As we remembered the tragedy in the US of September 2001 I am once again pondering the assertions of those who so soon forget history and the lessons it can teach us. Sometiems we just plain forget. But subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) rewriting helps as well. Some of the rhetoric has the sound of “If I say it, it makes it so”.
One of the most repeated phrases is “the event that changed the world”. It is commonly stated that the world changed on Septemer the 11th 2001. Well – yes, but the world changes every day. Today for the family of the many people dying in car accidents the world is changed. For couples getting married the world is changing. Such joys and tragedies the world changes every day. What made this particualr date so different?
Maybe the number of people, hardly. The bombing of Dresden in February 1945 during the second world war killed in excess of 35,000 men women and children. The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed in the order of 200,000 men women and children each. These are only isolated (if extreme) examples of single incidents resulting in large numbers of civilian deaths.
Oh but, you say, these examples are of milatary campaigns, the attacks in the US were terrorist! What is the difference? Certainly we were in a declared war during WW II. But does being in a declared war preclude terrorist acts? According the the extremists who perpetrated the act, they are at war with the west. Their complaint is the infiltration of the islamic states with the west. Is this a legitimate complaint? Well to them it is. It may seem unreasonable to us but they are defending their religion. So to them they are in a declared war.
So then what actually defines a terrorist act? I have seen it defined by the US administration as one where terror is created amongst a general population by act of acts of an agressor. One could hardly say that the bombing of Dresden did not create a state of terror amongst the German population. The carpet bombing of an entire city over two days would terrify the soutest heart. The complete destruction of Dresden was the intent and it was calculated to induce terror in, and completely demoralise the general population. It certainly terrorised the population.
Wether by the sword, the gun or the plane terrorism has been with us since the dawn of civilisation and will be with us till its sunset, that much is certain. To say that the world has changed is somewhat of an overstatement. It is no more changed than after any of the other countless terrorist attacks. We should not fool ourselves. The world is the same place now as before September the 11th 2001. The US may be different – at least one would hope so.
That is not to say that the act was not deplorable, as were the Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki incidents. To justify one is to justify them all. To condemn one is to condemn them all. Whatever the excuse for these acts they were all conducted with the moral backing of the people who perpetrated them. Each of them against a perceived agressor who had to be defeated seemingly at any const. Each of them led to the loss of thousands of lives of people who had no say in the matter, who were themselves non-agressors, men women and children.
Sometimes we need to step back and view these things in perspective and in a historical context.