As the jets slammed into the Twin Towers this day five years ago I
immediate felt a visceral surge of sympathy for the city where I lived as a
boy and which I visit every year. I have always regarded New York as
London's blood brother.
I wrote that the horror I could see unfolding on my television screen was a
madness of which the world had never been free and would never be free. But
beyond the personal tragedies - and they occur somewhere every hour of the
day - it did not and should not be allowed to "matter". Madness carries no
meaning. The deed was not politically significant and must not become so.
It did not tilt the balance of world power. It did not diminish America's
leadership of the West, indeed sympathy for America and her restraint in
response would surely enhance it.
Democracy was not damaged by the attack. Those who chose to take up the
"white man's burden" and prescribe solutions to the world's problems - as
had America since the fall of the Soviet empire - must accept that there
would be prices to pay. There would be prices especially where that
policing involved military aggression against lesser states, as already in
Sudan, Iraq and Serbia. There could be no formal defence against acts such
as this, certainly no military defence. Terrorists were shadowy people,
moving from country to country, vulnerable only to assiduous intelligence.
As a vast cloud rose over lower Manhattan I also wondered at the cheap
construction of the building - a previous attack on it in 1993 had failed
and thus been largely ignored by the authorities.
I wrote that to treat the outrage as a declaration of war would be to
abandon the customary self-control of democracy. It would glorify the
terrorist among his own class and people and help him do his work. Nobody,
I wrote, should want to see Americans terrorised into overreaction.
Overreaction would mean global isolation. An isolated and hated America
would be a dangerous America. In this age, maturity lay in learning to live
with madmen and sometimes that meant dying with them. That is the real
price paid for freedom.
I still believe everything I wrote then. Nothing that I wrote came to pass.
America displayed a terror that surprised and shocked her friends. She
dissipated the sympathy declared worldwide in the aftermath - including
blood-donor points in Gaza - and proceeded with a massive military response
that continues bloodily to this day. The result put a megaphone to 9/11 and
turned Osama bin Laden into the hero of anti-Americanism everywhere. Now we
are making the same mistake again. When dignity and common sense should
suggest private commemoration and public silence we have seized the
amplifier of terror and turned it to full volume. We have given terrorism
what it craves, a state memorial.