Memories of 9/11

Today is 11th September 2021 which means it is exactly twenty years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon which led to the loss of almost three thousand civilian lives (and many more in the longer term). At the risk of contributing to the deluge of (mainly mawkish) reminiscences about the happenings on this day a decade ago, let me just give a brief account of my recollection. The events of 9/11 are, I suspect, etched on many a memory in much the same way as people remember what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated.

For what it’s worth, I was actually at a conference on that day. It was called A New Era in Cosmology, and was hosted in the fine city of Durham; in fact one of the organizers was a certain Tom Shanks, an occasional commenter on this blog. Above you will see part of the conference poster which I took from a recent Facebook post by him where I also found the text below. I was also reminded that 9/11 was the first day of that meeting and that I gave a talk on the first morning, the last before lunch. Such was the effect of the events that unfolded that day that I had completely forgotten about that.

What I do remember is sitting near the back of the lecture theatre after we returned from lunch, listening to one of the afternoon talks – I can’t remember who it was by – when a dear friend of mine, Manuela, came into the auditorium and walked down the aisle, stopped by me. She tugged my arm, mumbled something about the “Twin Towers” and then ran back up the stairs and out of the lecture theatre. Thinking it was something to do with Wembley Stadium, I followed her out and she explained what had happened. We found a TV set, around which a crowd had already formed. The coverage was, not surprisingly, shambolic and it was not until late afternoon that the scale of what had happened became clearer.

There were rumours of more planes likely to be involved in attacks and discussions about whether the military might have to shoot down civilian aircraft. Fortunately that wasn’t the case. I had a friend visiting New York at the time and was unable to contact her by mobile, so was worried, but I don’t think anyone was able to contact anyone in New York by mobile phone in those hours and it turns out she was fine.

Meanwhile the other participants were informed about the events on the other side of the Atlantic. It was an international conference with many US-based attendees who were understandably worried. The preface to the conference proceedings reveals that discussions were held about whether to cancel the meeting:

I think it was the correct decision to proceed with the conference, including the conference dinner and all that. As it happened all passengers flights were grounded for several days anyway, so nobody could get home who didn’t live in the UK.

The rest of the conference was pretty much business as usual as far as possible, although as the text above explains we did stand in silence in memory of the victims on the Thursday morning. When the meeting ended on the Friday quite a few people had to stay on in Durham or elsewhere before being able to fly home. It was this event that led to the heightened security measures at airports that we have been living with since then.

The loss of human life, though awful, turned out to be much less than had been feared and was subsequently dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands killed in the “War on Terror” set in motion by the events of that day. Will the recent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan lead to further attacks of this sort?

Anyway, my point is not the politics but to invite a bit of audience participation. Would anyone else like to contribute their memories from that fateful day? If so, the comment box awaits your entry…

3 Responses to “Memories of 9/11”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    How do you lead a silence?

    I remember being rung at home to watch it, putting it on TV, and other in the house arriving from elsewhere and watching. I remember going to the village shop before it closed, to get chocolate – absolutely necessary – and finding when I got back that one tower had collapsed, a possibility which hadn’t occurred to me. After that, it was only a sick matter of time before the second tower went. My main thought was What will America do in response?

  2. […] A blog about the Universe, and all that surrounds it « Memories of 9/11 […]

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