On Saturday the world will mark the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on America. It hardly seems possible that it was so long ago. I guess we all remember where we were when it happened.
I was sitting at my desk on the balcony at Politico’s talking to my bookkeeper when I suddenly noticed that Sky News had switched to Fox and were showing smoke coming from a tall tower. As the situation became clearer I remember seeing a spec on the skyline coming closer to the tower. I assumed a small light aircraft had hit it. In the corner of the screen I noticed a spec moving across the screen. ‘Jesus, there’s another plane’, I remember saying. ‘Oh my God, it’s going to hit the other tower’. Crash. Fire. Carnage. But it wasn’t until the first tower collapsed that the true horror hit me. People down below in the shop stood watching the bigger screen in silence. Someone rushed out the door saying her sister worked at the World Trade Center and she had to phone her.
At that moment I thought of my friend Daniel Forrester who I knew worked there from time to time. Indeed his father had a corner office in one of the towers. I tried to ring him. The number didn’t work. I remember helping a customer ring her boyfriend in China to tell him what was happening. His father worked in one of the towers. I kept trying to call Daniel, becoming increasingly frantic. Eventually he called me. The emotion of the day caught up with me and I can remember speaking to him with tears running down my face, trying to keep my voice from breaking up completely.
I remember thinking how brilliantly Sky had coped with the coverage. I think Kay Burley was broadcasting at the time. She had come a long way from her first job on TVAM. That day she came of age. It wasn’t until much later in the day that I started to think about the political implications. I could not understand why President Bush hadn’t sought to immediately reassure his weeping nation. It was not his finest hour.
A few days later I found an old boarding pass in my bedroom. To my horror I realised that my partner John and I had actually been on one of the flights - the one from Boston - only three weeks earlier. It was quite a realisation.
September 11th 2001 was a day that changed the world. It robbed a generation of its innocence and its consequences will be felt for decades to come. In some ways it still affects our foreign policy today. There’s little doubt that had the attacks on September 11th hadn’t happened, the Middle East would be in a very different place today. The assumption is that it would be in a much better place. We’ll never know for sure.
The attacks led to the invasion of Aghanistan, not just by American, but an international coalition of 42 countries, including the United Kingdom. The aim was to drive Al Qaeda and the Talibam out of Afghanistan. That aim was achieved, but then it all gradually went wrong and no one really seemed to know how to get out of the conflict with our reputations intact. Now that we are out we will look back on the last few weeks as a humiliation of western foreign policy from which it will be difficult to recover.