It’s amazing how vividly you can remember the day of a single event, even when you had no direct connection with it. I think 9/11 will forever be defined for many people by what they were doing when they first heard about it - the typical ‘Do you remember where you were when…’ scenario, and people they knew who were more directly affected. I remember quite vividly - for me it was around lunch time, and I was working with an Irish friend whose girlfriend’s sister worked in one of the towers, I forget which. Luckily for her she was just getting coffee at the time at a shop a block or two away, but it took several agonising hours for them to establish that fact. At first, we heard it was a small light aircraft out of control, and that damage was minimal - obviously completely incorrect. Over the next hour the true horror of what was happening began to sink in, and all work stopped. I remember looking at the pictures on the news websites in disbelief, until they started to go offline due to the sheer traffic load. As the situation developed, it transpired that two other people we knew from the same company were also in the air over the USA at the time, and we had no idea whether their flights were going to be involved (they weren’t, in the end).
When the towers started to collapse, I couldn’t believe it - it was like watching a disaster film, it didn’t seem real somehow. It was like all of a sudden, someone took the rulebook of what was supposed to happen, what was supposed to be normal in real life, and tore it up. I mean, we’ve had our share of terrorism in Britain, but this - this was just a whole new level. The sheer loss of life and scale of destruction dwarfs everything.
For me, none of this was directly personal. I didn’t know anyone killed or injured in the attack - the closest connection was the transitive links mentioned above with people who luckily escaped, and that I’d visited the World Trade Centre one day in the early 90’s whilst on a trip to New York. But no-one with any humanity could see that and not be affected in some way. For all the things that have happened afterwards, for all the arguably dubious decisions the governments both sides of the Atlantic have made on the back of that event (both internal affairs and foreign policy), one thing is certain - it changed everything, and affected everyone. Things had to change - and whilst I do think that neither the US or the UK have figured out exactly what the best revised approach is yet, the need to try to find it cannot be in doubt. Even those not directly affected will be feeling the ripples of that event for decades to come.