I suppose in everyone’s life there are indelible moments, times you don’t want to forget, others you couldn’t forget if you tried, and others that mark monumental events in time. For me, one such was the Moon landing in 1969.
Another was the attack of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.
Last Wednesday marked the eighteenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York city. It’s one of those iconic dates, referred to by Americans as 9/11 and I guess even we Australians accept that date means the eleventh of September, not the ninth of November.
In the early morning of 12th September I was listening to ABC radio while Pete was in the shower getting ready to go to work. I’d just been retrenched, so I was in no rush. And then I heard something disturbing about New York. When Pete appeared from the bathroom, I said, “Something terrible’s happened in New York.”
We turned on the TV and saw the awful vision of first one plane, then another, ploughing into the towers. Pete went to work while I tuned into the news, gathering everything I could. There’d been a third attack on the Pentagon, and a fourth attack ended in a field, heroically prevented by the passengers. When the TV died (they pick the BEST moments) I tuned into the radio and listened to the talking heads.
Over the days we got a new TV and watched the footage of the planes hitting, the dust and smoke, first one tower, then the other, collapsing with the precision of a controlled demolition. People walking down dark, crowded stairwells while the building burned above them. The fire fighters and police killed in the line of duty. And the people, trapped above the levels where the planes hit, jumping to their deaths. That’s the vision that haunts me.
Through it all, although so far away, I could feel the sense of disbelief that something like this could happen in America, of all places. Things like that happened in the Middle East, not in the West. Americans weren’t the only ones who were left shaken and perhaps prophetically, a lot more vulnerable.
Life goes on. The young people who weren’t born when the attack happened could be forgiven for not quite understanding the depth of feeling of those who remember the event. There has been endless speculation and conspiracy theories. And many people who weren’t killed or injured on the day have had to live with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many have died of diseases acquired because of the toxic dust that swept through the city. They were the most immediate effects. But looking back, I think it’s fair to say that this event marked the beginning of the overt war between the West and Islam, and the start of terrorism, to which we have become all too familiar.
I appreciate the first shots were fired much earlier, when Saddam Hussein tested the metal of the West by invading Kuwait. Although that battle was won, it left lingering resentment, and that, I believe, led to the attack on New York. That in turn gave George W. Bush the excuse to finish the war against Saddam Hussein which his father had started when freeing Kuwait. The result of ousting Saddam has been on-going instability in that region which Western powers cannot ‘fix’.
9 11 was also when the war in Afghanistan started, to root out the terrorist group Al Qaeda, deemed responsible for the attack on New York. The war in Afghanistan has continued since that time, beginning to rival some of the medieval European wars – the Hundred Years War between France and England, and the Thirty Years War both come to mind. Again, the West can’t ‘fix’ Afghanistan. You can’t force democracy on people. By definition, really. “Government by the people” only works when the ‘people’ have a commitment to making it work. And where the powerful elites, especially the military, are also committed to making it work.
That kind of segues neatly into the recent death of Robert Mugabe, dictator of Zimbabwe. He came to power in 1980 after a protracted war with Ian Smith’s majority white government. At the time the then Rhodesia was a jewel in the African crown, a prosperous, well-run nation. It was understandable that Mugabe and other black leaders like Joshua Nkomo wanted to see their own people share that wealth, so they encouraged buy-outs by blacks of white farms. But soon enough the policy turned to eviction of white farmers, who left the country in droves. It wasn’t just the whites, though. Like so many African countries, Zimbabwe was beset with tribal conflicts. Political leaders were attacked. Here’s an example. In a public statement Mugabe said, “ZAPU and its leader, Dr. Joshua Nkomo, are like a cobra in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head.” He unleashed the Fifth Brigade upon Nkomo’s Matabeleland homeland in Operation Gukurahundi, killing up to 20,000 Ndebele civilians in an attempt to destroy ZAPU and create a one-party state. Nkomo fled the country.” 
Since those times Zimbabwe has become a basket case, with soaring inflation, starvation, and general unrest suppressed by Mugabe’s military. In contrast, Mugabe lived in luxury, in a twenty-five bedroom mansion, as shown in this article. Mugabe comes across as a man who was obsessed with power and keeping it. It’s just a shame that his ousting and death won’t make any difference.
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