You’d have to be in a coma or living in the rainforest of Papua New Guinea not to know it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11. There are a number of momentous events that have characterised modern history and changed our world forever – Waterloo, the Great War, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, Stalingrad, Hiroshima and then the Twin Towers. These events define the age. Almost all involved brutality and slaughter – man’s inhumanity to man. Few will forget that fateful day. Most can remember where they were and what they were doing. I know I can. I watched in silent horror. This changes everything, I thought with typically restrained British understatement. The Cold War may be over but a new ideological conflict was about to start in deadly earnest.
Not since January 1815 when 1,500 British troops attacked a thinly defended American battery on Georgia’s coast* has any foreigner attacked the American mainland. To be sure there had been terrorist atrocities before but the scale of the aerial strikes on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon were of an entirely different order using two of the most potent symbols of western technological supremacy – the passenger jet and the skyscraper. It’s made America jittery and defensive. Moslems across the West are vilified as the new reds under the bed and the loose talk of jihad and crusades makes our fragile and fractious world an infinitely more dangerous place. Be afraid.
*The British then proceeded to sack the nearby town of St. Mary’s and burn its fort before departing just weeks later. The hostilities marked the last invasion and occupation of the U.S. mainland by foreign troops. The fighting was all the more remarkable because the War of 1812 (when the British tried to burn down the White House) had ended a month earlier with the Treaty of Ghent. By the time the invaders pulled out, even Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British at New Orleans – often considered the final battle of the war – was history. It had taken a month for word of peace to make its way across the Atlantic to both British and American forces.