When those astonishing pictures were broadcast of the terrorist aircraft flying into the Twin Towers in New York on 11 September, 2001, or 9/11 as it will always be known, my wife and I were walking along the Pine Path in Puerto Pollensa until we met a friend who urged us to watch the TV in Hostal Baia.
We were actually on an extended honeymoon, having got married just two weeks before, and had brought over a number of British friends to the island to celebrate. So our 20th wedding anniversary coincided with the weekend’s memorial services and media programmes about 9/11.
One message, repeated endlessly that day, was from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. It said the anniversary was a moment for reflection. I couldn’t help thinking that Mr Blair might have had a moment of reflection himself after 9/11 instead of urging George Bush to go to war and joining him, at great cost in lives and money, and succeeding only in making things worse.
The instinctive American reaction to 9/11 came straight from the cowboy culture: “You shot us up, so we’ll come and get you.” There was no serious debate. The only public person to challenge the vengeful public mood at that time was a black American Congresswoman, Barbara Lee, who said: “Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let’s step back for a moment. Let’s just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.”
She was the only member of Congress to vote against the measure introduced by President Bush on 14 September (just three days after the raid) to give him sweeping powers to “use all necessary and appropriate force” in Afghanistan and any country involved the 9/11 attacks or which harboured those responsible for them. She was vilified and described as “a black mutt.”
Susan Sontag was also vilified and branded treasonous for pointing out that US alliances and actions were not irrelevant to the attacks, that the perpetrators might be many things but they were not “cowards,” and that “the unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.”
The “war on terror”, as it was called, was a massive mobilisation of power that brought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and interventions in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia. An academic study has estimated that 929,000 people were killed in these efforts, 387,000 of them civilians. They also estimate that 38 million people have been displaced by the war on terror.
A big factor influencing Americans after 9/11 was what Reinhold Niebuhr called “the myth of American innocence” – a feeling that survived even after many of the country’s dreams had been “so cruelly refuted by history.” Innocence is bound to “American exceptionalism,” the belief that the US is unique and superior among nations.
Yet this is a country that slaughtered and displaced its indigenous peoples, fought a civil war over slavery and has a long history of racism, xenophobia and misogyny, belying any claim to be innocent, exceptional or unique. America is a country conspicuously lacking in self-knowledge.
The devastation in New York killed nearly 3,000 people from 50 countries – they were by no means all Americans. The episode was, of course, truly horrifying and cruel and it was right to pursue Al-Quaeda, but not by declaring war on several nations, killing innocent people, and driving others into the arms of the terrorists for protection.
America treated the episode as a unique and unjustified act of evil, giving no thought to the thousands of people, many of them also innocent civilians, killed by the American military over the years, including the unknown thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians killed by American bombing raids, some using napalm. The American psyche could not accommodate such acts as relevant to their own pain.
The Patriot Act was introduced, increasing surveillance and curtailing the civil rights of all US citizens. Arab, Muslim and south Asian Americans, like Japanese Americans during World War II, were swept, as one writer put it, “into the brutal politics of guilt by association.” Arabs, who had been treated as whites, were treated as inferior to whites.
A sociologist has shown that anyone deemed suspicious by virtue of ethnic or religious identity became subject to “closed hearings, secret evidence, government eavesdropping on lawyer/client conversations, wiretapping, FBI interviews, seizure of property and mandatory special registration. Obama ended the automatic registration of visa-holding males from most Muslim countries.
A more martial culture became endemic. The US now has 13.5 million citizens with permission to carry concealed firearms, more than 12 times the number of police officers. The fall of the Twin Towers followed a decade of declining crime rates and lower gun sales. Suddenly there was a new paranoia of terrorists for the National Rifle Association to exploit. Asked to estimate how many Muslims were fellow citizens, most American said one-in-six, when the figure is one in a hundred.
Richard Nixon once said of US voters: “People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.” Sadly, the massive and ultimately self-defeating reaction to 9/11 seems to bear him out.
Miraculous Emma v McEnroe
A PART from John McEnroe, everyone else seems to think that Emma Raducanu is a delightful human being and an amazingly accomplished tennis player with the world at her feet.
His charge that she lacks “mental strength” after pulling out of the fourth round at Wimbledon is surely belied by the way the 18-year-old entered her second Grand Slam as a qualifier in New York and won all nine matches on the way to the title without losing a set.
He may have been referring to the break points on which she faltered.in the final. But in the second set she went 1-2 down after losing her service and finished with a 6-3 victory, even after an injury break. If this wasn’t a product of resilience and mental strength, then I don’t know what is.
We should perhaps remember that McEnroe’s judgements are not infallible. He had little time for the Williams sisters and fell out with them in a public spat. Between them, they have now won 30 Grand Slam singles titles, 44 Grand Slam doubles titles and an Olympic gold medal each. Whatever it was that McEnroe felt was lacking in their play, it doesn’t seem to have held them back very much.
Emma’s problem now is that she will be expected to go on winning everything. It will be seen as a national disaster if she doesn’t win next year’s Wimbledon title, which only three British women have won in the past 60 years, the last one in 1977.
She is said to have a brilliant team working for her. She is going to need them in the next few years ahead