Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years on

One of my first posts on here was a reflection on the 5th anniversary of 9/11. And it doesn't seem appropriate to write about anything else on this, the 10th anniversary of that terrible day.

A few days ago, I came upon Time Magazine's 9/11 tribute, a gallery of black & white portraits of people most intimately affected by 9/11 or its aftermath, accompanied by videos of them recounting their stories (obviously created through guided interviews, but presented as seamless monologues). The collection of stories is not confined to survivors or rescue crews, but also covers people involved in the subsequent Afghanistan and Iraq wars, including some senior members of the administration (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Bush himself). There's a great deal of material, and it probably all deserves a look. This webpage has eaten up a lot of my last few days (and has probably contributed the glum mood that's been paralysing me).

Naturally, it is the testimony of the firefighters that is most moving. One senior Fire Department officer, Joseph Pfeifer, describes an encounter with a fellow officer - fleeting, apparently almost wordless, as they passed each other in the lobby of one of the WTC towers shortly before it collapsed - with a simplicity that is quite beautiful, and, when the full context emerges towards the end of his monologue, utterly devastating.

There is some great storytelling - and some great filmmaking - in this project; but it is too profuse, and too emotionally draining, to take it all in at a single sitting, or even in several sittings. I think I'm going to have to limit myself to one or two of these video testimonies per day from now on.


John Greaves said...

@mrrfid1 says I remember the morning of 9/11, I was getting ready to go to the airport here in chicago to catch a plane to Vegas when the phone rang, it was Nick Little, at that time in PA, telling me I should turn the TV on, I did and that was the end of my flying for that day for it showed the events live from NYC.

Caren said...

I've been staying away from all media stories about the 10th anniv. of 9/11. I was in DC when it happened, and don't want to continuously revisit it, I think the constant in your face nature of some of the coverage is hindering the healing process. There also a part of me that thinks all of the memorial services are being done for everyone BUT those personally affected by the attacks.

stuart said...

Thanks for sharing that link, Froog.

It doesn't take too much to set me off, but so many of those monologues are really tear-jerking.

I want to believe in Joseph Pfeifer's words about 9/11 drawing humanity together to fight such acts of atrocity, but then I'm reminded of the my wife's (Chinese) recollection of this time a decade ago as a then 17-year-old student.

Her teachers entered the classroom in high spirits, openly expressing their delight at what had happened to America, and saying that they "deserved it". No students challenged this view, partly because you don't do that in the Chinese education system, but more because they shared their teachers' feelings.

I've read other accounts of university canteens in China resounding with cheers as the news filtered through. That my wife hails from southern China, where the Beijing's nationalistic propaganda is tempered by a preference for Cantonese news out of Hong Kong, underscores how widespread this sentiment must have been in China.

A lot has changed in China during the past decade, but not - in my opinion - the CCP-induced nationalism that fueled Chinese schadenfreude in 2001. The extent to which I find such thinking repugnant is impossible to express.

Worse still, perhaps, I know in my heart that had Beijing received sound intelligence of what was about to occur on that fateful day, they would have done nothing to prevent it. I also know that's a shocking thing to say, and is a notion that has met with furious denials when posed elsewhere. Nevertheless, I'm certain Zhongnanhai would have placed geopolitical strategy before humanity. Then they'd have sent out for popcorn and enjoyed the show, just as students throughout China did.

And I mention all this because, as a father-to-be, I really despair of where an increasingly influential and morally bankrupt CCP is leading both its people and the planet. Wherever it is, I doubt it will be in the direction of shared humanitarian concerns and basic freedoms.

Froog said...

JG, I'm glad you hadn't made it to the airport, or on to a plane. There must have been horrendous anxieties for a lot of people airborne at that time, and their loved ones on the ground. And a huge amount of hassle, of course, for anyone unlucky enough to have been caught in an airport, uncertain if, when flights would ever take off, and eventually discovering that air travel would be suspended for the rest of the week; many, I believe, were stuck far from either their origin or their destination, because planes had been forced to land as soon as possible.

I also recall it being said - though perhaps this is a myth? there were so many disturbing rumours spreading that day - that a few planes which, for some reason or other had not responded promptly to calls to divert to the nearest airport, were escorted down by fighter jets under threat of being shot down.

Froog said...

Caren, I know what you mean. And I'm sorry you happened to visit here on this day.

I can well imagine that the media coverage in the US this week has been getting a bit overwhelming. Here in China, that is not the case: there have been relatively few mentions of it in the local media, or even in the overseas news sources I mostly use - so, it would almost have been possible to forget about the anniversary.

While I accept that some of the memorial events might seem a bit over-the-top or self-indulgent, and are doubtless being exploited by local or national politicians to some extent, I think public memorials are healthy and necessary for an event of this magnitude. 9/11 affected everyone. The most intimately affected, of course, were those who lost a family member, but there were remarkably few degrees of separation from a victim for anyone in the USA (or many other countries, come to that): I had friends who worked in the area and were very lucky to have escaped being victims; one of them lost her fiance; a work colleague of mine at the time was on holiday in New York, and was on his way to the WTC to check out the rooftop observation deck at that very moment (I'd advised him to go early in the morning, to try to beat the queues; fortunately, he hadn't fancied the subway in the rush hour, set out a bit later, and didn't get there).

That Time site is very, very good, well worth a look when you've recovered from the current memorial-frenzy. And around half of it isn't about 9/11 at all, but about the Afghanistan/Iraq wars.

Froog said...

Hi Stuart, good to hear from you again.

I haven't come across accounts of the Chinese response quite as extreme as that, but I was teaching here for the first time around the 1st anniversary and was struck by a detachment and lack of sympathy among my students. Anti-American feeling had been pretty stoked up throughout the '90s, mainly because of Clinton's attempts to tie WTO membership to some pledges on human rights improvements; and things reached a fever pitch with the bombing of the Sarajevo embassy - which, as you know, is generally perceived here as a calculated and deliberate act to humiliate China. Antagonism is much more muted now, but still present - focused on things like the attempted Unocal buyout and anti-dumping disputes.

As China has embraced worldwide anti-terrorism efforts during the last decade, I suppose the propaganda viewpoint on 9/11 must have changed - but I haven't seen that much of a transformation of attitudes here. There might not be the violent antipathy of a decade ago, but there's still a rather devastating indifference from most people.

Froog said...

There was another odd point of personal contact for me, the main reason why I went to the memorial service in London the following week.

A woman I'd been dating a year or two earlier had previously been married to a New York fireman. He'd been injured on the job several years earlier, in a road traffic accident, when his truck got tagged by another vehicle when crossing a junction at high speed and rolled over. He made a good recovery physically, but suffered serious brain damage and was reduced to a childlike level of functioning. He was the love of her life, and remained a big part of her world even after she eventually made the hard decision to divorce him and return to England to try to make a new life with their young son (I think she was pregnant at the time of the accident, so her boy had never known him as a father, and neither of them referred to him as that, using only his first name - I heard them speaking on the phone to him several times).

I gather he was sustained by the camaraderie of the FDNY: several of his former workmates used to visit him and hang out almost every week. Then, one day, a couple of them stopped coming any more. It is hard enough for any of us to comprehend what happened that day; how very much harder it must have been for a man with the mentality of a 10-year-old, for whom the fire service was the core of his life.

JG said...

JG as I am called by Froog, and so be it, adds some small additional thought on the whole 9/11 episode and that is my confirmation, belief, that Froog really should convert to real authorship, I have said it before but if the likes of Paul Krugman in the NYT can rant negatively on the incident then this far more thoughtful, and indeed compelling, editorial from Froogville is worthy of putting to paper rather than ether.I always wanted to play an instrument, write a book, my book is somewhat in the same state as Froog, chapter one and frozen despite buying dragon speak to accelerate the output.

Froog said...

Good luck with the book, JG.

I assume Dragonspeak is a voice-to-text conversion software, but it really sounds as if it ought to be the title of the book - either a sword-and-sorcery epic, or a how-to manual on doing business in China.