Dark Days

At the risk of stating the obvious, yesterday was not much fun. I was torn from my slumbers by Chris robustly shaking me awake – I knew something was up, since such behaviour generally leaves me doing my “bear with sore head” impression for the rest of the day. But when I saw the pictures on TV, all grumpy thoughts flew out of my head.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched the news for 16 hours straight, with such intensity. The only comparable event I can think of is the death of Diana, and that had much less impact because, frankly, I didn’t care any more about her, than about the victims of any other drunk-driving accident. It was vaguely sad. Now, get over it. Yesterday’s events were so inconceivable you couldn’t grasp them – at one point, they brought thriller writer Tom Clancy in, and even he said he’d never write anything so far-fetched.

There was an air of absolute unreality to it, particularly the videos they had of the second plane hitting the towers. At first, they were shooting from the wrong side, so you just saw a plane going out of sight, then three floors of the building exploding. But by late last night, they’d got it from the other side, showing the impact. It looked like a bad digital effect: I always imagined a plane hitting a building would bounce, but this just sliced into it like a knife through butter.

Worse still was the footage of people, trapped above the impact, jumping – eighty floors or more – to their doom. At the time, it made no sense, but when I saw the towers collapsed, I realised that perhaps it was a slightly cleaner death. At the time of writing, they still have no idea how many people are victims – the figure of 10,000 has been mentioned, but that is just a guess. It’s an inconceivable number anyway, the equivalent of wiping out my home town of Forres, and everyone for a couple of miles around.

After a very grim and depressing day, we tried to escape by going out for pizza, but even there, the TVs were tuned to the news. A lot of places weren’t open at all, and those that remained were eerily quiet, as were the streets; it seemed sacrilegious somehow to be doing something “fun” like eating out, when such calamitous events had taking place elsewhere, and we slunk home without feeling much better.

Predictably, there have been calls for retaliation, and scarily, a USA Today poll showed that a disturbing 21% of those surveyed didn’t want to bother waiting to find out who was actually responsible. Even speaking to more reasonable Americans myself, I’ve found it very hard to put across my point of view, that cruise-bombing an Afghan valley somewhere is not going to solve any problems.

They, understandably, want someone to pay (and, as an aside, footage of Palestinians cheering in the streets has not helped – even I, generally fairly sympathetic to their cause, was not impressed). But hitting someone over the head with a bigger stick kinda loses the moral high ground. It also makes your victim look for their own bigger stick, and let’s not forget that Afghanistan is just south of the world’s least well-secured nuclear arsenal…

I’d favour the approach pioneered by the Israelis and their intelligence agency, Mossad, who take out the personnel found accountable for terrorist attacks such as the 1972 Munich Olympics massacres with a finely-judged mix of surgical precision, brutality and booby-trapped mobile phones. All strictly non-accountable, of course, but it gets the message across. Obviously, all those who actually carried out the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks are now dead. But I strongly suspect someone was behind them – and if they can be made to look nervously over their own shoulder, it can only be a good thing.