On the anniversary of September 11 it’s hard not to feel the creeping spectre of fear that jangles the nerves and gives rise to hundreds of ‘there but for…’ stories. Everyone of my generation knows where they were, the memory remains a grotesque imprint of the callous indifference that humans are capable of. The Americans of course understandably try to claim the grief as their own but this atrocity and every one since are no more an American problem than they are a French, a Belgian, a Danish or a British one, this is a global problem. An issue that should see us all weeping for the severance of the ties that bind. Those ties are our collective humanity, a desire for not the rule of law but for the rule of decency. We are encouraged by a political class to draw lines in the sand, to stand opposed to ‘other’ it’s the same rhetoric that allowed Brexiteers to triumph – an insidious Enochesque call to arms that suggested to be Pro-Britain one had to be Anti-Europe.
This worrying trend of aggressive posturing rather than thinking globally is literally killing us, both factually in unnecessary, ongoing skirmishes and acts of terrorism but also the planet itself. The rise of Trump was a coup of staggering proportions and his rebuttal of global political mores has extended well beyond blithe idiocy into selfish jingoist actions that shuttered environmental deals for a short term boost to US jobs and populist ideals. Refuting experts by employing yes men is simply unacceptable and yet, and yet… We are being asked to give the same reverence to opinion as we are to fact and a cowed senate acquiesces.
Here in the West, it’s very easy to think of today’s anniversary as being the day that changed everything – it is of course a luxury we can enjoy from suburban idylls rather than burned out desert towns and villages. The day that changed everything was perhaps the inevitable consequence of years of ‘days’ of self interested US foreign policy and going back further, the UK’s interventionist policy that redrew the maps of the Middle-East to suit our own purposes. Embarking on vanity wars, chasing black gold, imperialist flexing, arming militias that turn on us, alienating allies when it suits our purpose. Encouraging wholesale immigration from across the globe but ghettoising immigrants to foment a feeling of us and them, making easy and willing recruits to a cause that preys on the dispossessed. We can’t unring the bell but we can learn from history. Which is why when I discussed why the date was so important with my children this morning I consider it crucial to not just remember the victims of an appalling act of terrorism but also all the events that made the unthinkable not just thinkable but a reality.
In trying to raise engaged, interested children it’s necessary to face uncomfortable truths about human nature, for without that confrontation the risk is that dates like today’s recede and become mythic, a half remembered truth that doesn’t really matter because it was so long ago. Like the rise of Flat-Earthers and Holocaust deniers, science and fact is losing pace to opinion and the passage of time. The oft quoted but never less than true Santayana assertion that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it, is writ large here. If we don’t take the time to allow our children to understand the context of this day, what happened and why, is to desecrate the memory of those that died, history is not a static thing, it is not a fixed point but a living breathing thing, the repercussions of which are still reverberating and being felt today.
All of which has nothing to do with careers advice, but may have something to do with education, and who knows if we all spent some time talking about this with our kids, the next generation might do slightly better than we have. Changing the world may not fit into a box on a careers aptitude test but I can’t think of a loftier ambition.