Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Saturday, 11 September 2021

Hooptedoodle #406 - Where Were You on 9/11?

 I guess we all have a fairly limited set of major world events in our lifetime - that's almost certainly a good thing. I can remember where I was when I heard of the assassination of JFK (involved in the preparations for a youth club dance, in a church hall in Liverpool - St Barnabas' church - my girl friend suddenly started weeping), I know where I was when the Berlin Wall came down (I was in my house, in Edinburgh, watching it on TV, waiting for the shooting to start), and today I've been thinking of my whereabouts on 9/11. It doesn't really matter of course, but somehow world events seem much longer ago when you think in terms of your own timeline.

My wife and I were on holiday in Tuscany - in fact it was the last holiday we ever had on our own (our son was born a year later). On the actual day we had taken a local bus for a day trip to Siena. It was a very thundery, humid day, and Siena was absolutely packed with tourists, which I guess is not unexpected. The day was significant in that my wife received a call on her mobile phone from a headhunting agency, with an excellent job offer that she had almost given up on; she received the call just as we were going to enter the Duomo - that's the rather odd building in Siena that seems to be made out of liquorice allsorts. Overall our day out was a bit hot and a bit fatiguing, but we took the bus back to San Gimignano in a celebratory frame of mind, with plans for a suitable budget-busting meal in the evening. I have some photos from the day.

 When we got back to our hotel we turned on the TV, and saw the CNN pictures from New York. That put an end to any kind of fun evening we might have considered. Eventually we agreed to switch off the TV and catch up in the morning - really couldn't handle the flow of news that was coming in.





 
Il Duomo


Over the next few days we carried on with our holiday - a bit subdued, of course - and tried not to worry about whether there were going to be any flights home the next week. We visited Perugia, and there and in Assisi we spoke with a number of Americans who were very upset, understandably, and had absolutely no idea how or when they might be able to go home again. The heart seemed to have been kicked out of everything - and I still think of 9/11 as the day the world changed forever. At that time, I was working on some actuarial projects connected with Risk Management, and it was immediately obvious that many of the fundamental assumptions on which our thinking was based had suddenly gone out of the window. The comforting feeling that there was no-one crazy enough to destroy a civilian aeroplane while he was sitting on it was gone, and a whole pile of other bed-rock stuff had vanished. Start again. As I say - nothing would ever be the same again, in many ways.

Anyway, I don't wish to get into a lament about the awfulness of the event - that has been well considered and documented - though it is inevitable that this is the context in which our thoughts should be framed; I spent some time today thinking about my life and my surroundings on that historic day. I know for a fact that I was in Siena, and it rained, and my wife landed a new job. Personal stuff - it's far easier to think about personal stuff. 

14 comments:

  1. Yes, terrible stuff.
    I agree, our concept of what people were capable of, suddenly changed in terms of 'managing risk' - especially when in my head, I'd grown up during a fairly malignant set of 'troubles' , to believe that we'd seen some of the worst of what was possible in society.

    I was in work on that day, and remember remarking to a colleague after a radio announcement, fairly innocently 'my God, this can't be real... it's like a Tom Clancy novel'.
    'Who's Tom Clancy?' the girl passing from accounts said ...

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  2. Coincidentally we were in Tuscany too. We were in a small apartment without TV or radio, and had a basic hired car which also lacked a radio. When we were on our way back we knew that something major must have happened but had no idea what it was until we touched down in London. We must have been among the last people on the planet to learn about the attacks. Hard to believe 20 years have passed since then.

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    1. Indeed - I can remember the day, as clear as crystal - it's only when I remember what kind of car I had at the time, and see photos of how much hair I had, and which glasses and clothes I was wearing, that it seems a long while ago. There is a photo of me going for a hill-walk while on that holiday, wearing a waterproof jacket I cannot (for the life of me) remember ever owning - since my clothes always last for decades, this is surprising.

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  3. Our office was 2 floors below the US embassy in an office tower with a clear view across Halifax harbour, an easy flight path.......

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    1. That feeling of being at risk lasted a while for me. A few weeks after 9/11, I had to fly from the UK to Toronto for a business conference - I really didn't want to be in an aeroplane at all - I was pretty much exhausted thinking about all of that - and I was consoling myself with the thought that my flight to Toronto was not a very strategic target for Al Qaeda when a large group of Orthodox Jews, complete with black hats and payot locks, trooped on board and sat at the front. I found I was sitting trying to work out whether our collective priority as a target had just gone up, which is very silly and makes me rather ashamed now, but it was a period of fear of the unknown. I remember also being in a bar in Edinburgh when some worthy started mouthing off about terrorists and what he personally would do to them, and I was thinking that this was not a particularly smart way to behave.

      After my Toronto trip it must have been 10 years before I ever flew again, and that was not a coincidence.

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  4. I was at work. We watched the footage of the second plane in a state of shock, until the BBC website crashed.

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    1. It was a paralysing time - watching over and over, obsessively, though I really didn't want to see. Almost as though I hoped that one of the slo-mo re-runs would show that it hadn't really happened.

      This reminds me - I must ask my architect friend - it's always seemed to me that the WTC buildings fell down rather quickly - I realise the event was very violent, but I wonder whether skyscrapers where designed to withstand a plane crash. Sorry if this rambling thought is inappropriate in any way, but I have wondered about this.

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  5. Yeah I was at work too - I remember I got petrol at about 6am NZ time and the guy at the petrol station told me a war had started and that America had been attacked, so I put the radio on for the 45 min drive to work - people were still speculating about the death toll and I remember someone saying the two towers had over 60,00 people in them and I thought "That would be more than the US casualties in Vietnam". As it turned out, the early versions of what had happened turned out to be worst case scenarios. We didnt get a lot of work done that day as one of the guys in the team figured out how to stream the non stop news coverage onto his PC (it wasnt quite such an every day thing to do twenty years ago remember!) A year later I was in the UK visiting my sister and her then husband who was in the US Navy and serving at the embassy in London, I had to fly out on 4 July and it did cross my mind it would be good symbolism for Al Qaeda to stage another attack on Independence Day....of course, fortunately, nothing happened. A few years later, we called my sister (now in Florida) and her ten year old son answered - when I asked where his dad was, he said, without irony "The Persian Gulf....."

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    1. That's great stuff - thanks for sharing this. A day or two ago I watched a BBC online programme about the inside situation of the President Bush and his staff as that day unfolded - one thing that stands out is how awful the communications were. At one point, the team were on board Air Force 1, trying to watch developments on TV, which only worked when they flew over a community which had its own transmitters. Phones didn't work well - only a few of the secure USAF bases had adequate videoconferencing facilities. The bunker under the Capitol didn't have adequate ventilation, and people had to be removed from the sessions so that no-one fell asleep from lack of oxygen.

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  6. I was doing multi-drop round the Southwood industrial estate, always had R4 on in the van and listened to it unfolding, with little surprise to be honest (I'd expected something like it for a while - they'd been blowing-up planes up since the 70's, and had attacked two USN ships in the previous few years + the Lebanon Bombs and Kenya), but remember being disappointed that none of the guys I was delivering to seemed aware of what was happening, even though their Capital, R1, Surrey Gold, OceanFM or whatever were all going over to rolling news.

    On your last point, I immediately thought a Tanker would be next (ram it into Southampton you could do, well...), only to hear about two days later that the SBS had been dropped on one, in the Channel - I think, which hadn't responded to hails . . .

    Asking my father (coincidentally SAS) when young (1970's) why the IRA didn't blow-up pylons or post-boxes, sub-stations etc . . . he said it was because they didn't want to alienate too much of the civilian populace. But these Islamist groups regard us all as infidels, so they don't follow the same sensibilities. It must be said that later the IRA did target shopping centers/precincts etc..., but that was desperation as the security forces were starting to ambush and excise their best men - ultimately leading to negotiations and the GFA.

    And some kind of Nuke or 'dirty-bomb' will be next, in a big city . . . somewhere?

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    1. I guess I'll remember where I was when that happens too. A friend of mine, who is retired from Army Intelligence, has told me that there was a definite drop-off in American donations to the IRA after 9/11 - suddenly domestic terrorism wasn't cool any more.

      I also remember being in a pub in Leith when the PanAm flight came down at Lockerbie - early stories on the news were wild, because nobody knew what had happened - people passing on trains described seeing a volcano etc.

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  7. I was at an izakaya (a sort of affordable pub, with a focus on food as well as drink) in Japan, having just finished the late shift at work, when we heard a plane had hit WTC. At first we thought it must have been an accident, and were thinking light plane or something. A few of us went tenpin bowling later, as we'd planned. The bowling place had a TV on and that's when we saw that it wasn't an accident. Accompanying the shock was an overriding sense that somebody was going to pay dearly for what was happening.

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    1. World calamity. The idea that someone could organise some follow-up and retribution didn't really occur to me at the time - it looked as if we were heading into a time of limitless chaos (I'm easily discouraged, I think). Dizzying.

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