Remembering the New York atrocities

One of the most iconic of the pictures taken post 9/11. Ground Zero still looked substantially like this 3 weeks later when I was taken to see it and to pay my respects on behalf of the people of Liverpool for those who had died.

I bet most of us remember what we were doing on 11th September 2001. Erica and I were on holiday in a small Greek Island called Tinos. We were in a very, very Greek and none-tourist restaurant up in the mountains when I looked up and saw that everyone was looking at a telly. On the telly were pictures of the WTC and they were so dreadful that I could only believe that they were some sort of horror movie.

I remember saying to Erica, “that’s a bit tasteless”, when the owner of the restaurant managed to get through to us that this was not a film it was for real.

I’d been to the WTC the year before and had eaten in the restaurant there. A great view indeed. But you didn’t need to have been there to know about the WTC which had formed the backdrop to whole series of films and current affairs.

Four days later when I got home, I immediately reversed a decision that I had made not to accept an invitation to talk at a housing conference in New York. I accepted it and, with two officers, went to New York not just to talk about housing but to show solidarity for the Council and people of New York from the Council and people of the City of Liverpool.

Whilst I was at the conference, which took place less than 4 weeks after the 9/11, I was asked with the other speakers if I would like to visit what had by then become known as ‘Ground Zero. We all accepted and after a hair-raising dash to my hotel in an official car with sirens blazing, I sombrely stood and reflected at what I saw.

The ‘remains’ of the building were substantially as in the picture above. Even after 3 weeks the smoke and steam were still rising. We had to wear a mask and were taken to a VIP platform where someone explained to us what was happening. You could see the towers were down but in an adjacent building there was still an engine and part of a wing which had sheared off after crashing into the WTC itself.

No-one knows how many people died that day. The people who were in the building has never been precisely calculated. The number of first responders is known and what brave people they were. They did what such people do. Whilst we leave a crisis, they move towards it to try and save the public and minimise loss.

No-one knows how many have died since. So many of the first responders who got out but then went back, to save what lives they could, ended up inhaling dust particles of all sorts of substances which have killed them by stealth in the ensuing 20 years. No-one knows how many people have died since from the broken hearts which can so often affect those left behind after tragedies of any sort.

Let’s leave the politics out of this particular discussion. Let’s just think of the people involved.

On the one hand a group of foul-minded and evilly intentioned jihadists.

On the other a group or ordinary everyday people from almost 100 Countries going about their business in all innocence and just getting on with their lives with no intention of harming anyone. There were innocent people in the 3 planes some of which fought back and gave their own lives to bring down one of the planes before it could attack the Capitol building.

In the middle the first responders who fought to save lives and, in many cases, gave their own.

Alongside all this, a bewildered Military who, for understandable reasons, found it extremely hard to work out what to do save their own President and other key figures to ensure that democracy would not be brought down. Within a couple of hours, they found their feet and stabilised the situation.

This situation like so many other brought out the best and the worst in people. A small number of people who are evil but a much larger number of people whose only desire is to support and assist the communities they live and work in and who can turn from ordinary citizen to superhero in seconds.

We mustn’t forget atrocities like these. We must remember that balance of good versus evil. We must be on guard to fight evil by reason, patience and kindness. However, when real evil threatens, we must not roll over but must fight force with superior force so that evil does not get the upper hand.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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