Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 11, through the eyes of an 8 year old

My 8 year old son was not even a twinkle in my eye when September 11 happened.  At that time, I lived in Perth, WA and because of the time difference was still up watching TV when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  I watched the second plane fly into the other tower, and the collapse of both buildings, live on television.

Even though I lived on the other side of the world, I felt the world changed that day.  I was fearful, and I hadn't felt fearful before.  I hated what happened on September 11.  But I hated what happened afterwards too.  I did not agree with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, or Australia's involvement with them, and as time has gone on, I agree with them even less.
My son wants to be an airforce pilot.  He's been a plane freak since before he could talk and likes to watch videos of planes and airports and fighter jets on the computer.  One day, after seeing a clip on You Tube, he came to me and said 'mum, did you know there was these tall buildings in America and some planes crashed into them and they exploded.'
I was a little taken aback.  I had forgotten there is whole generation born after September 11 who hasn't been touched by the fear and uncertainty of that day.  They don't remember the shock and suspicion and paranoia and craziness of that time.  They don't understand the reason for taking your shoes off at an airport security checkpoint or why we have advertisements on TV asking us to call a special number if we think our neighbour is buying too much fertiliser.   They are innocent and I would like it to stay that way.....but I don't hold out much hope.

We talk about war quite alot in our house.  I am an amateur WWI historian so its a subject that comes up frequently and there are probably more books about war in this house than any other type.  My 8 year old is familiar with Gallipoli, France, Germany and the fighting on the Western Front.  He knows about Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust.  But we have never really touched on the wars that are going on now.  To him, war is something that happened a long time ago when my great uncle fought and died in France and pilots flew in B52 bombers....

This week, on our ride home from school, he looked at me and said in an accusing tone 'mum, is there a war going on in a place called Afkazban right now?'  (I suspect he was a little confused between Afghanistan and his favourite Harry Potter movie, the Prisoner of Azkaban)

'Yes, there is.  Its in Afghanistan, which is kind of underneath Russia and above India'  (I think I need to brush up on my geography...)

'What is there a war for?'

*Big sigh*.  How do you explain the war in Afghanistan to an 8 year old?

The conversation went something like this.

'Well, remember when you came and asked me about the planes that crashed into those buildings in America.  Some bad people were flying those planes and they killed a lot of people.  They were terrorists.  Do you know what a terrorist is?'


'Terrorists are people who believe in something and if you don't believe the same thing, they don't like you and they try to scare you.'   (I believe this is not the official version of what a terrorist is, but it will have to do....)

'Didn't they like America?'


'Why didn't they like them?  Did they think they were rich and horrible?'  (meet my son, the budding communist)

'Something like that'.   (In my head I'm hearing a cartoon-like Arabic voice shouting 'capitalist pigs!')

'So then what happened?'

'Well, the terrorist group that flew those planes was hiding out in the desert in a country called Afghanistan.  They weren't really from Afghanistan but they were hiding out there.  America said to Afghanistan 'how come you are letting these baddies hide in your country' and so they decided to invade Afghanistan.  They thought the war would be over very quick because America is a big strong country and Afghanistan is nothing but desert but its been going on for a very long time now and it hasn't got any better and they aren't winning the war.'

And in a slightly terse voice.....'and even Australian soldiers have had to go there and some have been killed.'

'Why is Australia in the war?'

'I don't know, but I don't think we should have got involved' (my own personal belief that John Howard is George Bush's ass-licker is probably not an appropriate answer here).

'Well, maybe we are helping them out because they helped us out in World War 1.' he says.

Slight pause from me.....this sounds like an incredibly rational argument from an 8 year old.  And flies straight in the face of my 'anti-Iraq/Afghanistan involvement' policy.  Hmmmm.  Is that a good enough reason to go to war?  I've written about the spurious start of World War I before, whereby a handful of treaties and alliances led to a horrifying disaster that lasted for 4 years and wiped out a generation of young men.
Is it really as simple as 'well, our countries are buddies, so if you go to war, we'll go too.'  What if the country going to war in the first place doesn't have a legitimate enough reason?  Is retaliation against a whole country for the act of one terrorist group a good enough reason? What if they give you a reason - Iraq is amassing weapons of mass destruction - and then that reason turns out to be completely false.

I don't know the answers to these questions.  I don't know if anyone knows the answers to these questions.  But it seems like a simple enough scenario to my son.

My son wants to be airforce pilot.  Will we still be at war in Afghanistan when my son is old enough to fly a plane?  This war is now the longest conflict the United States has ever been involved in, having recently overtaken the Vietnam War.
2,996 people lost their lives in the September 11 attacks.  Its a horrible number, but it pales in comparison to the 6,225 U.S. soldiers that have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan so far and the death of over 30,000 Afghani civilians.

I thought my son was protected from the events of September 11 but now I'm not so sure.  And as a mother, I'm not even sure there will ever be a reason good enough for my son to go to war.


  1. I too do not agree with the reasons why we are at war, I fully support our soliders in their endeavours but not the fear mongering behind it. Every generation of mothers ask themselves that same question. Is that a good enough reason for my child to go to war?

  2. This was a very good post. I myself have a 9yrold son. Currently he is upset with Japan for Pearl Harbor {sighhhh boys}. When 9/11 happened I had just left the day before and flew from Florida to California to be in my sister's wedding. I flew with my daughter she was 3. We watched the 2nd plane fly into the towers and all I wanted to do was get home. Once the flights were back in motion it was pure chaos getting home. We waited for several hours, Searched several times, Slept in airports.. And we finally made it home. I saw the faces of panic in every airport we landed at and on every plane boarded.. It was a somber time for America. Those were our people and That was pure evil. I was raised in the military and my brother-in-laws all served or currently were serving in the military. We took pride in our country. I didn’t believe in war {still don’t} but, I had the understanding that anything could happen at the hands or pure religious radicals. My brother in law and several friends served in Afghanistan fighting for our country and to this day I will support them because they don’t need us to turn our backs on them. I raise my kids to believe in something so they don’t get lost in this huge world.. I think it would be an honor if any of my kid’s chose the military but, it’s very jaded right now in my kids eyes because they only hear the bad parts.. not the history! And O’ Believe me I try.. But, History is not cool in my house with my teenage daughter and my tree hugger son! This was the best Post of the day for me! Thank you!

  3. Eloise, good work having a shot at a post about 9/11! Tricky to write about, but you've done it with a personal touch about your son.

    I joined the Army at 18 and got a great kick out of firing machine guns and throwing hand grenades. Totally ludicrous now when I think of the enthusiasm I had back then for that sort of stuff. Older and wiser now I'd rather be hanging out in the bush with peace and quiet plus minimal angst!

    I must admit that birthday invite card is a ripper. I wish I had something like that when I was a kid :)

  4. @Destination Suz, thank you for your post. I appreciate your lovely comment. I was a little worried that I might offend my American readers - its a touchy subject, but in the end all you can do is stick to your own truth. I was a tree hugger teenager once too and I feel very bad about the things I said about the military then. I didn't understand (or appreciate) the sacrifices and bravery of soldiers then and it took a very old war to do that.

  5. @Greg, thanks for the comment :) Let me know when your birthday is and I'll make you a Bomber invitation too hahaha


Thanks for commenting, I appreciate you taking the time xxx

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