A few weeks ago I watched as the town of Wootton Bassett paid tribute to yet more dead British troops return home for burial. The dignity of the crowd was impressive. The message of the hearses was unmistakable. We have arrived at a bad place through bad leadership and young men are paying for the mistakes made.
This week, international news channels are pumping out tenth anniversary programmes with the theme: “How 9/11 Changed The World Forever”.
The one’s I’ve seen are heavy on visuals and short on reflection. This makes me angry. The lack of analysis, the refusal to learn will only result in more coffins in the streets.
On 9/11 2001, I was part of a large consulting project based in Switzerland. We had people from more than fifty countries on the project. When the news came through and the pictures started to run, there was overwhelming sadness.
My company had people on all the planes. We had two teams in the World Trade Centre; only one team made it out. I’d stayed in the hotel in the World Trade Center. I’d worked with clients in the Financial District. I had no trouble imagining the horror of what was happening. It was real, it was wrong, it was a source of great grief.
At that point, America had everyone’s sympathy and support.
And yet, even at the time, I was worried about what the Americans would do next.
As a Brit, I grew up with IRA bombs going off in cities I lived in. Terrorism was something to be endured, hated, but not given in to. It was well understood that returning to life as normal as soon as possible was the best form of defiance.
I’d spent enough time in the States to know what a shock being attacked at home would be. Despite the fact that America was less well guarded than most European countries, the American people thought of themselves as safe. Most Americans don’t travel. Most had no idea of the hate their government had created in many parts of the world in the previous fifty years.
I understood that, once the first wave of grief passed, it would be followed by anger and vengeance. I knew that vengeance would mean two things: the civilian dead in the revenge, wherever it took place, would be at least five times as many as in the 9/11 attack and that America would lose more troops in the revenge than it had lost citizens in 9/11
Once I saw CNN carrying a “War On Terror” banner across its screens, day and night, I knew that things were going to go badly wrong. You can’t make war on terror without depriving yourselves of freedom and creating hatred and fear. Going to war on terror was not only doomed to failure, it was exactly the kind of response the terrorists hoped for.
When I understood that Bush had selected Iraq as the target for revenge, I initially thought “No one will buy this. Bin Laden is a Saudi Muslim working with the Pakistanis. Hussein isn’t an Arab, runs a secular state, and is too busy suppressing his own people to be a threat to anyone else”.
I was wrong, of course.
While Bush let Bin Laden escape, his staff started to feed the public lies about weapons of mass destruction. Blair bought in to the lies. He may even have created a few. Before you could say “mass hysteria” or “cynical manipulation” we were at war again.
I’d expected revenge. I hadn’t expected Bush to channel the grief and anger and fear of the American people and use it to finish his daddy’s war. I hadn’t expected Blair to put British troops on the line to follow such a flawed President. The Germans and the French saw through him. Blair prayed with the man and pledged British blood to pay for an illegal war.
I found the disrespect for the New York dead staggering.
I still do.
2,977 people died during the 9/11 attacks. For almost a decade there was not even a memorial to their passing unless you count a large hole in Manhattan being squabbled over by property developers.
But since then, 6,230 Americans have dies in Bush’s War on Terror. 559 British troops have died because Blair committed them to follow Bush’s lead. Taking all the Allies together, the military dead are 7,493. That’s 2.5 of our military for every person who died in the 9/11 attack.
Civilian deaths in Iraq are listed at more than 92,000. That’s 30 dead Iraqi civilians for every person who died in the 9/11 attack.
Bush’s War On Terror has a direct cost of at least $757.8 billion (nearly 5 times the value of the 2008 Stimulus Package) for the Iraq War and Brown University estimates a total cost for the War on Terror of as up to $4 trillion (more than 3 times the 2011 US Deficit)
It amazes me that neither Bush nor Blair are on trial in The Hague.
So ten years on from 9/11 and it seems we have learnt nothing.
The media are again showing the tragedy of 9/11 deaths on our screens as if it was beautifully shot reality TV.
There has been no action against those who let this happen. No action against those who lied about weapons of mass destruction. No understanding of the sources of the hate that prompted the attack. No action to remove those causes and reduce the threat.
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11 I will try to put aside my anger at the money wasted, the lives squandered, the dead who have not been honoured by the truth, the crimes that have sprung from the lies our leaders told.
I will focus on recapturing the sense of overwhelming grief that I felt when I heard the news of 9/11 and which I feel each time I see flag-draped coffins being brought home from pointless wars.
I will grieve.
But I will not forget that what “changed the world forever” was not the 9/11 attack but the lies and calculation of two men that we trusted to lead us.
Bush and Blair changed the world. I hope one day that they pay for that.