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A Quick Glance Back

September 11, 2011

With the ten-year anniversary of the event upon us, I’ve been reading and watching several accounts from different people discussing where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the infamous attacks carried out by Islamic terrorists on September the 11th, 2001. My own account is fairly inconsequential, of course, but I offer it here as a simple and unsentimental means of marking the date.

In September of 2001 I was working as a cleaner in a children’s hospital in Glasgow. It was a part-time job I had undertaken on weekends whilst attending University and, although I had graduated earlier that year, I had spent the summer with a trip to Mexico and moving flat and hadn’t yet sought suitable full-time employment, instead increasing my hours at the hospital in the meantime. Sometime in the early afternoon of Tuesday, September 11th (the UK being approx. 5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time), accompanied by my lifelong friend and flatmate (whom I also had the good fortune of working alongside at the time), I was rather lazily preparing some mops and other materials in a cleaning storage cupboard prior to trundling along to a nearby ward. Another domestic (cleaner), a girl in her late teens, suddenly appeared at the open door of the room with wide eyes and excitedly exclaimed, “Saddam Hussein is attacking America!”

I recall both myself and my companion expressing immediate skepticism. The girl went on to assert that the then President of Iraq was “crashing planes into America”, after we asked with raised eyebrows if she was certain about her unlikely claims. My initial thought at the time, I remember, was that if the USA had indeed been attacked by foreign aggressors, the more likely culprit was Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda group, as they had openly declared war on America some years before and had carried out attacks on US embassies in both Tanzania and Kenya and on the American navy destroyer, the USS Cole, in the Gulf of Aden. Although not nearly as notorious as it would soon become, the Islamist terror group was fairly well known at the time and had already been identified as an ongoing threat against the United States. A short time later, in the middle of the ward I was assigned to that day, I stood leaning on my mop and watched the live pictures of the burning towers. Both planes had already hit the World Trade Center by that time but I’m not sure if American Airlines 77 had crashed into the Pentagon then and United Airlines Flight 93 may still have been in the air also. Unfortunately at that time, I had just moved into a newly built flat and we hadn’t hooked up our television reception. When I returned home from work that day I wasn’t able to follow the unfolding events being broadcast and had to rely on newspapers only for several weeks afterward. I didn’t have the same immediate exposure to those infamous images as almost everyone else.

It may not have occurred to me immediately, but I would later come to regard the attacks of September 11th 2001 as having given birth to the 21st century in a sense, the preceding 18 months being little more than a stillborn hangover of the previous century.

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3 comments

  1. I was 16 and in 10th grade when it happened. That particular week was devoted to standardized testing at my high school, but only for the 9th and 11th graders (huh). The 10th and 12th graders didn’t have to come to school til about midday, so we made all kinds of plans to stay up late at each other’s houses, meet up in the mornings before school and smoke out, etc.

    So on the night of the 10th I spent the night at my friend Seth’s house and the morning of the 11th, we walked to this girl named Liz’s house. We were going to get mildly plastered on whatever she had and then go to school.

    First thing she says when she opens the door is: “A plane just hit the World Trade Center!”

    Sadly, being the not-so-geographically/politically conscious 16 year old I was, my first thought was, “Where’s the World Trade Center again?” I think I was picturing the old World’s Fair monument.

    Then Seth and I walked into her kitchen and joined a handful of friends gathered around the television on her kitchen counter. The image on the screen was, of course, the twin towers, one of which was billowing black smoke.

    Of course at this point we thought it was an accident.

    “A freak accident.” “What are the odds?” “Did the pilot have a heart attack or something?” “I’m never flying again.” Etc. etc.

    Then the second plane hit.

    I’ve never in my life felt anything quite like that moment. We couldn’t process it. It seemed like all bets were off. The sky could fall at any minute. What we were seeing was deliberate. And it was anyone’s guess what was going to happen next.

    So someone took it upon themselves to start making screwdrivers (orange juice + vodka, the underage drinker’s cocktail of choice at the time – maybe it’s always been? I don’t know) and people started going out to the garage to smoke up. I regret it because it essentially dulled my memory of the rest of that day, but at the time we just wanted to have some sort of filter between us and reality.

    As the news came up about the Pentagon and Flight 93, we felt even more frightened and helpless. Sure, we were in Indianapolis, IN, and didn’t think we were in any *direct* danger, but there was such a palpable sense of vulnerability.

    School was, of course, called off. Later that day, on the way home, every gas station we passed was packed with cars. Cars lined up around the block, people swarming the gas stations like they were banks closing their doors for good.

    My mom was in front of the TV, crying, when I got home. I was in the unsettling position of trying to be there in the moment with her but also pretend I wasn’t high at the same time.

    Beyond that, I don’t remember much.

    I think you really nailed it pointing out that that day gave birth to the 21st Century.


  2. Thank you for that candid and detailed comment, Josh.

    It took about four years to fully happen, but the events of 9/11 also gradually shifted my worldview to the liberal-hawk positions I now have and away from the more tediously adolescent politics I espoused before then. I guess my lifelong antipathy toward religious tyranny won out over Chomskyian flirtations in the end. Thank fuck.


  3. Candid and insightful recollections/reflections David. I myself that day was lying with the worst hangover I have ever had in my life after drinking nearly 3 litres of white lightning cider whilst a 2nd year student at Dundee University, bed ridden and producing projectile vomit Regan MacNeil would have been proud of.
    Upon being told of the unfolding atrocity by my girlfriend at the time (and now) I can remember feeling utter disbelief mingled with that special brand of self-loathing/pity that only the most godawful hangovers can bring… I agree that day did indeed give birth to the 21st century, which I think is still in its mere infancy, goo-gooing and sucking its thumb (or the cheese flecked cock of dumbed down mass cultural inanity) in its digital sandpit as the whole shithouse slowly goes up in flames. Will humanity see the 100th anniversary of that unspeakable tragedy?
    Those images played over again and again, the plane hitting the second tower, the people leaping to their deaths…those haunting, spectral and ludicrously well documented reminders of the central, inescapable flaw that lies within us all, and has always done since Cain pissed on his brother’s chips. I believe that as a species we are inherently fucked from within and on the road to an oblivion somewhat worse than that offered to Megatron by Unicron if he wasn’t up for a makeover. History has shown that civilisations always fall in the end, fucking Ipads or not.
    I also concur that likewise I used to think it was a damn shame that they never managed to hit the White House (or Cumbernauld Town Centre) but in recent years have also reversed my lazy arsed cannabis fuelled pseudo-lefty outlook and believe that backwards uptight islamist extremist fucks need bombed out of existence or bombed out their minds on an 1000 micrograms plus acid trip which would allow them to…ahem, see the error of their ways.Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head….



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