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Diving for dear life...

Large news events of great moment make me less inclined to write my usual facetious bollocks. Hence the dearth of entries lately. To be honest, facetious bollocks is pretty much 90% of my repertoire.

[It breaks down thus:
* 90% facetious bollocks;
* 2% frantic white lies to parents
* 2% expressions of lust for household objects which I cannot yet afford
* 1% singing under my breath
* 1% whining about my boss/job, both of which I presently loathe
* 3% various swearwords and invective directed at, variously people on the tube who have not mastered basic hygiene/the ability to walk at a speed faster than glacial/people who have tiny little suitcases but insist on wheeling the bloody things everywhere, like some granny with a tartan shopping trolley. PICK IT UP AND CARRY IT YOU LAZY BASTARDS. AND WALK. FASTER.
* 1% serious discourse on matters of world import]

Anyway. Going to concentrate on that last 1% tonight, .

Standard disclaimer: Expressing a mildly dissenting view does not equal big lurve for Bin Laden and the Taliban, okay?

These... people... who hijacked the planes stole the lives of ordinary people going about their everyday business. They're apocalyptic nihilists. They're not anti-American nor anti-western but anti-hope, anti-life. Their mindset represents the very worst, grubbiest barrel-scrapings of the human psyche.

No one but the most idiotic fuckwit would ever suggest that the actions on September 11 were anything other than a criminal act of the worst kind. Only the most diehard, brainwashed, morally incontinent leftist would suggest that the US "deserved" it . Only a fool would fail to acknowledge that the sheer scale of this is something we've never seen before.

But we understand things any way that we can...


* * *

I've been reading a lot of LJs lately, rather than writing anything. I've written three or four entries and either deleted them or made them for my eyes only, because really, what can I say?

I was reading Caz and Qowf's journals, thinking about this different vibe in various countries and what people said when the US was attacked.

The first reaction here in Europe was shock and fear and sympathy. So were the second and third and fourth reactions. Even 3,000 miles away it was impossible not to feel the seismic shock of the attacks.

There was also admiration for the way the people there coped, for their kindness and bravery -- a little exasperation at the customary flag-waving jingoism -- but mostly empathy and a strong desire to help.

I can't remember another event after which so many people admitted that they'd had nightmares about it. Granted, most of the people I know work for newspapers or news agencies so we cannot avoid it, but it's not like them to admit it so readily.

We're removed from the action here, from the enormity (in the word's true sense) of what happened. But outside the playroom-radicalism that Caz talks about, I believe there's much less western anti-Americanism feeling than what she experienced might suggest.

The WTC bombing represented the single largest loss of civilian British lives since the Blitz. This was aimed at the US but also at the west. Everyone I know in Britain looked up and thought "there but for the grace of god go we..."

And also, welcome to the world, because this is what it can be like.

For the Spanish, who face ETA bombs and shootings. For the French, who have their own insurgents. For the Germans and Italians who have faced leftist terrorism. For the poor buggers on both sides of the divide in Israel and Palestine, trapped in a situation that seems to have no solution.

This is bigger than anything that the world has ever experienced before, but the mechanism of it is the same.

Last week I was talking to S. who, like Caz, was feeling very isolated in Europe where she felt no one knew how she was feeling, or shared that sense of shock, of imminent danger.

But she also acknowledged that most Europeans don't share the same sense of desolation and imminent danger because you can't live like that. You just can't. Eventually you have to make some kind of accommodation between the fear of what may happen and the desire to live fully.

I can only imagine it must be worse in the US because you've been safe for so long.

In Britain we live a pretty pampered life. We're fairly rich in material and cultural terms; in lots of ways our society is less restrictive even than the US (although there's always the class system to weigh against that). We have a relatively cushy existence.

But there's the folk memory of the Blitz, and the destruction wrought by the IRA, which means that we can conceive of death raining from the air, of explosions on sunny, clear days.

I lived in Manchester when it was bombed by the IRA, three times in less than five years. Doesn't compare at all in terms of scale -- not AT ALL -- but the third bomb to hit Manchester, which was more than 30lbs of shiny Czech semtex, tore the heart out of a city I loved. To be frank, it scared me a lot.

The first time it happened, they did it in rush hour. I think about half a dozen people died. The second time, it was two bombs. The first was set in the office district and went off at about 9am or so. The second was set off 15 minutes later, on the evacuation path for Deansgate. (I found that detail made it impossible to forgive.)

The third and worst time, I was on the bus, on my way into Manchester city centre, when they set off a huge bomb in the shopping district at 11 o'clock or so. It was a Saturday, when hundreds of thousands of people were heading into the city to shop -- it was close to father's day, so there were lots of kids out, and there were thousands of soccer fans there for a big international match at Old Trafford on the Sunday. It was a beautiful, sunny day. At least the IRA gave about 15 minutes warning.

I ended up walking back home to Stalybridge, because none of the traffic was moving, watching a vast pall of smoke rise in the distance and, when I was home, huddled in front of the TV, watching news flashes and emergency line numbers scrolling across the screen. Didn't want to go out.

This is going to sound bad, but I was a young, eager journalist then and by the next day -- when it was clear that although hundreds had been injured, by some miracle no one had actually been killed -- I was excited by the news story. I wanted to get out there and experience it.

So I got a pass for behind police cordons on the Sunday with a photographer. That killed any excitement; made me ashamed of it, in fact. Jesus.

Never seen anything like it, save for on the TV. Had hoped never to see anything like it again, particularly in cities I've visited and liked a great deal, like New York and Washington.

There was an odd kind of dissonance, a sense that we must be watching a movie because we've seen this on a movie and surely destruction on this scale can only be *in* a movie. Even vast fields of glass, glinting like iced-up snow and crunching under my boots, the tinny wail of car alarms in the twisted wreckage of the car park, couldn't make it seem real at first.

This was much, MUCH smaller in scale than New York or even Washington, but I remember feeling shaky for a bit -- particularly when I heard stories about friends who were caught up in it or when I went back into the boarded-up city. (rebuilding took several years)

I remember that in odd moments for months later, I would become absolutely incensed when I thought about what had been done to a place and people I loved; just these sudden starbursts of intense anger. I'm not a Manc or a particularly angry person, but I loved Manchester and I hated those IRA fuckers, even though I would back a united Ireland every time (and I admit to some deeply uncharitable thoughts about those Americans in Noraid whose dollars bought the shiny Semtex for them, but I digress...)

But no one died that last time. So if I felt like that when no one died, I can only imagine the grief and bewilderment and sheer fury that must be coursing through people in New York and Washington and across the US.

What's worse is that they didn't use bombs, they used knives and planes, the stuff of every day life. That's why it's such fodder for nightmares.

My point, and I suppose I have one, is that the possibility of terrorist attack is a reality that almost every other country in the world has to face and life must not stop because of it.

That's not because we will it so, or because of some smug platitudes about healing and closure, but because life carries on, whether one needs time to reflect or not.

I've read a bit about people thinking that their thought processes are screwed up or they're on an emotional rollercoaster but there's no identikit grieving process, no "right way" to react, particularly if you were there, or someone you loved was.

Even so, not being involved intimately in the tragedy through being at ground zero or losing someone who *was* there doesn't lessen the shock, nor does it take away the entitlement to feel it.

A city and its people belong to the inhabitants and they hurt when that city and its people are hurt. The same goes for the country.

People expect it to get better with time, but the thing is, in the short term I don't think it does. You understand more of what went on, the true scale of it, and the numbness wears off. And this is still very much the short term.

Don't be surprised if you feel odd little spurts of rage that wipe every liberal thought from your head in the coming months. Don't be surprised if you're having a perfectly wonderful day and then all of a sudden you find yourself close to tears on the bus or train. Don't be surprised if everything is normal, then small things make your heart race. You think "God, what's wrong with me?" and minutes later you realise you're scared witless. The shock has to seep out somewhere.

But equally I don't think it's traitorous or disrespectful to feel okay most of the time.

It's chilling to realise that you have been made an object of hate and they wouldn't blink if asked to destroy you for some political end you barely understand.

There will be lots of bomb scares in the US in the future. Some of them will be mistakes, some of them will be deliberate. You can inflict a fair amount of economic damage with those. But even bomb scares become routine, a subject for grumbling and black humour. And that's good, because it means we're *coping*.

If the US is not at that stage yet (although the Onion are trying, bless their twisty little heads) it'll get there.

I don't think anyone should berate themselves for not feeling "the right way" or not crying at the "right" time or for being confused about what they feel -- or for going against the societal pressure to be both grieving and gung-ho.

* * *

I understand what Caz is saying about the atmosphere in college. There is, all over the world, a strain of anti-Americanism that it's all too easy to fall into.

It's easy to fall into because it's a convenient short-circuit for actually *thinking* about the geopolitical reality.

In Europe this means political parties defining their political position by the degree of antipathy to the US on matters such as defence and foreign affairs. The old Labour party did that; the German Greens do it still: the US is set up as the bad guy.

In the Middle East it means moderate Arabic regimes crushing their Islamist opposition and allowing the US to be demonised for causing it by their influence. The same goes for much of Africa. It's easy to blame the US for failures that are actually failures of domestic policy.

But it's also easy to fall into because the US government sometimes has a regrettable tendency to throw its weight around -- acting like the big boy pissing in the swimming pool and daring everyone else to stop him -- assuming its orthodoxies should be shared by the rest of the world. (The Republicans in particular exude a kind of chippy superiority that's obnoxious.)

The tearing up of the nuclear arms treaties and the scuppering of the Kyoto protocols on climate change just this year are just two examples of that. A worse example is its Latin American policy in the 70s and 80s: the Monroe doctrine taken to obscene extremes.

It's not helped by the fact that a lot of American people appear to be entirely innocent of the outside world and have no interest in the somewhat murky actions of their government abroad. Have you ever tried to find foreign news in the mid-west? "Insular" doesn't begin to cover it.

(Then there's also the stereotyping of other countries, and the distortion of history in the US entertainment industry too. Every country does it, God knows, but America has such a huge slice of the world's TV and movie market that it *matters* when Hollywood does it. )

But I think that what Caz is experiencing is the lazy-fashionable assumptions that infuse college politics. It's easy to say smartarse things about the idiocy of US foreign policy (in fact, I think it's obligatory in British universities, I know I did it during the Gulf war, in between sitting in front of buses to block the traffic and painting banners)

I think it's also probably difficult for British students to conceive that 11 September really does represent a sea-change in the national mood of the US -- mostly because the media feeds us images of the 'bomb-the-towelhead-bastards' faction.

From here, it can feel like a police action, much like the Gulf War was: a pinball-machine, computer-game conflict played out on CNN for prime time.

And then sometimes, I wonder if it's more like the phoney war of 1939 (which America missed, owing to not showing up for the second world war for another two years *g*) where the news from abroad was grim and the politicians were talking of war but nothing had yet happened save for troop mobilisation. That's a thought that scares me.

However, I don't think that the reaction of the Junior Common Room of any university in Britain is indicative of the mood of the country as a whole.

Britain feels a strong kinship to the US, one has not really been reciprocated for a long time, and all poll indicators suggest that most Brits think this is a good thing to do.

I did my thesis on US foreign policy actions in Latin America, which is as sure a way as any to develop an anti-US government bias.

I think the US-British policy on Iraq in the last 10 years is ill thought-out and extremely counter-productive. I think that the US should look hard at some of its choices in the past, such as arming the mujaheddin and Saddam Hussein for short-term geopolitical gain, that made the countries feel like pawns in some 20th century version of The Great Game. I think that the Bush administrations actions with regard to the question of Palestine have been unhelpful and that Israel may end up paying for Bin Laden's actions.

But I think (and I am cringing to admit it) that up to now the US has mostly got this one right, given the political constraints it faces.

I fear this will go pear-shaped now that bombing has started. There's no way that this can be clean or entirely just. There's no way that there won't be repercussions. You can send all the food aid you want but Afghans will remember the bombs and the planes. Just as we do.

It would be a foolish politician that forgot that in many places in Afghanistan, the Taliban was welcomed in because it represented a break from the lawlessness, corruption and murderousness of the very people we are seeking to empower.

I don't have any easy answers. I don't have any answers. We can just try to act with tolerance and kindness, try not to let fear gain the upper hand and keep a bloody close eye on the government.

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Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
coffeeandink
Oct. 9th, 2001 06:15 am (UTC)
Nothing very deep
Just I'm glad you're here again, and also, when I wheel around my little black suitcase in London it's usually because I've filled it with all the books I've bought, so picking it up and carrying it would be more difficult than you'd think.
infinitemonkeys
Oct. 9th, 2001 07:03 am (UTC)
Re: Nothing very deep
Books is *fine* as I assume that yes, they would be heavy and so wheeling would be permitted.

And also I assume that you would move faster than a sloth on mogadon -- and also that you would not bang my damned ankles with the thing *g*
cazling
Oct. 9th, 2001 09:32 am (UTC)
You are far too intelligent for your own good. Thanks, K.

Last night Mum said to me that her mother used to tell her all the time "You don't know you're born, not having had to live through the Blitz. No one who didn't live through it will ever be able to know what that was like, to be in the middle of it." We didn't know we were born, not really, not even here with our happy little bands of Irish terrorists roaming around the mainland. But now we do, and, as you say, life goes on. It's all you can do. You just keep going.

We didn't know we were born. And now we do. People keep saying that the world will never be the same, although they never seem to be sure how exactly it's going to differ. That's how, really.
cofax7
Oct. 9th, 2001 10:47 am (UTC)
No easy answers
Great post, K. Nicely articulated. This is why you are the foreign desk person and I am... immersed in writing post-eps for an ansgty space opera. Hide from reality? Me? Never!



Just one comment: but I miss your facetious bollocks! *grin*

cofax7
Oct. 9th, 2001 02:09 pm (UTC)
Re: No easy answers
I fear this will go pear-shaped now that bombing has started. There's no way that this can be clean or entirely just. There's no way that there won't be repercussions. You can send all the food aid you want but Afghans will remember the bombs and the planes. Just as we do.

And that's something well worth remembering.


Any chance you could post this more publicly? It's a good discussion.

coffeeandink
Oct. 10th, 2001 03:37 pm (UTC)
Re: No easy answers
Yes, I've been worried about this.

People are so proud, and so self-congratulatory, about sending food and medicine. And of course we ought to do it; it's the right thing to do. But I am afraid that they are expecting gratitude.

If the terrorists had sent planes only into the Pentagon, on the grounds that it was a military target, and then dropped food and medicine in the DC metropolitan area, I still would not feel particularly kindly towards them.
furies
Oct. 9th, 2001 07:06 pm (UTC)
this is almost the only thing i have read, really, analyzing current events at all. and it was right, and it was clear, and it was honest. quite interesting as well, and i think it is important to know that other people are feeling this too, because it's so easy to think, "they weren't here. they don't know. they just criticize, but they don't know how it feels." but they do. so. thank you. and i would just like to concur with this:

What's worse is that they didn't use bombs, they used knives and planes, the stuff of every day life. That's why it's such fodder for nightmares.

because you got that one exactly, exactly right.
appelsini
Oct. 10th, 2001 01:29 am (UTC)
by the way, I think I'm in love with you. so, next time I'm in england or you're in your colonial spit-ground (ha. australia. ha.), you wanna, like, get it on?

and. plus. the anti-american thing. is strange. on campus. people tearing down flags, people yelling at kids wearing shirts with USA brands. just bizarre. because we have to be more than this.
qowf
Oct. 13th, 2001 07:28 am (UTC)
You are wise and I am a yahoo. We know this.

Thank you for the words. They are good and you are right. It is always good to get your perspective on these things because it is passionate yet tempered with wisdom.

I am still angry about the fact that now, in my country's metaphorical yard, there is a great steaming shitpile of a mess growing. Still, there is life to be lived and things to be done and we cannot be governed by fear. We have to deal and go on.

However, I would do just about anything in the world to be able to assure the fact that my kid could fall asleep at night and not ever have to worry about this sort of shit, the same way I did. It was a luxury compared to most of the world's situation and yes, it's probably selfish of me to want that in the greater scheme of things.

Still, irrational as it is against my normal liberal tendencies, I want that for my kid. I am damn angry that they don't get what I got, not in the same way. I am beyond angry that the idea that "it couldn't happen here" is gone. It was a good thing.

I won't raise a child to be afraid to live. That's not me. I will, however, teach my child some things I probably wouldn't have to prior to September 11th, things I never had to learn. I suppose it's the same as my father remembering bomb raid drills and such. Children of each war learn what they need to survive. I was very lucky. I didn't have to deal with that. My kid probably will.

Because, my dear one, you are right. People's memories are long and bombs destroying one's homeland stay with an individual long after the rubble's been cleared up. And I sorely fear that the feeling that fragile feeling of safety that I got to take for granted has now dissapeared out of my life time and possibly my child's as well.

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )