I remember that day like it was yesterday. September 11th 2001. It was hot, dry, sunny. But the sun wasn’t yet up when breaking news arrested attention that, for a moment, seemed like an awful case of misjudgement.
It was 6 a.m. on the west coast and news came that a small plane had flown into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. I still remember thinking, how could a pilot not miss those towers on a bright sunny day?
Because, we learned to our horror, the terrorist in control of American Airlines Flight 11 had no intention of missing.
It became a defining moment in history. It was that cataclysmic event when people worldwide would always remember exactly where they were the moment the planes hit the towers, when they watched the horrific images of people jumping to their deaths, towers collapsing, massive clouds of pulverized concrete and gypsum swallowing people, the search for survivors in New York, the Pentagon, a Pennsylvanian field, the sickening realization there were but few. Who did this? Why? What’s next?
As poisonous, toxic ashes rose, so did a new, tremulous, uncertain era. People felt disjointed, unnerved, painfully out of step with normal life. Fear pervaded. There was a collective sense at a deeply unsettling level that the jumpers leaping to their deaths came to symbolize America in free-fall.
Apart from being such a uniquely barbaric act of aggression on American soil, 9/11 became the biggest real time media event since the advent of global satellite links and 24-hour television news provided coverage to every corner of the globe. That day 19 hijackers killed nearly 3,000 people from over 90 countries.
A few years later, we stood at Ground Zero. It was a cavernous hole, eerily quiet even though construction workers on excavators were busily on schedule. It’s said they pause at 9:11 each morning to honour those whose lives came to an end right where the workers stood.
Still taped on a faded and weathered notice board along a walkway were the pictures of the missing, the lost. People paused, looked across the square, then were lost in their own thoughts with memories that were still seared by the fear and foreboding of the event.
That day was a wake-up call for beefed-up security at every level. For years we have had to put down the myth in the U.S. that the 9/11 terrorists came from Canada and that we’re soft on terrorism. Some Americans, blind-sided by the assault, were quick to lay blame, point fingers. But many more viewed Canada as a loyal neighbour. We didn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the Iraq war but we’ve more than pulled our weight in Afghanistan.
In the decade since 9/11, extremists created mayhem in Bali, Spain, London and India, the shoe bomber and the ginch bomber tried to bring down more planes, and a terror threat in Toronto was foiled. While Osama bin Laden is dead, we’ve come to an uneasy realization that murdering fanatics are anywhere.
Going forward, Prime Minister Harper announced that September 11th will be a National Day of Service, a day to honour those who help others. On that fateful day when all aircraft were grounded for three days, folks in Gander, Newfoundland, housed 6,700 stranded 9/11 passengers. Vancouver helped 8,500 people and other cities across Canada accommodated all who came.
But are we safer ten years on? Our most serious terrorist event was the Air India bombing in 1985. But it wasn’t seen that way. Today we’re more up to speed, more aware.
As for more safe, we may never know.