demonstrated that this is a concept they don’t understand. Well, we do.”

    Secondly, on your ending cynicism, I linked to an Atlantic article ( today about one take on the fallout after Snowden’s NSA stories. One that suggests that it must end in changes, transparency and more public oversight. Because anything else would not be compatible with the US of A. “Our society can handle the occasional terrorist act; we’re resilient, and — if we decided to act that way — indomitable. But a government agency that is above the law … it’s hard to see how America and its freedoms can survive that.” One can but hope (I am the eternal optimist 🙂 )

    Lastly, a historical duplicity that I did not have on my rader: Sept 11 has been historical way before this – it also marks the Pinochet takeover in Chile. Which also involves the US – not as directly and not exactly in the role of the victim, either…

  2. Have just read my friend Alice Sheppard’s account of the events surrounding a protest march in London last week which reflects the kind of society we have inherited out of this madness… 😦

  3. I remember that day. Until my first client came, I was in complete ignorance as I do not listen to news during the day. By the time I heard, it was all over; what I saw when I turned on the TV was the over and over replaying of the collapse of the towers.

    I remember feeling that this was going to change everything forever, and I wish I had the eloquence to express it as you do. I also remember my frustration as the warmongers waved their flags and sabers and propaganda flourished in the press driving us into the war that Cheney and Halliburton wanted so desperately.

    Thank you for this post.

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