Oct 22, 2005

Thieves of Time

About four years ago one of the most magnificent robberies in the history of the world took place.

What makes this all the more impressive was that it occured while the perpetrators were suffering through one of the greatest of great tragedies.

In 2001, despite the ravages of the attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, the United States of America managed to steal from us one whole day. They stole the 11th of September from under our noses, and we will never get it back.

I feel, however that this accusation requires some clarification.

History is an illusion (a very good one). With its footnotes and its tables of facts and figures and its Authoritative Gentleman stalking across fields that once were battlefields, it creates a highly compellings 'reality effect'. An hallucination of objectivity and fact. Behind the costumes and the stagecraft history is an almost infinite, chaotic vacuum.

Reality television works through a carefully disguised process of construction. The editors on Big Brother take over 24 hours of footage from a variety of different cameras, and distill it down into a half hour narrative. This is a narrative constructed through moments, gestures, quotations of silences; built from nothing, the editors make a compelling (or not as the case may be) story, and people imagine it as reality. This is also the case for History.

Whether you want to believe the polo-necked frenchman who tells you (through cynical blasts of a vile European cigarette) that there is nothing outside language and therefore all history is fiction, it is hard to argue that there aren't an almost unlimited number of permutations for any given historical moment; that as I type this there aren't an almost infinite number of things happening elsewhere. And whereas you could quite concievably argue that all these things objectively happen, any significance placed on them is entirely of our own making.

Hence history as we see it is a narrative, an entirely constructed story. Moments are knitted together arbitrarily like so many episodes of Big Brother, but with a far more significant purpose. This is narrative of power. Dates are made and the space around them is filled with silence - leaving only one story.

And so we return finally to the US of A, everyone's favourite wounded bull elephant of a nation.

They suffered a terrorist attack back in 2001 (I'm sure you all heard about it). But whereas in the past such things were given a fairly descriptive moniker - either geographical (Lockerbie, Pearl Harbour, Oklahoma City) or otherwise (The Kennedy Assassination, The Embassy Bombings, The Washington Sniper) this one was named 9/11 after the day it occured. Not 9/11/2001 but merely 9/11. And thus a date was made. But not just a date in a single year - a date for all time.

A date was made and a day was stolen.

It was stolen from everyone with a birthday, everyone who died of a heart attack in the back garden, every marriage, every election victory and every military strike.

Most specifically it was stolen from Chile, and 28 years of history were made worthless.

General Pinochet came to power in a military coup d'├ętat on September 11, 1973, in which rebels bombed the Presidential Palace with British-made Hawker Hunter fighter jets.

The Americans stole a day from us. A day that forever more will be associated not with arrogant and paranoid American intervention but with 'unprovoked' aggression on American soil. It is a day that forever will recall several thousand reasons why Americans should fight for their safety against all opposition (political or military). It is a day that will be held up like so many bloodied american bodies in desert storm uniform - look how we suffer, look why we are justified in doing what we do.

So depending on who you are, or what you think, this is a day that was stolen from us and used against us. And this was no accident of language.

And as with everything else, we now scramble to do the same.

I am tired of 9/11, I am tired of 7/7. I am sick and tired of too simple stories, told by liars to idiots. Both the present and the past are far more complicated than such strategies will allow us to imagine.

1 comment:

Jez said...

That last paragraph is very quoteworthy. Nice one.

And I hate it when people say 7/7. We don't refer to dates like that here. Should be referred to as 7th July 2005.