Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago today

It seems I was not the only one working in a coffee shop that day - so was Paul. At the time I was working for Marks & Spencers in Canterbury in their-then newly opened coffee shop and so I spent the entire of that day making mochas, washing cups and clearing tables. I didn't finish work that day until 18:15 and so I spent the entire day in total ignorance as to what was going on in the United States and on television.

It was only as I was walking home and happened to bump into a local councillor that I heard about the attacks. My immediate reaction was sheer disbelief - how could the World Trade Center have been destroyed? I'd visited New York the previous summer and been to the top of one of the towers and they seemed so solid.

When I got home that night I found my temporary flatmate (who had just arrived in town the day before - I was due to move into university accomodation that Saturday) who told me about the events. I saw what must have been the umpteenth rerun of the footage of the collapse of the tower and just couldn't believe it.

My immediate thoughts turned to my parents and sister, all of whom were in the US Mid West at the time. My parents were due to fly back a few days later and I wondered how this was impacting on them - and I don't just mean their travel plans. Unfortunately I had limited means of contacting them. Much of that evening was spent up on campus in a generally unused office that I was often in, trying to find an email address for my sister (I only had the one for the job she'd recently finished) and failing that to find contact details for her then boyfriend. It was a long and fruitless search and it wasn't until a couple of days later that I received a call from the US.

With much of this initially occupying my time it was difficult to step back and look at the wider picture. Bizarrely my search of the Usenet archive fails to yield the post I wrote about how I felt about the way the world seemed to be moving (I was concerned about the war in Afghanistan but in the end supported it; however I've never felt happy about the invasion of Iraq) but does show I was in some ways getting on with life as normal - even taking time to argue whether or not Spider-Man himself killed his girlfriend Gwen Stacey (some of you will know what I'm talking about).

Many talk about the world changing but I didn't feel much of this. Maybe it was because my own life was changing - I was just beginning my MA and a part-time job - and so it was harder to spot other changes, or that some of the events were not unprecedented (Al-Quaeda had made terrorist attacks before and countries had launched strikes against other countries harbouring terrorists). But I never felt as though there was some new world order, despite much comment and rhetoric at the time.

What is amazing is the way that in the last five years public opinion across the west and beyond has swung from being very supportive of the United States to bitter opposition. A lot try to claim it's all because of George W. Bush, but he's hardly the first US President to be dismissed internationally as a "thick cowboy" - indeed almost all US Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt had come in for the exact same criticism. Maybe it's because the Bush II administration tends to give off rhetoric that may go down well with Bush II's "base" but doesn't reassure the wider world, unlike the rhetoric of say Clinton (who wasn't that great a President either) or Reagan. Or maybe it's a reflection of the rise of the internet, making it even harder to cover up failings. Sometimes I wonder if Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan could have ever been President, or for that matter Churchill Prime Minister, in the internet era.

A lot of people think the world is now a more dangerous place. Did September 11th cause that? I doubt it - I think it has been the war in Iraq that is the main fuel for the growth in fear. But what happens now is anyone's guess.

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