Remembering September 11, 2001 ten years later .. a view from the attic ..Sep 11th, 2011 | By Randall White | Category: USA Today
Like others, no doubt, I kept a few notes on my own remote experience of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. I won’t even try to say just why. And my especially marginal experience of the main events in New York and Washington took place in the current biggest city of the North American attic in Canada.
(Canada as the attic of North America — or even just of the USA itself — is something I once heard on TV, from the Vancouver Centre MP and Brian Mulroney cabinet minister Pat Carney. I don’t think it is appropriate in all circumstances. But in this case it does seem to fit.)
Yesterday I actually managed to find the resulting ring binder marked “SEPTEMBER 11” in an old filing cabinet in the basement. Paging through it has been my personal way of commemorating the 10th anniversary of what the estimable G.P. Murray in his local Inside Queen’s Park newsletter called “the horrifically effective strike,” on that tragic day in 2001.
My first entry was for “Friday, September 14, 2001” — three days after the disastrous main events. The first paragraph read: “Television has been the biggest star. (According to a Harris Interactive ‘survey of 4,610 online adults,’ reported in Business Week, October 1, it was the ‘main source of information’ for more than 75% of those surveyed.) ‘Have you been watching TV?’ my friend … asked over the phone. McLuhan was right, sort of.”
My story went on: “But McLuhan never lived to see the Internet … The subject on an email message from family in Northern California summed up the first reaction in the land of the free: ‘Sombre Mood’ … Just north of the undefended border, here in Toronto, I’d say it’s pretty much the same.”
About a page later I wrote: “Today [ie September 14, 2001] is an official day of mourning, and especially sombre. I caught the tail end of our very simple Canadian service in Ottawa [again on TV]. I was moved more than I thought I might be … After our Canadian service, Newsworld [old name of the CBC cable news channel] switched to coverage of the official US event, in Washington. For my taste, it had too many dated religious overtones, and not enough about We the People … But the singing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic moved me … And [at least] African American preachers still seem able to allude to God with some real conviction.”
The story continued: “Newsworld finally switched to coverage of the official UK service in London, across the sea. It had a kind of vaguely impressive old Church of England solidity. But it too still struck me as essentially dated and flat somehow … Yet once again there was … the Battle Hymn of the Republic … it was Winston Churchill’s favourite song.”
My entry for September 14, 2001 ended with a return to northern North American shores: “A final optimistic note, I thought: Newsworld has also carried a clip on the memorial service in Calgary. It featured some chanting and an invocation to the Creator, from a lady representing the aboriginal peoples of Canada.”
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I could go on and on like this. But that would be far too long. Just to sketch the picture very quickly, I had subsequent entries for: Monday, September 17, 2001; Thursday, September 20; Tuesday, September 25/Wednesday September 26; Monday, October 8 (Canadian Thanksgiving); and Friday, October 12.
Then most of my binder marked “SEPTEMBER 11” is taken up by attached supporting documents, printed from the Internet. They include “Text of Bush Statement,” September 11; “Text of a Statement from Prime Minister Jean Chretien on the US terrorist attacks”; “Email from San Francisco — Sombre Mood”; “Bin Laden Urged to Leave Afghanistan” …
“Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People”; “Chretien not offended by Bush’s Failure to mention Canada in speech”; “Email from deep in the heart of Toronto — Interviewing [Noam] Chomsky, Radio B92, Belgrade”; “Canada’s former foreign affairs minister frowns on continental perimeter”; “Feds to introduce anti-terror laws Oct. 15, worried about US perceptions”; “Canadian Alliance MP defends ‘terrorist haven’ charge on NRA Web site” …
“Email from Mombasa, Kenya — What others say”; “Call for holy war renewed”; “Despite attacks on home country, Afghan cricket team in Pakistan for tourney”; “Finland takes over from US as most competitive nation, Canada ranks third”; “First ‘Internet war’ gives Americans non-American viewpoints”; and “Bin Laden, Bush Face Off at Hong Kong Toy Fair.”
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Ten years later, there are eight particular passages from my own musings that still seem to me somewhat interesting, especially from the standpoint of what is going on today:
1. On September 17, 2001 the Canadian House of Commons returned from its summer recess. The September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were the first issue it took up. I jotted a few things down while watching this show on TV: “As usual, I am glad in spite of everything that Jean Chretien is still prime minister of Canada. For me he said almost exactly the right things … Stockwell Day is now droning on, as leader of the [“Canadian Alliance”] official opposition. He is presenting various critical perspectives on our preparedness for the new kind of long war ahead … As it happens, I think much of this is just common sense — especially in light of September 11 … Alas, Day ended his remarks with ‘God Save Our Queen,’ and no reference at all to We the People of Canada … these guys are regrettably not the democratic populists they claim to be. They are just old-fashioned Canadian conservatives, with a fresh free-market ideological veneer.” (And especially since May 2, 2011 Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been going out of his way to underline this point!)
2. Six days after the September 11 disasters I was apparently expecting that George W. Bush’s USA, USA was going to strike back at something very formidably — in keeping with the line from the Battle Hymn of the Republic that goes “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword.” So far it hadn’t quite happened, and I wrote: “maybe the very harsh reaction I’ve been expecting will not be quite so harsh. The Taliban in Afghanistan is being threatened with ‘retaliation on an unprecedented scale,’ if it doesn’t hand Osama bin Laden over to Washington ‘dead or alive.’ But it’s not at all clear exactly what this retaliation may involve.”
3. On September 20 I wrote about how part of the trouble was explained in a phone conversation I’d had with a longstanding Toronto colleague and friend, originally from the USA: “He … is still, I think, a US citizen. A while back, while we were drinking a lot of red wine on a train trip, he told me that he thought Gore Vidal was about right on the real USA. But now he confesses that the residual American patriot in him is rising, almost involuntarily. He is trying to be rational. But one side of him just wants to ‘go out and kill the fuckers — if someone can figure out who the fuckers are!”
4. On Tuesday and Wednesday, September 25 and 26, I noted how one part of the word-flow from George W. Bush’s official Washington “from one only slightly paranoid angle … exudes a kind of essentially annexationist mentality about Canada … So does the President’s response to another insignificant Canadian issue in his September 20 speech: ‘An amazing thing came up the other day. Somebody said to me, well, you know, in your speech to Congress, there were some that took affront in Canada because I didn’t mention the name. I didn’t think it was important to praise a brother, after all, we’re talking about family.’”
5. The immediate American public debate after September 11 that we watched on TV must have had some degree of high-minded wisdom and rationality about it. By the end of the month I in any case was writing, with what now strikes me, 10 years later, as remarkable naivety and lack of foresight: “Now more than two weeks after the very sad and tragic events of September 11, there do seem to me at least a few signs that, this time around, American foreign-policy makers are maybe not going to screw things up quite the way they did in Vietnam. In spite of everything, the very harsh and essentially mindless reaction I took to be virtually inevitable and beyond immediate debate two weeks ago has not quite materialized, yet at least.” (And how appalling it is that, on September 11, 2011, there is a war in Afghanistan still droning on — and involving Canadian as well as US and UK and other forces — even if everybody is now supposed to be on some very short leash: which an increasing lack of money will probably enforce, if nothing else does!)
6. On Canadian Thanksgiving, Monday, October 8, 2001, I was writing about the growing focus on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda: “Yesterday, a recent tape featuring Osama bin Laden and two of his key Al Qaeda partners was run on US TV — in Arabic with a less than deft interpretive voice translating into English. Essentially it called for Islamic jihad against America, etc. But what was most compelling was the message … of bin Laden himself. He is a character whom Hollywood would be pleased to have invented. (And perhaps in some senses it has) … One key point … was that in everything they did on the tape bin Laden and his Al Qaeda colleagues rather clearly took some sort of responsibility for the September 11 attacks on America. The dynamic duo of Bush and Blair … do appear to have smoked the bad guys out into the open.” (And yet of course, it is quite amazing, and perhaps appalling too, that the long arm of American international law has apparently only this past May 2, 2011 [also the date of an important Canadian federal election?] done away with Osama bin Laden — and in Pakistan, and not the Afghanistan that we all finally invaded to get rid of him and his Al Qaeda colleagues, etc, etc, etc. ‘We’ did get the Taliban in Afghanistan, for a while, but now they are back too!)
7. By this point — Canadian Thanksgiving 2001 — I, like so many others, had been convinced that in spite of everything this was an enemy who had to be stopped! I wrote: “whatever appalling things might be reasonably enough said about the continuing moral and political turpitude of predatory capitalism in America and the West (and Japan etc), there is one great difference between all of ‘us’ in this sense, like it or not, and Osama bin Laden. We are at least not systematically setting out to murder random masses of people for political ends. As even the likes of Christopher Hitchens aptly enough urge, Osama and his friends are finally just a new scourge of fascism in history … And, say what you like, there is no hope for any part of humanity in this latest style of fascism — as the regime of the Taliban which does seem to support bin Laden in Afghanistan makes so clear. It can only lead us into another evolutionary dead end … There is no choice but to continue trying to stamp it out … The most convincing official version of the argument has come from Tony Blair …”
8. Even so, four days later there was still a side of the new struggle that only real Americans could share? On Friday, October 12 I wrote: “What I’m starting to appreciate better is the extent to which the fateful day of September 11 poses some crisis for the American psyche … And … there does seem to be a struggle for the USA which cannot be shared by any other country … a struggle of Americans with the soul of America … even in Canada the clear majority of us are not Americans in quite this sense. The thought that September 11 ultimately means there can be no masters of the universe in the global village … or that the whole world is not eventually going to become just one giant United States … does not really trouble the rest of us. We can have no ultimate interest in dying to somehow prove it untrue. This is a point that many Americans do seem to me to have not yet quite grasped. (I’m still haunted by Rahm Emanuel’s astounding remarks about people becoming Americans all around the world, on Geraldo’s show, just after Bush’s speech to Congress on September 20.)” Things have changed a bit in this respect over the past 10 years, it seems to me — and in some degree a bit optimistically, maybe. But the “struggle of Americans with the soul of America” goes on.
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Reports of this sort can of course only ever be personal and subjective in the very end. On September 11, 2011 I find I want to end all this (for those who are still on board) with a very local reference — that will mean nothing if you do not live or are otherwise interested in Canada’s most populous province of Ontario, west of the Ottawa River, east of the Lake of the Woods, north of the Great Lakes, and south of Hudson Bay.
Soon enough, on Thursday, October 6, 2011 there will be an Ontario provincial election. And it could be quite important historically, as a result of how it may or may not enhance or limit the deeper schemes of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in Ottawa. As I have thumbed through the attached supporting documents I have stumbled across a newspaper article for October 16, 2001, headlined “Ontario Premier Mike ‘Chainsaw’ Harris to resign after six years in office.” Mike Harris, as some will of course know, was the great conservative scourge of his time and place — remembered fondly by some, and toxically by others. I am not at all sure that the sad and tragic events of September 11, 2001 had anything of consequence to do with his resignation (which did not finally take effect until 2002 in any case). But it is an incontestable fact that the resignation was announced not much more than a month after “9/11.”
To take a little of the local edge off, I want to very quickly note two final matters of a much broader nature. The first is a quotation from the writings of the English literary critic (and former school classmate of George Orwell), Cyril Connolly — which, for what must have seemed pretty good reasons at the time, I put at the beginning of my binder on “SEPTEMBER 11.” The quotation originally appeared in the introduction to Connolly’s short and I think quite sweet volume of 1965 on The Modern Movement — 100 Key Books From England, France, and America, 1880–1950. It goes : ”The French fathered the Modern Movement, which slowly moved beyond the Channel and then across the Irish Sea until the Americans finally took it over, bringing to it their own demonic energy and taste for the colossal.”
My second quick final note is about the Battle Hymn of the Republic — the first verse of which I also put at the beginning of my binder on “SEPTEMBER 11. For those who are wired for sound from You Tube I have tried to find a version of this great American Civil War anthem that I like myself, and feel comfortable recommending as a final memorial on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. I can report that I don’t like either the version by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the rather similar version by some US army chorus. But I can recommend with some enthusiasm these four rather different versions, in order, or just the one (or two?) whose titles attract you: JOAN BAEZ “The Battle Hymn of the Republic “ ; Odetta — Battle Hymn Of The Republic ; Cactus Cuties, Battle Hymn of the Republic — video by Lubbock Independent School District, Texas ; and Whitney Houston — Battle Hymn Of The Republic (WHH).