Today is not September 11, it is 9/11.
The tenth anniversary of The Event, to be exact.
This weekend, on hundreds of programmes on dozens of television stations, the attack on the World Trade Center will be replayed, recalled, relived and analysed, the dead mourned, the survivors celebrated, the consequences argued by politicians, and the prospects for a new assault debated by experts.
Actually, the coverage started early. Already this past week, I’ve had the opportunity to watch, a dozen times, the planes crashing into the twin towers (prefaced by that unknown spectator’s memorable voice-over, “Holy shit!”), the buildings collapsing, the spectators fleeing the dust cloud, and, the most terrible spectacle of all, those desperate jumpers jumping.
I’ve chosen not to watch most of this because even what little I have seen has become all too familiar. So many firefighters have been dragged out so many times to remember their fallen comrades that I’m starting to recognise them. There is little new footage, and for that we should be thankful, though one production team came up with the original, if rather ghoulish, idea of interviewing the surviving twins of those lost that day – forty-six of them, I believe.
By far the worst, certainly the most pointless, of the 9/11 programming was offered by BBC3, which underlined its own pointlessness by covering a visit to America by four young British students who were, and in two cases still are, convinced that 9/11 was a conspiracy involving the United States government. Or was it the Russian government? Or the Walt Disney Company? Or the Scottish National Party?
One of the students, a young lady whose mind is so closed to empirical argument that she will surely find it impossible to study for a degree in any known academic discipline, remained absolutely certain that the plane that hit the Pentagon was actually a missile, and that the telephone calls from the doomed flight United 93 (which she thinks did not exist) were manufactured electronically. Her views were shared by one of the other participants. The twin towers of delusion.
They are entitled to their opinions, of course, however nutty they might be, but I think that we BBC license payers are entitled to expect our cash to be spent more sensibly than on such puerile drivel.
“Why do you bother to watch any of it?” I hear you muttering.
Some of it we have to, my wife Martha and I. It is not mere prurience or morbidity. It is a personal and private act of remembrance, and it has a reason, for both of us.
For eleven years, from 1979 to 1990, I worked in the North Tower, on the 104th floor – the Cantor Fitzgerald floor. I had been gone from the place for more than a decade when the planes struck, so I have no ‘narrow escape’ tale to tell. Even so I can’t help but ponder that I might have been in my office on the fateful day (though, to be honest, 9am was a little ahead of my customary arrival time) and would unquestionably have died. My wife Martha, too, worked at the Trade Center for several years, on the 35th floor of the South Tower. She herself was once employed by Cantor. On such a low floor, Martha would have had time to get out, though knowing her as I do she would probably have busied herself helping people out of the building to the very end.