Radio Remembers 9/11

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Radio Remembers 9/11

It has been 18 years since the horrific attack on the American people of September 11 2001. Historians are still a long way from the perspective necessary to place the events of that tragic day in proper historical context.

The passage of time will not reduce the significance of the event in our history.

Who did what, why and how, will be endlessly debated, but clearly 9/11 ranks as one of the transformative events in United States history: –

• As consequential as the decision by the British in the 1750’s to change the nature of imperial rule after the French and Indian War
• As momentous as the decision of British General Thomas Gage to send troops to Lexington and Concord in April 1775
• As critical as Lincoln’s decision to resupply Ft Sumter in 1861
• And as grave as the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7th 1941.

Each of these pivotal moments marked a profound turning point in US history. And 9/11 is now inextricably linked to each of them.

The first plane could have been an accident. It was the second plane flying into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre that made us all realise the world had changed.

While New Yorkers looked on in horror at the smoke rising from Lower Manhattan, news broke of a third plane crashing into the Pentagon.

The geographic scope of this developing nightmare expanded with news that a fourth plane had been hijacked the same morning. United Flight 93 was the final act of terrorism that has been etched into the world’s psych as 9/11.

9/11 has become an iconic moment written into the rich tapestry of history. It is that point of time between the “before” and the “after”. As we consider the 18th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, we are still all faced with putting the events of that day into some type of meaningful perspective.

Those old enough can remember where they were and what transpired on the day:

• President Kennedy was shot
• Or the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon
• Or the day Elvis or John Lennon died.

Every person in the Unites States, if not also around the world, will remember September 11, 2001 for the rest of his or her life.

A wall of thick smoke and debris showered over the streets for blocks around the World Trade Centre on that Tuesday, enveloping workers and visitors in a “holy hell” after two hijacked passenger jets smashed through the towers, causing them both to collapse.

The horrifying images: –

• A smouldering hole in the shattered wall of the Pentagon,
• The scorched Pennsylvania field,
• The shocking image of a plane colliding with the World Trade Centre,
• The subsequent terrifying visions of that building crashing down while people with panic-stricken faces were fleeing for their very lives.

These are living nightmares destined to haunt and torment seemingly forever.

As has been the case with major events throughout history, artists immediately began to take on the topic, and music has played an important role in Americans’ healing and understanding of these experiences. At first, there were, of course, countless benefits, offering music and raising funds for those who needed it most.

Perhaps the greatest immediate impact came on an individual and personal level as people around the country began to hear songs and lyrics — both old and new — with a fresh perspective.

The Alan Jackson song that I have included is perhaps one of the most poignant songs ever written about 9/11.

A very close friend of mine from the United States says she still remembers everything:

• The crying.
• The screaming.
• The tears.
• The dust.
• The signs.
• The candles.
• The teddy bears.
• The pictures.
• The villains.
• The heroes.

American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston, headed to Los Angeles, crashes into World Trade Centre’s North Tower. Atta is believed to be the pilot.
United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston, headed to Los Angeles, crashes into World Trade Centre’s South Tower. Al-Shehhi is believed to be the pilot.

American Flight 77 from Dulles Airport, headed to Los Angeles, crashes into Pentagon. Hanjour is believed to be the pilot.

United Flight 93 from Newark Airport to San Francisco crashes into south-western Pennsylvania. Jarrah is believed the pilot, and the intended target to be in Washington.

• Total number killed in attacks (official figure as of 9/5/02): 2,819
• Number of fire-fighters and paramedics killed: 343
• Number of NYPD officers: 23
• Number of Port Authority police officers: 37
• Number of WTC companies that lost people: 60
• Number of employees who died in Tower One: 1,402
• Number of employees who died in Tower Two: 614

The world was introduced to terrorism at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. These games ended on September 11, 1972. There were 11 Israeli athletes killed.

For us in Australia World War II was our first and only taste of global war that reached our shores. Nearly one million served in uniform – most in the Pacific or on the home front.

The war ultimately cost 40,000 Australian lives. This we remember on the same day September 11. It was on 2 September 1945, on board the American battleship USS Missouri, Australia joined other Allied signatories to accept Japan’s formal surrender. Now there is a new war and it is known as terrorism. We have tasted the sting of the terrorist in Bali with 88 dead.

The Bali Bombing occurred on October 12, 2002 in the town of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali, killing 202 people and injuring a further 209. It is considered the deadliest act of terrorism in Indonesian history.

The majority of the dead were foreign tourists, especially Australians and Britons, but nearly one fifth were Indonesian nationals.

Again, one of the new wars!!

The contours of these ‘new wars’ are distinctive in many respects because the range of social and political groups involved no longer fit the pattern of a classical inter-nation war.

The type of violence deployed by the terrorist aggressors is no longer carried out by the agents of a state (although states, or parts of states, may have a supporting role); violence is dispersed, fragmented and directed against citizens; and political aims are combined with the deliberate commission of atrocities, which are a massive violation of human rights.

Such a war is not typically triggered by a state interest, but by religious identity, zeal and fanaticism.

The aim is not to acquire territory, as was the case in ‘old wars’, but to gain political power through generating fear and hatred.

I quote this brief reminder from Nancy Gibbs who wrote in Time Magazine a number of years ago:

“Some people fear complacency; others fear forgetting. Others have only limited space in memory, and the day is overwritten by the events that followed, by war and hurricane and every family’s private trials. But the record can’t be erased, any more than a year can have 364 days, and anything can bring it back full screen, like a glance at a skyline, a siren in the distance, a prayer that comes as reflex as you walk to work and remember the day they never came home”.

The history of terrorism is as old as humans’ willingness to use violence to affect politics. The Sicarii were a first century Jewish group who murdered enemies and collaborators in their campaign to oust their Roman rulers from Judea.

The Hashhashin, whose name gave us the English word “assassins,” were a secretive Islamic sect active in Iran and Syria from the 11th to the 13th century. Their dramatically executed assassinations of Abbasid and Seljuk political figures terrified their contemporaries.

Zealots and assassins were not, however, really terrorists in the modern sense. Terrorism is best thought of as a modern phenomenon. Its characteristics flow from the international system of nation-states, and its success depends on the existence of a mass media to create an aura of terror among many people.

The word terrorism comes from the Reign of Terror instigated by Maximilien Robespierre in 1793, following the French revolution. Robespierre, one of twelve heads of the new state, had enemies of the revolution killed, and installed a dictatorship to stabilize the country. He justified his methods as necessary in the transformation of the monarchy to a liberal democracy.

International terrorism became a prominent issue in the late 1960s, when hijacking became a favored tactic. In 1968, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked an El Al Flight. Twenty years later, the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, shocked the world.

The era also gave us our contemporary sense of terrorism as highly theatrical, symbolic acts of violence by organized groups with specific political grievances.

The bloody events at the 1972 Munich Olympics were politically motivated. September, a Palestinian group, kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes preparing to compete. Black September’s political goal was negotiating the release of Palestinian prisoners. They used spectacular tactics to bring international attention to their national cause.

Munich radically changed the United States’ handling of terrorism: “The terms counterterrorism and international terrorism formally entered the Washington political lexicon,” according to counterterrorism expert Timothy Naftali.

Terrorists also took advantage of the black market in Soviet-produced light weaponry, such as AK-47 assault rifles created in the wake of the Soviet Union’s 1989 collapse. Most terrorist groups justified violence with a deep belief in the necessity and justice of their cause.

Terrorism in the United States also emerged. Groups such as the Weathermen grew out of the non-violent group Students for a Democratic Society. They turned to violent tactics, from rioting to setting off bombs, to protest the Vietnam War.

All too often we are reminded that terrorism continues to inflict pain and suffering on people’s lives all over the world. Almost no week goes by without an act of terrorism taking place somewhere in the world, indiscriminately affecting innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Countering this scourge is in the interest of all nations and the issue has been on the agenda of the United Nations for decades.

Osama Bin Laden has gone; however, Terrorism is here to stay. The circumstances that gave rise to it may change and terrorist organisations and state sponsorship may come and go, but the phenomenon is unlikely to disappear”.

To return to the 18th Anniversary of 9/11 and the voices that began as calls for help, information, and guidance.

They quickly turned into soundings of desperation, and anger, and love. The remembered voices of the men and women who were trapped on the high floors of the twin towers.

From their last words, a haunting chronicle of the final 102 minutes at the World Trade Center built on scores of phone conversations and e-mail and voice messages.

These last words give human form to an all but invisible strand of this stark, public catastrophe: the advancing destruction across the top 19 floors of the north tower and the top 33 of the south, where loss of life was most severe.
Rescue workers did not get near them. Photographers could not record their faces. If they were seen at all, it was in glimpses at windows, nearly a quarter-mile up.

Yet like messages in an electronic bottle from people marooned in some distant sky, their last words narrate a world that was coming undone.

A man sends an e-mail message asking,

”Any news from the outside?” before perching on a ledge at Windows on the World.

A woman reports a colleague is smacking useless sprinkler heads with his shoe.

A husband calmly reminds his wife about their insurance policies, then says that the floor is groaning beneath him, and tells her that she and their children meant the world to him.

Taken together, the words from the upper floors offer not only a broad and chilling view of the devastated zones, but the only window onto acts of bravery, decency and grace at a brutal time.


“What we are confronting here is an evil ideology………. It is not a clash of civilisations – all civilised people, Muslim or other, feel revulsion at it. But it is a global struggle and it is a battle of ideas, hearts and minds, both within Islam and outside it. This is the battle that must be won, a battle not just about the terrorist methods but their views. Not just their barbaric acts, but their barbaric ideas. Not only what they do but what they think and the thinking they would impose on others”.

Gareth McCray OAM

Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo – Virgil
“No day shall erase you from the memory of time”.


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