Published on 7 Sep 2011

My 9/11

Until this year’s Japanese tsunami, 9/11 was the worst destruction I had ever seen in the developed world. On the day it happened, like everyone else, I can remember where I was.

I was being lunched by some telecoms executives (a rare event), I can’t remember why, but it was in the London restaurant world of Charlotte Street. My mobile rang and my newsdesk told me an “aircraft has hit one of the twin towers in New York”. Relieved of my somewhat dull circumstance, I pounded back to the studios on my bike, imagining in my mind’s eye a small Piper aircraft embedded in the glass of the tower.

The scale of what I saw streaming into our newsroom on the newsfeed stunned me. Within moments we were “on air” and talking live to the pictures as we saw them. At one point we could see people falling to their deaths from the upper floors burning building – I began to wonder whether we were treating their desperate deaths with the dignity they deserved. We never rebroadcast them.

Amid the shock, I had a premonition of terrible reprisal and consequence. But for weeks, amazingly nothing happened, but then Afghanistan was launched, and soon Iraq too. Our decade of war was with us.

The searing memory of 9/11 itself for me is enshrined in a rare visit right into the very heart of Ground Zero a few weeks after the attack. Journalists were banned – images had to be grabbed from the perimeters of the site. But my friend, the celebrated American panoramic photographer, Joel Meyerowitz, had been given special access to record the site from day one for the New York Parks Department.

He was the one lone cameraman on site everyday for the first three months of rescue and recovery. He called me up and told me to fly over to New York suggesting I and my own camerman, Malcolm Hicks, accompany him into the site as his “assistants”. We got away with it. Our film portrayed the horrific wreckage from ground level and below. The detritus was still steaming and hot; the smell was all but unbearable; and the tiny fragments of so many human lives brought home all too vividly the scale of loss and somehow the inevitability of retaliation.

So that 9/11 for me is also entwined with the consequences of that retaliation. On the ground in Baghdad, in the horror and fear of life and death: The blast walls; the Humvees; the telltale suicide bomb blasts and consequent towers of smoke that located the bomb toward which we hurried for news; the strewn limbs and pools of blood; the wailing mothers and people on the panicked move.

I have not reported from Afghanistan in this phase of conflict – nor from Saudi Arabia – but both, together with Iraq, have dominated my own reporting decade ever since that eleventh day of September 2001. Pray God it is a decade the like of which we shall never know again.

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22 reader comments

  1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Any living human does not have the minutist authority to kill anyone, for anything, never mind a planned and merciless attack on thousands.
    As a pacifist and a non believer in the concept of a ‘just war’ , I cannot condone marching forward on others territory causing destruction on such a scale , yet how do we stop this kind of scenario happening again without a sufficient demonstration of strength and resistance?
    I wept as I listened to the relatives last night talk about their loved ones and cannot comprehend any religion or sect which advocates deliberate harm deriving from pious law.’God is love’ rings in my ears daily as I try to understand the more trivial, but nevertheless confusingly aggressive aspects of our lives; but this, this event, is past an understanding which correlates love, grace, nuture and care for mankind. The only ‘which passeth understanding’ I wish to contain in my psyche is the love which passeth understanding. NB I am not a religious person , but have a deep desire for the central theosophy of Christianity.

  2. Philip Edwards says:

    Jon,

    So, by your own implication the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were “retaliation” for the horror of 9/11. Yet there has not been and never will be the slightest evidence that either nation or their then leaders had the slightest thing to do with 9/11. Which would make such “retaliation” – your word – completely immoral by any standard.

    Furthermore there has been no viable explanation as to why THREE, not two, multi storey buildings collapsed exactly onto their own footprint in a way not seen before. The official “explanation” has been denounced by the designers of the buildings, the companies who manufactured the supporting steel, the company who tested the steel to ASTM standards, and many neutral experts in their own fields.

    When I first heard the news my immediate reaction was one of incredulity. I KNEW the twin towers had been designed to receive the impact of not one BUT TWO passenger liners. Eye and technical evidence since has only served to increase that incredulity.

    9/11 was a heinous, mass-murdering crime. But the US government has lied to us about it, just as they lied about the causes of the invasions. Which is why they aren’t trusted by anyone.

    1. Philip says:

      I don’t disagree with anything you say Philip. But it’s worth remembering that you can still say such things here – or in the USA. If you said something critical like that about Saddam’s Iraq, the Taliban Afghanistan, or in Russia, China & many other places in the world – including Saudi Arabia – the consequences for you would be unpleasant, to say the least. As we regularly bash the Americans & our own Governments, I believe we should remember that they are a good deal more open & accountable & open to criticism than many other countries. And in the trust the government category, I think I’d go with USA & UK rather than Russia or China. I realise that’s not saying muchbut it’s too easy sometimes to take our relatively open societies for granted.

  3. adrian clarke says:

    I have no comment to make on Philips blog.We know we are frequently lied to by all governments world wide.No less our own .We know people in power often usurp that power.
    We saw the attack on the twin towers , with our own eyes,so that is certainly not a lie.It was an uncalled for , unannounced war attack by foreign powers on a par with Pearl Harbour.An attack the USA took as a declaration of war by al quaeda.Their response rightly or wrongly was to attack Afghanistan under the guise that it harboured and trained Quaeda terrorists.The same can not be said of Iraq , for Sadam was the buffer in that country against Al quaeda.
    I believe history will be unforgiving on the USA for its involvement in both countries for its over reaction to 9/11 that has created carnage and cost lives on a far greater scale.
    Our own part in the acceptance and agreement in such actions is just as despicable.Were we on the losing side , our leaders would be hunted by those supposedly seeking justice in the Hague. Winning should not afford the luxury of leniency

  4. Saltaire Sam says:

    Powerful stuff, Jon.

    It was no surprise when the US attacked Afghanistan. It was where the terrorist leadership was based and I don’t recall much protest at the time. It was badly bodged which has led to a growing discontent.

    Iraq is different. It had nothing to do with 9/11 although that was used as an excuse. It was a pointless war, apparently to do with Bush family ‘honour’ and shamefully supported by Blair and a supine House of Commons.

    The fact that politicians and their puppets went to such lengths to fabricate ‘evidence’ to justify their illegal actions will be a blot on western democracies for many years to come and has cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives over and above those tragically lost in the Twin Towers.

    The memory of those who died on 9/11 is insulted by what was done in their name.

    How ironic that at the time of the tenth anniversary, Blair, one of the arch criminals of the aftermath, is reported to be trying to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. The man has no shame.

    1. Meg Howarth says:

      Your comment also speaks for me, Sam. Well-said.

  5. Putney says:

    When political leaders have no savvy , like eg Bush and Blair ,they can be relied upon to maximise the loss by grand standing themselves at the expense of thinking with wisdom. The foreseeable result being greater unnecessary costbthan the original damage. The odds of 2 reckless chancers like B and B ever running the Weatern world again must be millions to one but generations will pay the price for their ignorance and folly. Surely there is some way to bring Blair to book for his crass messianic behaviour . If Blair drove a car the same way as he ran the country he would have been put out of our way for a long time.

  6. bemused says:

    The conflict between Islamists and the west stems from basic and irreconcilable philosophies. The west broadly purports po litical,economic and individual freedom whilst Fundamental Islamists make it more and more difficult to integrate the world of Muslims into modernity. Western concepts are viewed as interfering with true enrichment of the soul which does not come from the possession of wealth. Presumably modern Muslims are viewed by the fundamentalists as a threat to the continuation of the Islam faith and more importantly to the powers of that faith.

    9/11 was a strike at the commercialism that was threatening the narrow idealism that does not want progress. Let us hope that this dreadful devastation has backfired and that Muslims everywhere are beginning to seek self realisation and freedom.

    Perhaps the Arab Spring is in a way demonstrative of the break from rigid oppression although it is manifested in a demand for democratic government rather than modernisation of religion. Let us hope that fundamental influences do not pervade this struggle for freedom.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      bemused,i am with you in the hope that the so called Arab Spring is for modernisation and democracy and not rigid religious fundamentalism It is interesting that in Yugoslavia,Egypt,Libya and you can go back to Iraq and even Syria.All were ruled by despotic power, yet in each it quelled the power of the religious fanatics.
      Lets hope their freedoms is not a freedom to impose religious fanaticism making the world an even more dangerous place

  7. Jonathon says:

    The biggest Mind Control operation ever:- “911 ” a false flag event by Mossad and Co. Used to justify numerous attrocities perpetuated by many Tyrants and their thugs.

  8. Nimco Mohammed says:

    Yes, two towers were sadly destroyed, and two thousand people killed but to then go and invade and destroy two ENTIRE, SOVEREIGN countries(one of them completely unrelated to the event itself), killing hundreds of thousands, and maiming God know how many? Talk about using a sledge hammer to crack a nut! what happened to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you’ I thought America was ‘Gawd’s Country’??

    Such rank hypocrisy.

    In the decade after 9/11 the US has lost whatever little moral authority it had in the world, incurred trillions of war debt on itself, and the world is a less safe, and a more dangerous place, especially for those people who had the least to do with the 9/11 attacks.

    This year, let us not forget the other post-9/11 victims ,and in the spirit of remembrance send Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to the Hague to face trials for crimes against humanity, or maybe the intelligent people of America can get together for an impromptu hanging of their own the like of Saddam Hussein’s- ah, one can always dream.

  9. Matthew V. Daly says:

    Good people are giving their time over the next four days to parse the facts so that this dreadful scenario is never repeated.

    Gathering at Ryerson University in Canada this weekend are good people like Dr Lynn Margulis (US Science Medal Recipient), Dr Michael Keefer, Dr Richard Lee, Dr Peter Dale Scott, Professor Michel Chossudovsky, Dr Laurie Manwell, Dr David R Griffin, John Wyndham (PhD Physics University of Cambridge) etc. They will be pooling their efforts in order to promote rational discourse and transparency, the lifeblood of democracy.

    The Toronto Hearings will be dignified, fact and science-based and placed on the record by academics and attorneys.

    See http://torontohearings.org

  10. Anthony Martin says:

    This day will always have to be about the innocent victims and the relatives who bear the continual pain. This day gives us all Traumatic Stress. Memories of images so unimaginable they don’t seem real.
    This day was the end of something, not the beginning.
    This day is the day that brought home the consequences of human divisions, resulting in hate and terror.
    This day brought forth further horrors of ‘revenge’. This day has been an excuse to erode civil rights & expose the hypocracy of the west.
    This day shows that groups of religious fanatics twist human created beliefs to their own evil ends.
    This day shows how disaffected peoples and victims of inequality and poverty turn to religious groups and, become radicalized.
    This day is the pinnacle of human hate & psyche.
    This day was the result of peoples individual journeys from children to disaffected adults, who plotted an act that should have woken the world to the root causes of hate, but instead used for propaganda.
    This day is the worst day to show what happens when humans are divided by capitalism.
    This day reminds us that after the so called ‘war on terror’ more hate has resulted and, no peace.
    10 years on I still cry.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Anthony, i can not believe it , but i was almost with you , until i got half way down your blog and it turned into an inevitable attack on the West and democracy.
      “This day shows how disaffected peoples and victims of inequality and poverty turn to religious groups and, become radicalized.”If you had blamed the Ismalist nations for the above i would have stayed agreeing,but NO,all their poverty inequality in your eyes is the fault of the West.The fact that women are unequal and chattels of men in the mind and actions of the Islamist is the fault of the West.!!!!! The fact that religion restricts development and opportunity is the fault of the West.Perhaps Anthony you are a secret Muslim and only know one cry,”blame the West.Accept that Muslims do not have nor believe in democracy so blame the West.With that attitude you will still be crying in another ten years Anthony.

    2. Anthony Martin says:

      @Adrian Clarke
      It comes as no surprise that you inspect my comment to see if it meets your approval. Well, I hate to disappoint you but, we are worlds apart in our interpretations of causes of hate and, I don’t pander to your views nor seek approval. Your narrow minded prejudice attitude is typical of the kind of person in the EDL.
      I’m white and Atheist. (You will no doubt approve!) But, I’m also not blind, brainwashed or fooled in understanding where hate emanates. The causes are not just religious fanatics. They are right at the heart of human selfishness. This selfishness has spawned systems that create inequality and misery. Capitalism, Communism & Religions are the root causes of hate in this world. Corrupt governments & colluding wealthy scum are the root causes of hate. Predatory capitalism is spreading like a disease and knows no bounds. Colluding humans embrace it and foster a kind of hidden agenda via collusive system of greed among the benefactors. The west typifies this system.
      Gluttonous greed by the few who control the most. While cesspits of religious fanatics await the victims. The so called ‘Feral Underclass’ of ALL societies.
      Wealthy scum cause hate & Fanatics.

  11. bemused says:

    adrian clarke, how did you know the content of my response when it was not posted for several hours?

  12. Evonne Okafor says:

    You were at Charlotte Street on September 11th? I was actually quite close by but unlike you my life was dining out with posh people. I don’t really like mixing with those types. But back to the story…I was at unfolded online. I will not bore you with what I was doing but information was very hard to get as the internet was at the very limit but what I cold get it was that something VERY serious was going on. I did not saw it on TV until I went home very late that day and probably was the last few people in this country to see. Even I saw the footage online the shock on TV was just as intense and still it each time I see it. One thing that I did noticed on how quiet the skies were as there no planes being grounded.

  13. Daniel says:

    Interesting read Jon, I was wondering what your thoughts were on the 9/11 commission? Also the shocking statement (well to me it was) that were made by 6 of the 10 commissioners stating that the whole report was a “criminal cover up” and they were “set up to fail” statements that were backed up by one of the senior council members of the commission John J. Farmer.

  14. Saltaire Sam says:

    Challenged by John Humphrys on R4’s Today on Saturday, Tony Blair claimed that the scale of the attack on 9/11 i.e the fact that 3000 had died, made it different from other terrorist attacks and therefore justified the response.

    A few minutes later in an interview in which he was clearly rattled, he tried to say that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, in which at least 100,000 innocent people died, didn’t help radicalise young Muslims.

    So the death of 3000 changes the mindset of one side, but the death of 100,000 plus has no effect on the other.

    A man, it seems, not only in denial but with a very shaky hold on logic.

  15. Meg Howarth says:

    A poignant reminded via Twittter:

    ‘Please remember – Tomorrow is the 11th September – the anniversary of the overthrow of Chile’s democracy by the CIA in 1973’.

    Am ashamed to say that until reminded with only 30mins to go before 11/09/11, I had completely forgotten about this shameful event.

  16. byrdele says:

    Yes, Jon. This has been a decade of carnage. The word ‘sad’ does not describe it, nor does ‘horrific’. There really is no word for it.

  17. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    I listened to Charles’ comments in the memorial service. It was a powerful ,empathetic speech and I echo every word .

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