For those who immediately lost their innocence on 9/11, I feel every act of organised terror since has not reached us as we’ve adjusted our eyes to the flash of violence.
The shadow of September 11th is still illuminated in my darkening memory, as a can recall the sharp minutiae of that fateful morning when our generation was awoken to the realities of adulthood. Our transportation there was the screeching sounds of a violent, violent change. The particulars of that day are kept under the amber of feeling, fossilised by the fragmental shards of audio; David Koch’s wobbling morning voice, muted, trying to grasp a sense of the moment when the second jet concreted the act.
As the towers went down, we did too. The people we were the day before no longer existed, kicked out of the nest by the unfeeling boot of the anonymous terrorist. As we woke to meet the 12th, we were all reborn.
As that day was a school one, things carried on as usual, with the usual line of usual Catholic schoolboys lining up for the usual administrative rigmarole. What made it different was the collective feet shuffling in collective shoes as collective necks nervously craned upwards, the pictures of that morning still fresh, planted in the front of our minds, assuming that the following minutes would hold similar horrors destined for us.
From that morning, experiences that remain carved into the darkest walls of our minds, have made us. Our own salient act, a true “loss of innocence” moment, where blunt possibilities crept into previously cotton-balled ears. As the towers went down, we did too. The people we were the day before no longer existed, kicked out of the nest by the unfeeling boot of the anonymous terrorist. As we woke to meet the 12th, we were all reborn.
Fear quickly became the currency of our generation. It would paint policy and border disputes, and re-write definitions all in aid of trying to halt whatever was to arrive next. It became the pertinent rhetorical question that no-one wanted an answer to. The days beyond would provide one anyway, however, exhibiting ancient ugliness, new in intensity. The War on Terror; Gitmo; Afghanistan; Iraq; once moments that stopped time: they were quickly shifted to the background, with the chattering machine-gun fighting heard over the crumpled voice of TV correspondents becoming the soundtrack to our formative years.
We just kind of accepted it as what it was: a rolling conflict with no end, with new names replacing old ones we forgot.
Also on The Big Smoke
My nan, who is old enough to tell me about the Munich incident, finds each new terrorist act or threat as worse as the one that proceeded it. Not so us. We’re able to remain objective. Do we, due to our rough virginal encounter with orchestrated death, measure all future bloodletting against the first, deepest cut, 9/11?
As violence had its hand around our hip, it pushed our buttons, easing us into putting up internal barriers to protect us from a repeat, and in our doing such, we’ll never be reached again. An understandable human reaction to shock has twisted into the genesis of the virus that keeps our generation immune to worser things.
When Bali rolled around, with Australians slain on our doorstep when we were directly targeted, I felt considerably less than I had for September 11. I was taken aback with my lack of a similar feeling. A guttural shaking of the senses, the acidic pangs of hopelessness felt behind the groin were noticeably absent. I watched mountains of coverage, and when it was discussed in conversations I admitted it was a tragedy, but, I did so knowing that I didn’t feel the same.
That chasm of feeling was the source of the river, feeding the trickle-down effect of growing indifference every time blood ran in the streets, that largesse of feeling growing, weakening our footing, pooling at my ankles as we trudged through the Paris Attacks. Paris was terrible, but I was able to look at it objectively. For the first time, I looked for the reasons why, not the acts for.
The final drip of emotion was firmly shut off with the last twitch of the monkey wrench of apathetic experience as Islamic State (or their impersonators) directly targeted Sydney and Melbourne, naming familiar suburbs, places I’ve walked down, places paved with anecdotal memories lived by those I love the most. I knew all of that – but felt nothing.
— The Australian (@australian) September 6, 2016
I spoke to my partner about it, who by her own admission is cursed by an affluence of feeling (in fact, she was one of the first to lay carnations at the feet of the violence enacted on Martin Place). Being two years my junior, the effect of 9/11 was significantly coarsened, but she agreed that with each act, the empathy it draws is lessened.
She separated Martin Place from Paris, by virtue of her acceptance of what the world currently is.
I don’t want all this to be misconstrued as my generation as being flippant. Far from it, for being drowned by experience, we can calmly chart the waters. Terrorism, as a concept, we understand. We understand the truth. It exists, and will continue to exist, and we’ve accepted that. We’ve grown old with it.
As children of televised terror, we’ve become far too familiar with the masked faces of those who collect heads. But yet we walk, knowing that the world will rebuild itself, that with each exposure, our eyes will adjust to the flash of violence, and perhaps knowing that as our ears deafen to the language of it, those who speak it will repeat themselves, louder.