"Never was the power of human spirit more evident than after 9/11"September 19th, 2011
On 11 September 2001, people around the world spent hours glued to television screens, witnessing the horror unfold in such a surreal manner that it felt as though we were all watching some bad blockbuster movie, writes Alisha Lewis, 19, a Commonwealth Correspondent from New Zealand.
Ten years on, it’s remembered as one day. Nine Eleven. But the impact and meaning of September 11 has by far transcended the boundaries of a day.
For the families of those lost in the flames and rubble, September 11 has meant a lifetime of missed moments – not just birthdays, graduations and weddings but also backyard barbecues, trips to the beach, white Christmases and lazy Sunday afternoons.
For Americans, September 11 has meant a decade of fear: of increased security, of distrust – of war. And for the rest of the world, September 11 has meant a new era of terror.
Everyone old enough to comprehend what it meant when that first plane hit the first tower remembers exactly where they were that day. Regardless of what we were all supposed to be doing, people around the world spent those hours glued to television screens, witnessing the horror unfold in such a surreal manner that it felt as though we were all watching some bad blockbuster movie.
The towers couldn’t be on fire, it had to be some kind of special effects trick. That’s how it felt. At least, that’s how it felt until people began to jump. As a ten year old crammed into a tiny school library in Napier – a million miles away from the scene of the tragedy – this is what made it all real.
Until then, I didn’t really understand the enormity of the situation, I knew something big was going on from the way all the teachers were reacting but I’d never heard about the World Trade Centre. I was just excited that we all got to skip maths to watch TV in the library.
At ten, I was yet to witness new life or death. Yet to understand what something like this might mean. Yet to know the meaning of the word terrorism. Until I saw them jump. It was a huge thing to comprehend, the fact that those tiny dots flailing downwards on the television screen were people. People who, as I watched, were willingly flinging themselves out of a 110 storey building.
200 or more people are thought to have jumped that day. And in a country where so many believe jumping to be suicide – a sin unforgivable by God – the memories of those 200 people, falling, have been buried amidst the rubble and secrecy of a nation.
Some people believe that those who chose to die rather than be killed were unpatriotic – that they showed a lack of courage. Rather, I believe they showed defiance and bravery but, most of all, desperation.
They jumped when the force of the explosion pushed them out of windows. They jumped when the ceilings and walls and floors began to crumble. They jumped to escape the fire and the smoke. They jumped so they could breathe once more before they died. Although most of the people who fell from the towers that day fell alone, eye witnesses have reported seeing some holding hands.
The notion that the jumpers committed suicide has been wiped from the records. The term ‘jumper’ relates to one who enters a building with the intent of jumping to commit suicide. The 200 plus people who fell from the Twin Towers did not show up to work having made a decision to die – they didn’t have a choice. They didn’t want to die.
They jumped with makeshift parachutes – tablecloths and drapery – which were eventually whipped out of their grasp due to the velocity at which they plummeted. They clung to windows before they fell. They clung to life as they left it.
For this reason, all the deaths on 9/11, bar those of the 19 terrorists, were ruled homicides. But although the jumpers were the ones who perished in the most public of ways, they were not the only ones who died that day.
2, 985 people died on September 11 2001. 266 people died on the four hijacked planes. 2,016 people died in the World Trade Centre. 411 emergency workers died trying to save lives. 1,609 people lost a spouse or a partner. More than 3,051 children lost parents. And while most of the victims were American, 327 foreign nationals were among the dead – including two New Zealanders. The extent of the disaster was enormous. It was the largest mass-murder in US history.
And it was probably the first time we were able to watch a disaster of such gravity unfold in real time. It was the biggest tragedy to hit the Western world since the popularisation of cell phones and footage taken by citizens and witnesses was broadcast almost immediately.
What this meant was that we didn’t just hear about the planes hitting the towers, we saw it happen. We watched it all unfold, horror-like, and kept on watching as the catastrophe continued: as September 11 became September 12 and then September 13.
And as the days, weeks, months and years went on, stories began to emerge. Stories of kindness: people coming together in the aftermath of the disaster, neighbour helping neighbour. Stories of love: those final phone calls made to loved ones.
And stories of courage: the emergency workers who went into the disaster zone while others were running out, and the passengers on the hijacked plane destined for the Whitehouse who staged a revolt, crashing the plane into a nearby field, saving hundreds of lives.
Never was the power of human spirit more evident than in the wake of this terrible tragedy. But the human spirit also suffered a huge blow on the morning of September 11 2001. Seeds of anger, revenge, hatred and distrust were sowed in the spirits of so many people. Around the world, security was heightened. Foreigners were treated with suspicion. Walls began to rise once again between countries.
It may have been one day, but in so many ways, the impacts of September 11 are never-ending. There’s been a war. There’s been a manhunt. There’s been a reigning era of terrorism. It’s strange to think that a decade ago I was a ten year old in a small school library who’d never heard the word terrorist before.
Ten years on, children aren’t so lucky. Ten years on, we remember.
“I’m a journalism student from Auckland, New Zealand. Originally from India, my family moved to New Zealand when I was four years old. I love writing – both creative and transactional – as well as reading, theatre, travelling and dancing.
“Aside from studying, I work as an intern for ONE News – at TVNZ, our national broadcaster – and as sub-editor for my university magazine. I hope to enter into journalism, ultimately working for established editorial publications within New Zealand or overseas.”
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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