It has been amazing to be here in New York this weekend. It would have been very difficult to avoid being absorbed by the huge surge of emotion you could feel everywhere, as New Yorkers got on with the job of remembering the attack of the twin towers ten years ago and honouring their dead. There have been documentaries and special reports being broadcast constantly and every museum and gallery have some sort of commemorative event. Security was increased over the weekend – signs on buses said “if you see something, say something”. We were photo ID’d virtually everywhere we went. Our stuff went through scanners at the Empire State Building. There were dogs and police and soldiers everywhere. Flashing lights and road blocks meant we had to take a diversion on virtually every journey we took either by cab or when we walked. Cars were getting pulled over and checked with torches endlessly. I don’t suppose there was a safer place on earth this weekend, despite the level 3 terror alert.
Where else in the world would you find a fleet of specially designed police cars with the licence plates Angel 1, 2, 3 and so on with the names of the dead listed on the paintwork:-
On Saturday the streets were full. There was a memorial service for the Firemen that took place at St Patrick’s Cathedral and a parade that lasted most of the day consisting of all the different unions:-
Yesterday, for the 9/11 anniversary, Saks had listed all the names of the dead in their shop window:-
Listening to the families reading out the names of all 2977 people killed was incredibly moving. Just the sheer magnitude of the numbers. After ten minutes they hadn’t got passed all the “B’s”. It took them five hours to read out all the names.
Ten years ago by all accounts, it was a tough place to visit – you were advised not to look people in the eye whilst walking in the street, not to take the subway or venture into certain areas and you could quite easily be mugged in Central Park. Today everything feels safer, the average New York male, softer.
and how much of it is down to what happened here ten years ago with the attack on the twin towers that changed the way we viewed the world. Americans were in a sombre and reflective mood yesterday and yet they were acknowledging the positive aspects of their ten year task of rebuilding both their city and their unified strength.
Is the West any wiser now ten years on? Has it moved on and learnt anything really at all? “Who is winning?” is still a question that is difficult to answer. Yes, America has killed Osama bin Laden after a decade of intelligence gathering so presumably they feel they are in a better position to protect themselves than they were. But at what price? Approximately 140,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan since America’s “war on terror”, which has subsequently created nearly 8m refugees at a cost to America of around $4 trillion.
So what happens next? There is a tangible spirit of hope here in the city this weekend that with any luck can be used to full effect. What happens when their troops depart later this year? They will need to do things differently surely – to ride on the wave of the Arab spring, look at the mistakes made by invading Iraq, learn from them and find a way to work with Pakistan, which is the new danger that has been created through all of this.
Live and Learn.