Bonnie Greer; Two Minutes' Silence That Speaks Volumes

By Greer, Bonnie | The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 11, 2001 | Go to article overview

Bonnie Greer; Two Minutes' Silence That Speaks Volumes


Greer, Bonnie, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)


Byline: BONNIE GREER

FOR MANY OF US, REMEMBRANCE Sunday is the day The Archers goes out early - at 9.15am instead of 10am, before we have had a chance to wake up properly. Or, it is the day of the two-minute silence when we have to endure the groan 'What for?' after telling the children to turn off the television.

As we avoid their mutinous sulks, we, too, sometimes ask: 'What for?' Most of us have never been involved in a war. Not really. Of course, there were the Falklands, the Gulf, the Balkans. But these had a fairly low body-bag count, and, besides, they were 'handled' by 'smart' bombs and smart people.

Things are fairly high-tech now, no one's hands really get dirty and it can all be over by tea time. War is hell, 'somewhere out there'. 'Our boys' will do the business if required. It's down to us to keep going. What really matters in this postmodern world is how to watch Gary Lineker and Des Lynam at the same time, and whether Sex and the City's Carrie will finally land Mr Right.

Will September 11 change this perception, I wonder?

The majority of us only know war from films. Our war stars Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan), or Sir John Mills in some black-and-white oldie. Our war is odourless and tasteless, crowded with images designed to be consumed along with our popcorn and Diet Cokes.

We talk about wars in films in terms of how 'realistic' they are: Saving Private Ryan's battlefield with the dying soldier screaming for his mother; Three Kings with George Clooney and Ice T, so cool that they could have won the Gulf War single-handedly. The list is endless. War as sex, war as entertainment, war as a retail opportunity. War is an exercise that we win and they lose. War is a thing that happens to other people.

A short while ago, while talking with a group of school children, I casually asked them what they had been doing on September 11. They were all at school, except for one. She had stayed at home to put the finishing touches to her 13th birthday party.

Thirteen is the official age a child becomes a teenager, that awkward phase where you start to put away childish things and begin to prepare yourself to face life's challenges.

But for this young girl, and doubtless for many others, her 13th birthday was the day that she and everyone else on this planet joined the 21st century and a new kind of war with a different kind of enemy. It was the date not only of the anniversary of her birth, but of year one of a war that might last her lifetime. Here was a child whose birthday was the beginning of the 'new normality' - how the Americans describe the way we live now. I left her, filled with anger and pity.

It made me recall when my husband and I took my late father back to Omaha Beach, Normandy, a few years ago. He had been stationed in England and had celebrated his 20th birthday the day after the D-Day landings. It had been his first birthday away from home, and he told me that he could never forget, on that special day, the overwhelming fear he felt as he was about to face the unknown. …

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