Magazine article The Spectator

Spirit of the Blitz

Magazine article The Spectator

Spirit of the Blitz

Article excerpt

New York

PEOPLE walk a lot in Manhattan. Its streets are always crowded. But never before like this. An hour after the attack on the World Trade Center, thousands of New Yorkers - refugees in business attire - trudged north as downtown evacuated. Many were covered from head to toe in white ash. Most walked in silence, contemplating the fact that somebody they know is probably dead, and that in the next 24 hours they will find out who.

Others desperately tried to contact loved ones. The World Trade Center was a crucial communications post, and this, combined with an already inadequate wireless capacity, ensured that one of the first things to stop working were the mobile phones. It soon became clear how indispensable these irritating devices have become - and how few of the suddenly essential public phones are in good working order. Other staples of New York life ceased to function - the subway trains, the taxis. Most offices shut and sent their workers home. Even Starbucks closed all its Manhattan stores, at a time when a vente skimmed latte has never been more needed.

Fifty thousand people worked in the World Trade Center, but each day 150,000 New Yorkers visited it, or passed through its stores and stations. Many more relied on it as a marker to get their bearings -- and, like me, loved the magnificence of the Manhattan skyline, which will now be tragically incomplete. I was in the World Trade Center on Monday, the day before it was destroyed, and expected to chair a conference in its inescapable Windows on the World top-floor restaurant on Thursday. I can't help thinking about the terror that drove so many people to jump from so high up.

On street corners people mostly huddled and hugged. The public outpouring of grief here will dwarf anything evoked by the celebrity deaths of Diana and JFK junior. And rightly so, for many of the certainties of life in the wealthy modern world died on Tuesday morning.

To America's enemies, the attack on the Pentagon a few minutes later may be the more satisfying hit, revealing a glaring weakness at the heart of the Great Satan's military complex. But by obliterating the World Trade Center, the terrorists have made it clear that none of us can feel entirely safe as we go about our everyday lives. Those working in the World Trade Center included many of the highest-paid financiers and lawyers in the world: Masters of the Universe suddenly shown to be powerless and mortal.

At first, there was a weird sense of unreality about the whole thing. I overheard several people saying it was just like the movies; certainly, Hollywood's frequent use of the destruction of the World Trade Center as a stock image of Armageddon, bombed, or washed away by some giant tsunami, ensured a sense of deja vu. But as eye-witness accounts of body parts littering the streets were broadcast, the full enormity of what had happened soon sank in.

This feels quite different from the IRA's occasional bombing campaigns in London. New Yorkers now know that there are people out to get them, perhaps because of their prosperity and peace and democracy. These enemies are not trying to change opinions, but to kill. Moreover, they are able to do so with a sophistication and effectiveness that none of us had thought possible. Yes, we knew there was a risk that some rogue terrorist would do something terrible with a plane; but not a brilliantly co-ordinated surgical suicide strike that did not merely damage but obliterated the biggest buildings in the city. …

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