16 years ago the world saw some of the most cruel terror attacks in existence. 15 years later the pictures on most of our heads are still as present and real as they were back then. And that’s a good thing. Even though we probably did not learn the ‘right’ lessons following those attacks.
Let me get one thing out of the way. I’m not a US citizen, I have never been to the US nor do I plan on going there (besides for my friend’s wedding some time next year). I had a trip planned once but it fell through because of the events of 9/11 (the trip was planned for October that year). I am also not overly sympathetic with the “American Way Of Life” a la “USA USA USA” but that doesn’t negate the fact how I felt during those 9/11 attacks. Moreover, and I know those comments are coming, I don’t forget or ignore those deaths of thousands of people in other terror attacks and war zones. No innocent person should die. Ever. Period. 9/11 however marked, at least for me, the moment when I ‘grew’ up on an emotional level. When my naive ‘we all are one world that somehow will, eventually, work together’ world view fell into pieces.
In 2001 I just started to do a traineeship in a bank. I was working the counter and completing some accounting tasks in one of our suburban branches where you’ll only see a few customers over the whole day except right after lunch break right after salary day (or when the Euro was introduced) when the whole village would show up to get their cash. In order to find boredom we, me and two senior colleagues, would mostly listen to the radio calmly playing in the background. Either “Bayern 3” or “Antenne Bayern” radio stations. Sometimes “Radio Gong”. On this very fateful day it was Antenne Bayern.
It is 15 years later and I remember it as if it was yesterday. My senior colleague was just attending to one of the few customers at the counter while I was counting cheques in the back office when I heard the radio announcer saying something like (it was in German obviously) “THE PLANE HAS CRASHED INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER”. My colleagues didn’t even hear it and I wasn’t sure if that actually just happened of it was a commercial or an announcement for a movie or a series or whatever. That shows you how far off the thought of something that dramatic happening was back then. Now we basically wait each day for new terror messages but back then, we didn’t expect such news at all. First when the radio voice repeatedly talked about the ‘darkest day in the history of humanity’, and you could actually hear the sadness in his voice, I understood, this was real.
I must have turned pale or my facial expression turned into disbelief since my colleagues turned to me and asked me what happened. I told them that an aircraft hit the WTC but they both reacted like me in the first place: “This can’t be real”. We then listened to different radio stations and all of them would report what just had taken place in the USA and none of us could believe it. One customer, who remained in our branch after realizing there was something going on in the news, asked to turn up the volume and joined us in our state of disbelief, sadness and grief. Obviously we had to continue our work until closing time, which felt very strange as nobody really knew what to talk about or how to respond the news that kept pouring in. Later on we closed down our branch, said goodbye and went home while still feeling very blue and unable to comprehend what we heard.
Before driving home I had to sit in my car for moment and think. Is this really happening? Why is this happening? What are the implications? Eventually I started the engine of my car, drove home and continued to listen to the radio where death counts rose and explanations of what happened became more clear. Since I didn’t want to be home alone I decided to visit my dad at his place right after work. I arrived, we said hello and what is usually a meeting full of smart assing and joking around was one of the most quite father-son meetings we ever had. We sat down in his living room, turned on the TV and just watched what was unfolding in front of our eyes.
We saw entertainment TV stations (e.g. MTV) suspending their program and we saw other channels switching to news reporting only which led to us only being able to watch those horrific pictures over and over and over again. The first plane hit the first tower, panic broke out, then eventually the second plane hit the next tower. Pure madness. Anger. Sadness. And the realization mankind sucks.
As I mentioned earlier up until this day I had the firm belief that, when pushed hard enough, mankind would stick together. Of course that is naive, but that’s what a 20 year old small city guy thought back then. And I wasn’t alone with that though. My friends, family, basically everybody I knew could not believe what happened that day.
Bad times and horrible events however also shine light on heroes and highlight people’s fighting spirit and compassion. We saw lots of every day heroes stepping up and saving lives, rescuing people in need and putting it all on the line in order to do what is right. Nations declared they would stand with their allies and vowed to defeat the ‘evil’ and support each other in times of need.
Fast forward, 15 years later, we hear those declarations on an almost weekly basis now. Terror attacks everywhere, all the time. 9/11 seemed to have triggered the age of terror attacks (even though we apparently live in the safest of times that has ever been recorded, according to statistics). It seems as if we tend to forget those promised of support and togetherness just all to quickly right after terrible events such as 9/11 happen. Hence it is important to hold the slogan ‘never forget’ close to ones heart. Not because one is American or because one likes the American way but because we all are human beings and we need to stand, fight and live together as one. 9/11 might have started a time of terror but 9/11 also showed us how standing up and working together hand in hand can help everyone to rise back up from devastation. And this certainly is something we should never forget.