Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years on

It's become a commonplace to say that anyone who was alive in 1963 can remember exactly what they were doing when they first heard the news of Kennedy's shooting. My father, for one, was always rather sketchy on that.

But then, of course, there were no live television pictures of that event. Horrors that unfold in living colour, real-time, live as they happen, etch themselves in the memory far more vigorously, more ineradicably than the transmission of news by word-of-mouth alone ever could. I think the news coverage of the Falklands War in '82 was the first time I can remember experiencing such vivid, horrendous news almost as it happened - though not quite: I'm not sure that there were any live feeds during that conflict; always, surely, there was a delay of at least an hour or so, with some intervening censorship.

The explosion of the Challenger space shuttle was the first time I witnessed a remote, appalling news event at the very moment that it happened. Terrible though that was at the time, its impact pales in comparison with 9/11: the shock less brutally unexpected (space exploration is inescapably hazardous), a product of ill luck and human error rather than wilful malice, and the casualties so few.

The casualties so few, and known immediately. One feature of the WTC attacks which made them uniquely horrible to behold was the dread they struck into so many watchers around the world that someone they knew personally might have been caught up in them, the uncertainty as to who might have been in the buildings or the planes or the emergency service crews, and who might have been saved, the anguished speculations that the death toll might run not to hundreds or thousands but to tens of thousands. Almost everyone in the world was familiar with the iconic Manhattan skyline, almost everyone has fantasised about going there. Very many of us, particularly in Western Europe and North America, had been lucky enough to do so. And many of us had college friends who had worked at some time in New York, in Manhattan, in the financial district, maybe even in or near to the Trade Center itself. I thought someone I knew might have died that day as I watched the pictures on TV; and I'm sure that was a sensation shared by tens or hundreds of millions of other onlookers, however tenuous the grounds for that identification with the events may have been; and it was this sensation which helped make those events so lastingly memorable, so psychologically damaging.

I remember exactly where I was when those planes flew into the World Trade Center. I always will. I think most of us will.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

re the kennedy shooting - does that saying really apply as well outside the USA as it would inside? I imagine it was more important to Americans than Brits.

I vaguely recall where I was when P. Diana died - I know where i was that weekend. But I was never really one to follow royalty storylines, so perhaps other Americans remember it better.

I do remember the Challenger incident. but not the day and time. i remember the year and the Punky Brewster episodes on it and wanting to grow up to be an astronaut. Also, that year my school system transfered my neighborhood to a new building (expanding population, suburban growth, etc) and named the school after the teacher and our logo was the Challenger Spaceship.

But the first news incident I remember 'where i was and what i was doing when i heard about it' was the assassination of Zia - I was in Lahore - and probably would not have noticed it as much if it weren't for my cousins.

and the second news incident I remember in that way was the OKC bombing - I was in school, waiting in the front office to have my early holiday request signed by the principal, and the TV was on - I saw the news and walked back to my class in a daze. by the time I got down the hall and walked into class, the teacher had already heard and turned on the tv, too.

and yes, I remember where i was on Sept 11th, too. WTC hits were horrific, but closer to home, the Pentagon hit was in our backyard...