Monday, 11 September 2006

Time to move on ...

towers1 The Twin Towers as they were when I visited New York, way back in September 1980. Nobody needs reminding what the date is and this year, on the fifth anniversary, I'm seeing far more being said about 9/11 (although not everywhere) than I have on any of the previous ones.

Perhaps, in my case, this is because Spanish TV channel, cuatro has been showing a series of documentary programs over several days.

These culminate tonight with a BBC produced documentary, which cuatro say is to debut simultaneously on TV stations around the world. Using digital animation, interviews and archive footage, the viewer will be taken inside the Twin Towers to follow the experiences of a dozen people. Hardly entertainment.

But perhaps, the time has come when we are able to look back more calmly and face this; that the "bombardment" of coverage will serve to "get it out of the system" and, will help us all to move forward to the next stage of the mourning process.

On Saturday, I watched El hombre del aire (The Falling Man).

Whilst I can partially agree with the conclusion that maybe it is better that he is left inconclusively identified, since he then represents all Twin Towers victims, in much the same way as the "Unknown Soldier" represents all his fallen colleagues. At the same time, not putting a positive ID on the falling man, does in a way, prevent "him" (or at least the image, speculation and controversy) from finally being laid to rest.

(If, as it seems most likely, that he was Jonathan Briley, then he was exactly one year younger than me. To the day. We shared the same birthday, March 5.)

But what struck me most about the documentary was the reaction, which is typical of the US and still, to a certain degree in the UK, but which I would never expect to find in Spain, in that the residents of Allentown, Pennsylvania, complained bitterly about the image when it was published in local newspaper, The Morning Call.

Look, nobody WANTS that this happened and nobody WANTS to have to look at the resultant harrowing images, but pleas by "Disgusted of Allentown" who did NOT WANT to see the images, unfortunately, does not make it all go away.

The US media is criticized (and, rightly so, I feel) for not having told the truth, the whole truth, etc., including about these events and everything associated with them, but so far, we have assumed (probably with some accuracy) this was because of pressure on publishers and editors from "higher sources".

What this documentary showed is that what has also been happening, is "auto censorship". That is, editors have been keeping unsavory things back because the "average US public" simply will not accept seeing and facing stark realities.

These documentaries have not been easy to watch, by any means (nor is blow-by-blow war coverage, nor closeups of real - not movie - dead people that is normal on Spanish news and is alien to those of us from other countries), but if there is one thing I have learned from almost 15 years living in Spain it is that "unsavory ideas" are best confronted, dealt with and worked out, if one is to heal and move on.

Spanish media, to an outsider, at times, seems funny. Broadcasters will reschedule programming to show some airline disaster movie after a real plane crash has been in the news, "Towering Inferno" after a building burns or "Titanic" after a ship sinks.

It is a surreal way to face death head on and this near comical "theme night" programming would definitely be considered insensitive elsewhere.

But, you know what? Facing it works.

At the time, you often don't know whether to laugh or cry, but you are forced to react and, by that action, work through it.

towers Yes I have been to New York and it was a SPECIAL place to visit. On September 11, 2001, I felt as affronted as any New Yorker could be by the attacks.

Those who were personally affected can never forget. They deserve respect and homage paid and, I'm going to assume that someone has actually asked them if memorial services is what they want and will help them.

But the rest of us need to work on something more forward thinking.

Personally, I think the "War on terror" never had any direction in the first place. The reaction to 9/11 was just that; a reaction with a lot of opportunism thrown in, not an appropriate planned response.

As Laura Lospitao Pastor in Madrid, says, "... in the years that followed America made mistakes" and that, "The cure turned out to be worse than the disease."

Not least for the effects - which I've felt personally - of increasing suspicion of all "foreigners" and everything associated, like higher rates of hate crimes.

And the whole thing keeps coming back to fear and therein lies the biggest paradox. Because, if we continue to buy the fear mongering, we LET the terrorists win.

So, I want to end this "diatribe" with some items that I hope will help put this into perspective. I do not deny that 2,973 is too many people to die that should not have died that day, nor that it is the largest death toll from a terrorist attack.

However, history has provided us with a whole shopping list of disasters (both natural or otherwise), that have had much higher death tolls.

There is action that could be taken to at least mitigate some of these disasters, which would save tens of thousands, if not millions of lives, but which are given no priority whatsoever. The fact that they are not, must be telling in itself, even to the smallest intellect.

The biggest natural disaster in recent history being the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami, which lists 229,866 persons lost, including 186,983 dead and 42,883 missing. Each year in America there are about 300,000 deaths that can be attributed to obesity. Every year, 18,000 Americans die because they do not have health insurance. Even the European heatwave of 2003 claimed the lives of 35,000. The 1,836 killed by Hurricane Katrina does not include the 2,500 who are missing. What about deaths from diseases in Europe (millions) and the Americas (tens of millions) from diseases exchanged between continents after 1492?

Even donkeys kill more people than plane crashes.

The fact is, I could go on forever with this list, but what we all need to do is realize that life is risky. In fact, we can all guarantee that life will kill us one day. Getting born, not terrorists, is the surest way of making sure that one day, you will die. In the meantime, there is only one thing worth doing:

LIVE. Preferably in peace.

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