When that bunch of cheery medievalists flew their captives into the Twin Towers 13 years ago today, I think they probably weren’t expecting to have some of the impact they actually did.
We all know why they did it – to provoke the US into coming after them, in the hope that the ensuing showdown would force muslims worldwide to rally behind their banner. The results of that we could describe as, well, distinctly mixed.
However, the repercussions of that day have given birth to some weird and wonderful consequences – the continuing media career of Yvonne Ridley, or ongoing national political career of George Galloway, for instance. Or a number of Hollywood movies which destroy entire city blocks in an act of catharsis (but this time, the heroes arrive to save the day, go Tony Stark!). Help for Heroes. Etc Etc.
One of the most transparent recent manifestations, however, has been “The Other 9/11” meme.
I was raised in a left wing household. An exceedingly left wing household. And I am, as regular readers of this blog will no doubt notice, somewhat of a history nerd. Suffice to say, I was aware of Pinochet, Allende, Chile and all issues concerning 20 years prior to the more recent 9/11.
Here’s my memory of how we commemorated 11 September, 1973, on the liberal left, for the years 1974-2000:
No. Wait. There must have been some commemoration, right? On the liberal left? There must have been? I mean, I’m sure there was. The odd concert here. Maybe the odd candlelit vigil there. But I don’t remember the anniversary being, well, noted. Not really.
You know, I don’t want you to get the wrong message about what I’m saying here – in those years, we on the left were more than aware what had happened on that day. We were more than aware of the repercussions of it. And we were aware that many amongst our political elite – step forward Mrs Thatcher, step forward Mr Reagan – were happily making kissy-kissy with Pinochet (We could have a big debate here about how “complicit” the US were in the coup if we wanted, but to be honest, I’m unsure whether it’s worth the effort – the fact that this “complicity” is heavily disputed and disputable in the realms of historical fact appears to have passed much of popular culture by, and it’s taken as a given the US were behind the coup when the truth is much more complex and nuanced, even if you do accept US involvement*). But I don’t recall any call to commemorate the anniversary of that bloody and horrific act of right wing savagery prior to…well, around about 2005. Definitely after the 30th anniversary and before the 40th anniversary, the calls came to “not forget the other 9/11” quite regularly.
Why did it emerge then, do you think?
A charitable reading of the situation would be that the generation who had been radicalised by the Chilean coup had reached the age where they had an impact in media and they could then tell us about it.
Only, that’s a bit of a lie, isn’t it? The people who had been radicalised by it were in media all along. What had happened in Chile was in media all along. We all knew about it. There was no need to commemorate because we had not forgotten about it. It was a cause celebre on the left when I was 10. It remained a cause celebre on the left when I was 30.
So, you know why the “remember the other 9/11” thing came about, don’t you? Come on, liberal lefty, admit it. Be big enough to own this. It came about because you thought the US was getting too much sympathy for 3000 people dying in a terrorist attack. It came about because you didn’t like how the US responded to that. It came about because you thought the US was – essentially – a force for evil in the world. And you wanted to remind the world of the evil it had done. The evil like “the other 9/11”. It came about because you wanted to minimise the more recent one. It came about because you wanted a passive-aggressive version of ‘Death to America’.
Not pretty, when you look at it square in the face, is it?
*The reason I would have the argument, by the way, is not to defend the CIA or the USA, but because it stops us analysing properly why precisely Allende’s regime was so vulnerable to a coup. It stops us analysing where the first democratically elected Marxist government in South America failed, in favour of the Deus Ex Machina of the CIA man. Fine, if you want your world Manichean, with black hats and white hats, and noble Allende done down by the evil US (and, it goes without saying that the coup was not something I support, supported, minimised or excuse in the slightest), but not very helpful if you want to learn the actual lessons of what actually happened.