The War on Terror is a war of religion

Compare the world 20 years after the 9/11 attacks to the world two decades after Pearl Harbour. World War Two was a vivid presence in popular culture and national memory in 1961, but America in the first year of John F. Kennedy’s administration was in no sense living in the shadow of Japan’s attack. That war had ended 15 years ago; Japan was now our ally in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Twenty years after 9/11, the US has only just ended its war in Afghanistan, and the result of that conflict, which lasted five times longer than the one with Imperial Japan (and Hitler’s Germany), was the

The very American heroism of Todd Beamer

Twenty years ago today, on the morning of 11 September 2001, 32-year-old Todd Beamer boarded a United Airlines flight at Newark, New Jersey, bound for a business meeting in San Francisco. He was due to fly back that night, to rejoin his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two young sons, Drew and David. Todd worked for a computer company, selling software. His job entailed lots of travelling. This was just another working day. Forty-six minutes after take-off, terrorists stormed the cockpit, seized the controls, and announced, ‘We have a bomb onboard.’ The plane changed course for Washington DC. Some passengers managed to make phone calls to friends and family, and news

The 9/11 anniversary marks a painful moment for squaddies

The sweet salvation of the summer recess over, we returned to Sandhurst for our final term of officer training. It was 11 September, 2001 – a day that started with a hike in the sunshine and which came to define my time in the British Army. The events of 9/11 would lead to my own deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the loss of dear friends and comrades. Of course, on that September morning none of us knew how events 3,000 miles away – and the political decisions taken in the aftermath of those terrible attacks – would have such a momentous impact on our lives. After the buses dropped us off, the hike

How the left thought they were right to fight the war on terror

Late one soft summer night in 1966, my brother Christopher slipped out of our north Oxford house and bicycled to the centre of the city. There he spent a worryingly long time with a spraypaint can, inscribing the words ‘Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?’ on a long builders’ hoarding outside Trinity College in Broad Street. You will have to work out for yourselves how I know this, but I do. The punctuation was perfect, and a handwriting expert could easily have told it was him. The slogan endured for months and even appeared in a TV drama filmed in the city some months later. This

Has it really got harder to see a GP in person?

Floating vote Voters in St Petersburg were presented with three candidates all calling themselves Boris Vishnevsky, with two believed to have changed name and appearance to draw votes from the other. It is not the first time voters have faced a confusing choice: — In a Moscow city election in 2019 voters had the option of voting for ‘Alexander Solovyov’ — though it turned out not to be the Alexander Solovyov who was in prison at the time and barred from standing. — In the 2017 local election in Ferguslie Park, Glasgow, Conservative John McIntyre was elected, with many speculating that voters had meant to opt for an independent candidate

Confessions of an accidental foreign correspondent

Perhaps you remember footage of the wave. It was mostly from traffic cameras, mute but darkly mesmerising. Millions of gallons of Pacific seawater upended by a 9.0 earthquake and hurled irresistibly inland. A few days later I saw what that meant, turning a corner in my hire-car to find the road blocked by a trawler that had been washed ashore. This week, Japan has commemorated the tenth anniversary of the tsunami which killed 15,000 of its people. A seismic tragedy which begat a man-made disaster. Inundated by water, part of the Fukushima nuclear reactor blew up, producing the worst radioactive leak since Chernobyl. It wasn’t long before scores of foreign journalists

A whiff of paranoia

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 many writers spoke of feeling immobilised. The scale of the attacks and the world’s shared experience of the media event seemed to demand a response; but simultaneously writers such as Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Jay McInerney described a sense that the tools at their disposal were inadequate — that the reality of what had taken place exceeded fictional representation. These three all recovered from their shock reasonably quickly, contributing to the flood of 9/11 fiction that poured into bookshops during the 2000s. In recent years this torrent of novels and stories has slowed, but as Christopher Priest’s eerily powerful An American Story demonstrates,

A countercultural upheaval

‘New York stories in a way are always real estate stories,’ says the journalist Alan Light in Lizzy Goodman’s bustling oral history of the city’s music scene at the dawn of the century. The same goes for all music scenes. Talent clusters and thrives only where there are cheap places to live, hang out, play shows and, crucially, fail. New York in 2001 was such a location. The Lower East Side was still affordably sketchy and Brooklyn far from hip. When Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio moved to Williamsburg and invited his Manhattan friends to visit, ‘It was like I was asking them to go to China on

Not all Muslims are despairing at a Donald Trump presidency

The immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s surprise election victory brought a slew of comparisons with 9/11. In New York, my liberal friends waking up on 11/9 said they experienced the same range of emotions. You will have seen the stories of commuters weeping on the subway, colleges offering counselling to students and a general sentiment that life would never be the same again. Therapists reported an overwhelming sense of grief among their clients as they tried to process their world turned upside down. Robert de Niro chipped in, telling the Hollywood Reporter: ‘I feel like I did after 9/11.’ Whether or not the comparison was fair or even in good taste, the fact was

What I got right

All wings of the Labour party which support the notion of Labour as a party aspiring to govern — rather than as a fringe protest movement — agree on the tragedy of the Labour party’s current position. But even within that governing tendency, there is disagreement about the last Labour government; what it stood for and what it should be proud of. The moral dimension of Labour tradition has always been very strong, encapsulated in the phrase that the Labour party owed more to Methodism than to Marx. When I became the opposition spokesman on law and order in 1992, following our fourth election defeat, I consciously moved us away

Question time | 8 December 2016

If you were to see one film about American whistle-blower Edward Snowden — there is no law saying you have to, but if you were — then the film you want is probably Laura Poitras’s 2014 documentary Citizenfour rather than this biopic from Oliver Stone. It’s being sold as a ‘pulse-pounding thriller’ but oh, if only it were. Instead, it’s psychologically thin, tiresomely hagiographic and doesn’t answer any of the questions you’d like it to answer. Certainly, my pulse failed to oblige and if yours doesn’t behave similarly, I’d be most surprised. Poitras’s film, which was a proper pulse-pounder, followed Snowden in real time as he was actually in the

Hillary Clinton’s health crisis was a victory for conspiracy theorists – on 9/11, of all days

‘Can we just stop talking about Hillary Clinton’s health now?’, snapped Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post on September 6. The whole discussion was ‘totally ridiculous’, a smear campaign by conspiracy theorists, and to believe otherwise you had to assume that her doctor was lying. Five days later, and even Cillizza thinks it’s permissible to talk about Clinton’s health, having now published a piece with the headline ‘Hillary Clinton’s health just became a real issue in the presidential campaign’. Because yesterday – September 11, of all days – the conspiracy theorists got something right. Only after the Democratic candidate was forced to leave a national 9/11 commemoration – and just think how desperately ill she must have

Memories, dreams, reflections

Heart of a Dog is a film by Laurie Anderson and it’s a meditative, free-associating rumination on life, loss, love and dogs, with particular reference to her and her late husband’s (Lou Reed, who died in 2013) beloved rat terrier, Lolabelle (who died the same year). It follows no linear logic. It’s a visual collage, a cine-poem, a dreamy documentary essay that was screened in London earlier this week to owners and their dogs — to rave reviews. ‘It’s great!’ said a golden retriever, but as he said the same of ‘a ball’ and also ‘a pizza crust’, he may not be the most reliable of critics. (This is why

Written on the body

Sue Armstrong’s programme on Radio 4 All in the Womb (produced by Ruth Evans) should be required listening for anyone dealing directly with the refugee crisis, with those who have fled from intense fear and terrible violence in their home countries. Armstrong has been investigating recent developments in our understanding of the impact of severe trauma, how it affects not just the mind but also the body, creating physical changes that also need to be addressed. Those who lived through the Holocaust, for example, who were in prison camps or were forced to hide in dark, cramped, inhuman conditions, perpetually afraid that at any moment they might be discovered, have

Letting terror win

There is nothing a government in a remotely free country can do to stop a suicide bomber in a crowded space. As a weapon, he has the precision of a drone missile. The only preventive task open to the police and security service is to penetrate and destroy a terrorist cell in advance. This means assiduous intelligence. It has clearly held the key to disarming some 50 ‘terror plots’ known to the police over the past decade. Every lesson in counter-terrorism warns against overreaction. But David Cameron seems oblivious to this truth. He appears to have no faith in the police to protect British citizens from terrorism. His reaction to

Lessons in the surreal

The new season of the Serial podcast (produced by the same team who make This American Life) was launched last month, releasing one episode a week as the investigative reporter Sarah Koenig looks this time into the strange story of Bowe Bergdahl. He’s the US army soldier who walked out on his platoon in 2009 while stationed on a remote outpost in Afghanistan, close to the Pakistani border. Unsurprisingly, he was captured by the Taliban and held captive for five years before being released, in a prisoner exchange with those held in Guantanamo Bay. At first it looked as though he would be given a hero’s welcome (his release announced

Why would Ed Miliband even want to woo Russell Brand?

The Sun reports this morning that Ed Miliband recently made a late-night visit to Russell Brand’s £2 million home. Details on what was discussed remain unknown, although Labour has now confirmed that rather than Miliband’s own François Hollande moment, or a pre-emptive mansion tax inspection, it was in fact an interview. A friend of mine lives opposite Russell Brand and snapped this picture of Ed Milliband leaving his house…urm pic.twitter.com/kHGVWFbpVZ — Elisa Misu Solaris (@ElisaMisu) April 27, 2015 However, if Miliband is to appear in an episode of Brand’s online show The Trews, it’s unclear what the Labour leader hopes to gain from it. Is this really an endorsement any serious potential Prime Minister would want?

Falling down

This week, some 200 years since Goya’s ‘The Disasters of War’, almost 80 years after Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, and over 50 since Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer for his photograph of a self-immolating Buddhist monk, the British media found itself questioning whether art should, or even could, ever represent the horrors of recent history. It was a conversation that picked minutely over the ethical responsibilities of an opera based on the events of 9/11 — was it too soon? how would the families feel? would it exploit tragedy for drama? — but one whose ceaseless moral whys and wherefores prevented it ever arriving at the only real artistic question: how? The

The fox that killed my chickens depressed me more than 250,000 tsunami deaths

It is hard to know how a tragedy is going to move a person who is not directly affected by it. Over a death or misfortune in the family, or among one’s friends, one is sure to feel pain and grief. But what of those other ghastly events involving people, maybe hundreds or thousands of them, with whom one has no connection? They provoke shock, disgust and horror, but not necessarily great personal sadness. Could it be true that I was more depressed when a fox killed all my chickens than I was when the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 swept over a quarter of a million people to their

‘Torture is torture’ ignores the complex nature of intelligence gathering

On Thursday I was on the BBC’s ‘This Week’ to talk about the CIA and torture. It is, for many reasons, perhaps the most gruesome subject possible. And not just because of the hideous allegations involved, but also because it is one of those subjects which people wantonly lose their reason over. Like a small number of other subjects in our society at the moment, it is one which people try wilfully to simplify, usually in order to show the world what a moral person they are and, by contrast, what immoral people their opponents are. I will use this post to set out some of my own views and certain