The other day I read something by John Birmingham on Steve Irwin
in which he wrote that we would all always remember what we were doing when we heard that Steve Irwin was dead, and I thought, er, what was I doing? I can’t remember. But I thought for a while and eventually remembered, so that is okay.
I do not have to think very hard at all to remember what I was doing at about half past six or seven in the morning, five years ago today. I was in the bad habit of waking up and turning on the television in those days, and had an easy familiarity with the lives of Mel and Kochie, who now seem utter strangers to me. I turned on the television and there was a picture that did not make any sense: a sort of textured grey thing with a blot in the middle. I remember looking at it having no idea what it could be, and figuring out from the sounds that the television was making that it was a wall of the World Trade Center. I needed to be at work early, so I did not tarry long before the television, but I have the impression that the entire story to that point was imparted to me rather quickly. I walked off briskly towards the train station, and I remember that my main thoughts were neither Christian nor civilised.
One thought was, what an audacious thing to do!
And the other was, someone is going down for this in a big way!
The thoughts had the ‘!’ on them, and I am sure I felt almost exultant. How dreadful. I did not have a strong sense of ‘how dreadful’ then or afterwards, because I have read too much and thought so long and so often about the numerically greater tragedies of our time and other times- The Gulag Archipelago, the Hungry Ghosts, the War Against the Jews, the genocide in Rwanda and against the unborn. I rarely think about the events of September 11th without thinking also of the 100,000 villagers murdered by jihadists in Algeria, whose memory rose in my mind unbidden in those days whenever I heard any commentator seize upon the attacks on Washington and New York as startling new evidence that islamofascists were bad. Most of that day I spent worrying about one particular person who I knew was working in the Pentagon until I heard they were alright, but I never dwelled upon the day as a great catastrophe. Three-thousand is, what, 48 hours of AIDS deaths in Africa? 24 hours? 12?
So, I have never thought of that day as a particularly bad human tragedy, but it was immediately obvious as a turning point in history. Independently from any Neoconservative cabal, I could see immediately that it was an opportunity. There seemed no better moment to cast down tyrants from their thrones. Why should the world endure half slave and half free? Democracy in its essence is a revolutionary ideology.