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Simon Van Kempen: Can we get back to 9/10?

For the sake of my kids, I am allowed to hope, aren’t I?

It seems an eon since I departed the shores of Australia in early 1986 as a wide eyed young Australian guy of 22 and headed off to London to see what the other side of the globe looked like. Australia, where I’d been born and grown up was still a sleepy peaceful country of 17 million people and quite different than the UK where I’d moved. I had arrived in London three years after Harrods Department store had been bombed by the IRA and since then they’d not been particularly active on the Mainland.

A few years after I arrived, the Berlin Wall fell and just three months later Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa, signaling the end of the apartheid era. A light seemed to be dawning across the world. Unfortunately just a couple of months later the IRA restarted its mainland campaign and detonated or attempted to do so, 18 different bombs throughout London over the next 6 years. By then well and truly a Londoner, we all just got used to the fact that a bomb might go off somewhere but none-the-less moved on with our lives. By 1998 the Belfast Agreement was signed and at last that ‘trouble’ began to be over.

A year later I arrived in New York, to a land relatively devoid of terrorist incidents. Yes, in 1995 McVeigh had killed 168 people in Oklahoma City but this was seen as the deranged actions of one particular lunatic and not part of a wider action like the IRA campaign had been in Britain. And so I set to settling in this great country; the land of the free.

On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was greeting guests in the lobby of a hotel I’d opened as General Manager, just 7 days prior. While I was discussing with one my compatriot Leyton Hewitt’s win over Pete Sampras at the 2001 US Open, another guest walked over and said that CNN was reporting that a Cessna had crashed into one of the twin towers. I remember going upstairs to my room and awakening Alex and then returned to my office to see what I could find out. Alex then turned on the TV and witnessed the second jet liner slamming into the 2nd Tower. Honestly the next 72 hours are a bit of a blur but the most surreal experience was driving at 60mph through a totally empty Times Square at 9pm the next night to return to the hotel to evacuate guests due to a bomb threat at the nearby Empire State building.

And here we are 10 years later still living in the greatest city in the world, New York, but we all lead a completely different life. The US rightly reacted to this attack differently than the Oklahoma one, as this was the work of more than just one deranged human. Now when Alex & I drive across the Brooklyn Bridge there’s NYPD presence 24/7. At tunnels, in the Subway and of course at the airports we have all had to adjust to the increased security, which comes at a massive cost in time & money to us all. These changes had to be made but on top of the enormous loss of life on that fateful day we all are a little less free than we were just 10 years ago. And this to me is the greatest and most depressing reaction to what happened on 9/11. The bastards wanted to change the USA and although they didn’t succeed in the way they had hoped, they did change the way we all live and will do so for the foreseeable future.

After the Belfast Agreement in Britain, London returned to a more easy going way of life. Yes, the city was shaken by 9/11 in NYC, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, but until they had their own awful attack on 7/7/2005, London was for a few years, free of the terrorism the US experienced that day.

The Belfast Agreement was a defining moment for the end of the IRA troubles, but who is there to come to the party and negotiate and agree to a Terrorist Agreement to put an end to this attack by radicals who claim Islam as their excuse?

The Berlin Wall fell, apartheid is over, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Great Britain now peacefully co-exist. All these things seemed improbable when I was a young boy in the 1970s. I hope that, as much as I thought it improbable that those problems would never end, that one day we’ll ever come to an understanding with our current opposing forces and our lives can go back to something akin to the freedom of movement we all enjoyed on September 10th, 2001.

For the sake of my kids, I am allowed to hope, aren’t I?