It is twenty years since the disaster that changed and shaped our World today. No-one is going to forget Tuesday 11th September 2001. It is one of those defining dates in history. My telephone rang. “Jane, quick! Put the radio on! Something is happening in New York. Two planes have crashed into the twin Trade Towers.”
It was exactly two o’clock as I switched on BBC Radio 4 to listen to the News. For one brief moment I thought, “Accident?” Then, as the commentator revealed the details, I knew, “Sabotage!” Thank God my younger son and his wife were not due to fly to NY until the following afternoon. Pete, my older son who lived in NY would be okay. As far as I knew he was working in New Jersey. Mind you, he’d be having difficulty commuting back to Manhattan.
The telephone rang again. “Look, Jane. There are five ‘planes hi-jacked. You really should see the pictures on TV.” I rushed around to my neighbour Georgina’s house and breathlessly blurted out that I needed to see her television – that there’d been a disaster in New York. For an hour we sat simultaneously enthralled and appalled as we watched the unravelling events. When the collapse of the South Tower was shown I started to shake so Georgina made me a cup of tea. Six months previously I had stood on the Ellis Island Ferry observing the skyscrapers, marvelling at perspective and thinking how tiny they looked. Just like a town of LEGO bricks. It was hard to appreciate that thousands of people were inside each tower. And now the towers had collapsed. Oh God! How long does it take to negotiate those endless flights of stairs? There can not been enough time for them to get out. Is that why the commentators have made no mention of casualties?
At this point I returned home to find my Answer-phone blinking. A message from USA. Yes, Peter was safe. That morning he’d actually been working in an office a couple of blocks from the Twin Towers. He was confined to the building because of all the debris and dust. I picked up the phone but was unable to get through to Manhattan, so I called my Mother in California. Where would I have been without her? At eighty-seven years old she was still there to calm me down. “Look, Janie,” she gently pointed out, “There are going to be more of this kind of terrorist attack in your lifetime – just be thankful that your family is safe.”
As the dreadful chain of events unfolded and tales of horror vied with tales of heroism to fill the newspaper columns, I joined my younger son and his wife for a family weekend. They weren’t too disappointed about the sudden enforced cancellation of their NY trip. The event had made them both very aware of how much their little family meant to them and how they did not want to be separated. We all sympathized with and grieved for those whose lives had been irrevocably altered by the ‘plane crashes. We anxiously scanned the Media to try to ascertain exactly what retribution the US Government had in mind. At the same time our hearts went out to the thousands of Afghan refugees who were fleeing Kabul, terrified there’d be a US bombing campaign.
As I checked report after report my heart sank What began as a “Worldwide battle to outlaw terror” was teetering dangerously close to “US revenge”. The fight against terrorism can only be won by diplomacy. The leader of every Country has to agree on measures to prevent groups of fanatics perpetrating suicidal outrages against civilians.
I wrote the above twenty years ago, at a time when I was terrified that WW lll was about to break out. At a time when the skies were strangely silent, free from vapour trails. I wish that I could report that the World had moved on. That it was a better, safer place but sadly my late Mother was right. “there are going to be more of this kind of terrorist attacks . . .”