The shock of remembrance

It still has quite an impact to suddenly notice that date “September 11” over in the left column, doesn’t it? On this day three years ago I (along with just about everyone else in Australia and the world) was sitting in my loungeroom numb and transfixed, watching those planes smashing into the buildings again and again and again in replay, and the buildings come tumbling down over and over with all those unseen people still inside. And the world really has been a very different place ever since.

Actually there have been two truly earth-shattering watershed events in world history in fairly recent years: September 11 and the fall of communism in 1989. Both have caused us to see the world in radically different ways than we did before, and the consequences of both events are still playing themselves out on the world stage and in people’s hearts and minds.

In the case of September 11, the wounds remain very raw, as we’ve seen on this blog over the last couple of days. There’s still nothing resembling a consensus on what it meant, even in the wealthy West, and none of us has any real idea how future events will develop as a result. That radical uncertainty breeds fear and hatred.

But we still need to keep trying to make sense of our world, and we do that by asking questions, discussing and analysing, not by vitriolic abuse or falsely (and egotistically) imagining that any of us has a monopoly on victimhood or compassion, or evil for that matter. One of the main conclusions I’ve drawn from my own life experience is the critical necessity to psyche oneself into letting go of hatred, fear and desire for vengeance. Those emotions lead to misery and spiritual death. It doesn’t mean abandoning vigilance or rational (and intuitive) judgments about right and wrong, or succumbing to fuzzy marshmallow moral relativism. But it does mean rigorously cultivating good will and civility for reasons of moral and social hygiene. Here endeth the lesson, brothers and sisters.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

I can’t say that terrorists have managed to really terrorise me. This is not to say that I wasn’t shocked by the original Sept 11 attacks – like everyone else I was dazed by the novelty, audacity and relative enormity of what had been done.

But in retrospect, I understand that terrorists can’t do much to me. I’m hundreds more times likely to die by my own hands in a car accident, or from heart disease or cancer. Indeed, living in Darwin, it’s more likely that I’ll die from a lightning strike than from terrorist activity.

Even if terrorists set off a nuke in New York tommorrow (knock on wood), the odds would still be in favour of dying in mundane ways.

Terrorism concerns me, but I do not see it as insurmountable. The communist world came undone partly due to the huge advantages which naturally accrue to free societies. The soviet bloc held a stupendous conventional and nuclear military force at its command, and in the end did not defeat the west. How a bunch of angry randoms could actually bring the west to ruin is simply beyond my comprehension.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

I think Ken’s “lesson” it is a really clear articulation of something shared by a lot of us as we age.

The struggle to understand and move forward is so much larger than mutual snarkiness. There is a place for it – we all love sport and the pleasure of combat – but on important things we need to put down the scorecard and sit together in the stadium and have a big think together.

Jacques is right – things like the towers and a school in Russia and a bomb in Djakarta don’t threaten us personally. Going about our business unhindered is one of the ways we combat it.

But it does define some broad choice between civilisation and barbarism and we should never let the barbarians bring us down to their level. It is important for us to stand up in our foreign policy and desire to give to support that broad notion of civilisation. In that context, I was personally pretty heartened by the universal condemnation of the embassy bombing inside Indonesia which was all over today’s Australian.

It puts all of us on the same side.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

In 2001 I was ‘out bush’. I didn’t know what Sept 11 was until early December when I came back into my culture and my town. I couldn’t understand the shock. I thought people were being obsessive. I also thought it was a smart target to go for. I thought the Pentagon was a good one as well. I’d always wondered why Big Ben etc weren’t destroyed in the bombing of London.
Finding out as I did after the initial en masse shock was over (and all by myself) rendered the event – just another destrucive news story – and to an extent I still feel that way.
The subsequent war and all that has followed is what makes that event loom large.
Why was the world so shocked? Why wouldn’t the US be a prime target?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jen

Thinking intellectually that the the US (and large buildings) are obvious targets for terrorists, and actually experiencing the reality of it as it unfolds before your eyes on TV in all its confused, panicked horror, are two quite different things. That would loom large for me even if there hadn’t been all these subsequent wars and terrorist events.

Jacques

I agree that terrorist events aren’t a large threat in percentage terms compared with other possible ways one might die (e.g. crossing the street). However that wasn’t really what I was talking about. It’s the change in mindset and way of looking at the world; the reactions of governments in beefing up anti-terrorism laws that potentially threaten freedom; the tensions between pre-emptive unilateralists and UN multilateralists, and between the US and Europe; sharpened ethnic and religious divisions; and yes, the perception of increased personal peril on the part of many people, whatever the objective reality/risk assessment. All those things have made the world feel a quite different place since September 11, and people react rather differently to political events.

Eunoia23
Eunoia23
2022 years ago

If you want to do a social experiment ask people where they were when they first heard of 911.

What I have found intriguing is the number of people who were watching TV at a time they would normally be sleeping.

Everybody has a 911 story.

Caz
Caz
2022 years ago

I was on holidays in Tasmania when it happened. My dad sent me a text message and told me to switch a TV on… this was about half an hour after the first plane hit, and not much after the other one. That’s the only reason I came to be watching television to see it.

It felt very strange. I’d been in New York in April/May 2001, and my trip to Tassie was the second away from home I had taken that year. It was a huge shock. On the one hand, I felt like I was at the other side of the universe from it, but on the other I felt that the world had changed at the same time, even in the sleepy tranquility of Tassie. Everyone was talking about it the next day. There was a sense of fear and uncertainty as to what it was going to mean for the world.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

yes but Parish that is what I’m saying – I missed the whole lot. the confusion etc – by December it was reference value only and I remember being amazed there was footage of the suicide bombers and having to wait to see it.

Cameron Riley
2022 years ago

I agree with Jacque. I was in Nth Virginia when Sept 11th happened. A mate of mine in the next office to me was in the Pentagon when the plane hit, fortunately he was the next segment over. We didnt know he was safe until about 11am when the phones started to unclog. Our local mail center was also one of those that was contaminated with anthrax so we had to wash our hands after reading mail

That being said, I am in more danger of dying from under-cooked meat than terrorism, despite living in a high risk region. I also assume more risk by getting behind the wheel of a car than I do from any terrorist attack.

Terrorists are media whores that rely on the shock mass media is able to impart into a community. After the attacks on Sept 11th, we all went home about 1pm, I watched television to see what was going on, but the media had cut the images down to a 20 second piece of footage that showed the plane hitting the building and then exploding. They were playing it over and over. I turned the TV off pretty quick, as the media had successfully made it into a Steven Siegal, Dolph Lundgren or Wesley Snipes film. It was desensitizing me to the horror and my own feelings from when it happened.

Americans are remarkably upbeat, noone is moping around about Sept 11th from what I can tell. I had one mate that I work with in NJ, he used to work for the Port Authority, and their stories were teheones that got hit directly. He lost immediately family, so it hits him hard. But saturday (sept 11th) was a normal day. Terrorism is not going to beat America that way.