Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog
where no one notices the contrast of white on white.
And in between the moon and you the angels get a better view
of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.
Today is the 13th Anniversary of the tragic events that took place on September 11th 2001. The anniversary of the murder of 2977 people is a cause for reflection and my thoughts today are very much with the family and friends of the victims. I had a few moment of contemplation this morning and the memorial posts on social media kept my mind returning to one of the great tragedies of our time.
This afternoon I went off to walk my dogs before collecting my son from school. This hour or so each afternoon is my thinking time, an opportunity to walk across heathland usually without seeing anyone, no-one to talk to and on days like today a chance to enjoy a bit of early autumn sunshine. It also gives me a chance to listen to some music. I am eagerly looking forward to hearing Counting Crows new album on its UK release next Monday as I will be seeing them when they hit the UK in November. I decided to listen to one of their old albums and I selected their first album ‘August and Everything After’. The words at the beginning of this post are the first four lines of the opening track “Round Here”. Classic lines from Adam Duritz, a songwriter who can hold his head up in any company, one of the very best.
Those lyrics were written some 10 years before 9/11 and yet both the lyric and the title of the album have a peculiar resonance with me on this sad day. You see Duritz is a master at painting images with his lyrics and the pictures it painted for me today were of 9/11. I shall never forget the images of firefighters and police officers emerging from the fog of dust as the towers collapsed. I shall never forget the television pictures of those trapped above the aircraft who chose to fall to their deaths rather than face the flames. One can only hope that the angels took their hands and comforted them as they fell. My mind will never escape the thoughts of those trapped who, knowing the end was near, tried desperately to call loved ones, to say goodbye, to share a few final words, to snatch a crumb of comfort in their final moments. I will forever admire the people, firefighters, police officers, paramedics and ordinary members of the public who risked their own lives to save others.
9/11 was and will forever be a massive blow to the American psyche. This was terror on a massive scale on american streets, something that most americans never believed possible. Understandably the nation clamoured for justice, for vengeance. Who could ever forget the haunted look on George W. Bush’s face as he addressed the nation, as he swore vengeance, his words reflected the anger of the nation and indeed the civilised world.
Unfortunately the words “the angels get a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right” also resonate strongly. It seems to me that the tactics employed by the USA and its coalition partners have failed miserably. Now I speak as an armed forces veteran, as a retired cop who has worked through and helped plan counter terrorist operations and I speak as someone who grew up in a Northern Ireland torn apart by terrorist atrocities.
Terrorism is the weapon that the weak deploy against the strong and it is almost impossible to defeat. It most certainly cannot be defeated by the use of military might, by missiles or by bombing. The problem is that when military might is deployed against terrorist there are always huge numbers of innocents caught up in the conflict. The death of innocents is the best recruiting sergeant for terrorist groups, it radicalises and it builds hatred against the strong. The Israelis action against Gaza in recent months, the mess that has emerged in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere as a result of the war on terror and the arab spring are very clear examples of the failures of western foreign policy in the region.
Today I see that President Obama has authorised the use of airstrikes in Syria, something he failed to do to try to halt the slaughter of innocents by the warring factions in that countries civil war. He now seems to be throwing support behind president Assad to enable him to battle ‘Islamic State’. Just a few months ago Obama was arming ‘moderate Syrian rebels’ in a bid to oust Assad. In Egypt the west supported the rebels in their bid to overthrow President Mubarak and then 12 months later supported the rebels who sought to overthrow the democratically elected “Muslim Brotherhood”. Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am not condemning western leaders for trying to defeat terrorism. It is undoubtably the case that policy changes according to the risk assessment at that particular time. There are no right answers, no good options only less wrong and less bad.
The fact that western leaders seem unable to grasp is that the current policies in the region are doomed to failure. This is a threat the like of which has never been seen. In the past we have always known that the terrorist planned to cary out their attack but they also planned to escape and to survive. The Radical Muslim terrorist does not think that way. As was so cruelly demonstrated on 9/11/2001 they don’t fear losing their lives in their attacks, in fact they often seek martyrdom. Western ‘interference’ in the region simply adds fuel to the fire, creates more martyrs and complicates the situation further still. We can never be successful in imposing our values on societies that abhor everything we stand for and frankly I do not believe we should even try.
It seems to me that Duritz’s words were somewhat prophetic. The difference between right and wrong has indeed crumbled and it would take all of heavens angels to sort out the mess that we in the west carry a huge burden of responsibility for creating.
My final thoughts return to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and their families, may the angels hold you in their hands and comfort your hurt on this saddest of days.