The way (and places) we were
di Simone Borri
Some events are destined to leave a mark on the individual history of everyone, not only because of their consequences to leave behind themselves a world that will be no more like the one before. But even because after a long time passing people will recall exactly where they were and what they were doing in that moment actually.
The killing in Sarajevo, the japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Berlin Wall’s fall. And the Al-Qaida attack on the Twin Towers in New York. Every generation has her epochal events. Among my contemporaries, I challenge everyone to say they don’t recall exactly about that precise segment of their life that coincided with 9 a.m. (New York time) of september, 11, 2001.
I was at work, coming back from lunch time. I remember my colleagues sharing with me the news. With a tone of voice between uncertain and lapidary, as it was logical in that situation, they said to me: «There was an attack on World Trade Center. Airplanes against the Twin Towers».
Two minutes later we all were looking at the television supplied to my office. Searching for confirmation. Realizing, silent and astonished, that our world was changing forever.
We didn’t understood that immediately. At first, news were flowing fragmented and without any verification at all. They were speaking of the Pentagon blown up. Of the President of the United States missing in action. G.W.Bush, recently elected to the White House, had not been giving news about himself for several hours, when we came back home and got back to the television to follow the developments of the history.
It came back to my mind a book I read recently at the time. The prophetic Executive Orders, by Tom Clancy and his well informed fantasy. He was the author of the famous Hunt for Red October. That last book was the final chapter on Jack Ryan’s saga. Today the character is the protagonist of a well known action – glamour tv series. At the time, he was the hero of a literary political fiction that was surprisingly coincident with the developments of the just ended Cold War and the uprising clash of civilisations between West and East.
In the book, kamikaze airplanes crashed against Washington Capitol while the President of the United States was speaking to the two Chambers in joint session. The american government power was beheaded in one fell swoop. The former C.I.A. analist Ryan, recently appointed as vicepresident, suddenly found in his hands the whole american executive power. Knowing best what to do about it – thanks to many years of militancy in the secret services – Jack Ryan succeeded at last in restoring the situation and saving U.S.A. and the West.
A good reading, if you like the genre. I would never say it was prophetic as well. In the reality that flowed under my eyes, President Bush had been rescued by the Services who had the duty to protect him, and escorted to a safe bunker. The airplane that were scheduled to crash on the White House was heroically hijacked by the passengers who had averted a catastrophe and gained the imperishable, thankful and honored memory of their compatriots. The Pentagon got away with marginal damages. The American parliament was intact. Both legislative and executive powers were unharmed.
But it changed little. The damage was there, a huge one. The worst had been received not by the substance of the american way of life, but by his symbol. The Twin Towers had been the representation of the american century’s myth, of the invincibility of a country that had never lost a war yet (apart for the Vietnam’s, that had been a particular one), neither had to fight a war on his national ground, after that 1814 in which the British Red Coats attempted to take revenge on the American Revolution and the lost of the northern american colonies.
In 1941, technically the Hawaii islands weren’t part of the Union, being a mere U.S. protectorate (the annexation as the fiftieth State would have occurred after the war, in 1949). So the suicide attack by Al-Qaida had then the questionable honor to be the first to dare the inosable, and to get away with it. From that moment on, the United States lost their certainties, and the western countries with them as well.
After a few days from the attack, some were just talking about an american vendetta, to make it small. Or about the necessity to settle the scores once and for all with that Bin Laden and his islamic terrorism – that had been a thorn in the american side for all the Nineties sprinkling with blood several diplomatic missions all over the world -, for those who still attempted to give a geopolitical and philosophical aspect to the predictable reaction of U.S.A.
The over three thousands deads recovered in pieces from under Ground Zero’s rubble called for an answer by the american power. More than them, it was the awareness that it would be fatal losing the initiative in which was like a new world war. Not the Third, long awaited against U.R.S.S. and never happened because of the atomic threat, but the Fourth, unexpected, started as a re-edition of the Crusades in unlikey times, flowing at last in a full-scale conflict in which at last the terrorists had the same vantage that the vietcong had in the vietnamese jungle: they were few, but agile and elusive.
Two days ago we commemorated the figure of commander Aḥmad Shāh Masʿūd, the Panjshir Lion, who fighted on the Afghanistan mountains the through-a-third-party war that western countries had financed against the soviet Red Army first and then against the Talibans. The news were tragic at the time, not only because of the prestigious life that had failed, but because it meant the deprivation of the western countries of their best ally in the area just before the declaration of a never-declared war that sent our world back in time of ten years at least, to the times of First Gulf War.
The news were tragic, but went in the background. A few days after, White House, C.I.A., Pentagon, they all had their mind set to Enduring Freedom, the new war in Afghanistan, then in Pakistan, then in Iraq, to settle the scores with all the islamic terror centrals. That war would have lasted ten years actually, until the true or alleged phisical elimination of Osama Bin Laden organized by Bush successor, Barack Obama. To be resumed almost immediately because of the rising of a new actor in the islamic fanatics field, sheikh Al Baghdadi and his even more terrific Isis. The story cannot be said concluded at the present days, as the chronicle testifies daily.
The United States, and us with them as well, won the war for the revenge for the Twin Towers and their poor deads. Anyway, as always happens in these cases, they lost something more valuable. A part of the freedom rights of their citizens (and of anyone who was hoping to become one, or in any case to spend the rest of his own life in the country that once a time welcomed all the disinherited and poor people of the world). An easy way of life that twentyfirst century was no more supposed to inherit from the twentieth (just try now to take an airplane in every airport of the world, and then just try to remember how it was only twenty years ago).
And mostly of all, our innocence. We lost it many times. In Pearl Harbor in 1941, in Saigon in 1975, in Kuwait City in 1991. But never like this time. And the infamous Guantanamo – the american protectorate on cuban soil that technically is not part of the national ground and on which therefore laws and rights guaranteed to the people are not applicable – is still there to demonstrate it.
But we are alive. Still alive, even if with bruised bones, and with ourselves’ awareness that is decreasing every day. At 9,15 a.m., more or less, the bell of the fallen will toll again at Ground Zero in New York. That bell that poet John Donne defined once and for all as the one you never have to ask for whom she is tolling.
She is tolling for all of us.