By Sean Maguire
I was 13 on September 11th 2001, I can remember waking up on September 12th in Australia opening the newspaper and seeing that the US had been attacked. The sense of shock and surprise was palpable; my parents and teachers tried to calm me down but the strongest memory I have of the day is absolute and paralysing fear.
I went to school like normal and it was all I could think about, it was all anyone was talking about and it over-shadowed everything. The strongest memory I have is playing football and having a bolt of fear that Australia was about to be attacked and the sky was about to be filled with mushroom clouds.
What was interesting looking back on that day was the enormous gulf in reality that existed between my fear and the threat, a gulf which has often appeared in the rhetoric used and the actions made against terrorism in the intervening ten years. What is also interesting to me has been the amount of idiotic people that appeared during the day; a woman was interviewed by an Australian news channel and I clearly remember her saying that it was shocking that 200,000 people had died during the attacks. The interviewer stepped in and said something along the lines of ‘well I think the figures will be a lot lower than that but there have been a lot of deaths’.
Looking back, while humorous, it does point to the fact that terrorism, as a lot of issues in the world, has suffered from a Chinese whisper like warping of fact and fiction until the myth becomes the modus operandi. What is also interesting about terrorism is its similarity to the perception people had of an impending nuclear winter during the Cold War. In the late 40s and early 50s people were terrified of the Soviets launching Nukes and they built bomb shelters and horded supplies accordingly. 20 or 30 years later, the threat hadn’t really changed, yet who was hiding in their bunkers?
The reality was that there were still thousands of nuclear weapons (often a lot more powerful than the ones in early decades of the Cold War) sitting in the USSR and US and we had to rely on soldiers not having itchy trigger fingers or a Dr Strangelove styled miscommunication for the bombs not to be released. What really changed was the perception of the threat; people learned to live with it and the crazy paranoia dropped off.
Terrorism is the same, a FedEx bomb plot was foiled a couple of months ago and it made the news for a grand total of about two days, compare that to the British shoe bomber- who was also foiled- but was on the news for weeks leading to reviews of security procedures and to the now annoying process of having to take off your shoes before you walk through metal detectors at airports.
So my prediction for 2011 is that terrorism will slip further into the background of political and public thought and as long as plots continue to be tripped up the inexorable decline of interest will continue. Yet, while we may have learned to live with it, I’m sure that on 11/09/11 (reverse dates in the US) I wont be the only one looking at planes flying around, and bracing myself every time they pass the skyline. I’m sure I wont be the only one sitting on a bus or a train thinking back ten years and feeling the same fear that once paralysed me.