Most Australians were horrified by the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., and support — militarily and morally — the war on terror.
But Australian leftists, poisoned by anti-Americanism, felt the U.S. had brought the attacks upon itself and urged that Australia not join the war.
What follows is an edited version of an essay I wrote last year after returning to Australia from post-attack New York. It appears in Blaming Ourselves: September 11 and the Agony of the Left, which will be published in Australia next month.
The Land of the Deaf
Before September 11, the World Trade Center was visible from most anywhere in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Afterwards, the first warning that you are approaching the site where the twin towers once stood comes from sound rather than sight.
It's a crackle of grit under your shoes. You're walking on the World Trade Center, tiny particles of which were spread over miles of Manhattan in huge, boiling clouds
There are, of course, visual clues as well. Parked cars covered in death dust, their owners never to return; smoke rising from the pyre at Ground Zero; and the faint tremor in Jason Wong's exhausted hands.
Wong runs a physical therapy and massage clinic a few blocks from the WTC. He and his staff have been treating WTC rescuers, firemen, and volunteers without charge. Wong hasn't slept for days. Asked what the workers are telling him, he struggles, awfully. "I cannot ... the words aren't ..." he begins.
Then he punches his chest, hard. "It's here that they feel it. This is where they hurt."
Around the same time that Jason Wong was finding it so difficult to articulate his feelings, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons offered a response to Sept. 11. His advice to Wong, the families of the dead, and the west in general: get down on your knees and beg forgiveness.
"I think I speak for many over here when I say, ‘Hello. We are sorry,'" wrote FitzSimons. "We accept that such hate as drove the planes into the World Trade Centre towers can only have come from incredible suffering, and we are desperately sorry for that suffering, even if we are yet to come to grips with its specific cause.’"
To most people, the images beamed out of New York on September 11 were unambiguous: two jets commandeered by madmen crashed into two gigantic buildings, killing thousands of innocent people. As seen by Australia's left, however, those monstrous towers rose up and swatted brave freedom fighters from the sky.
Magistrate Pat O'Shane claimed there was no evidence that suicide pilot Mohamed Atta "is/was a terrorist." Well, I guess not, unless you consider all those people he killed/murdered in an act of terrorism.
And what of those murdered innocents?
They were the products of a violent, racist culture, according to Phillip Adams, who assembled a list of American racist crimes for a column in The Australian.
I have no idea what it had to do with September 11, but Adams seemed to think historical racism was significant somehow, and denounced the U.S. for "confusing itself with the sanitised representations in Disney theme parks."
Adams is confusing New York 2001 with Alabama 1963. He should examine the names of the WTC victims, which reveal a multiculturalism so diverse it makes Australia look like an 18-million member Von Trapp family: Gopu, Abad, Cho, Ahladiotis, DeFazio, Goldberg, Bakalinskaya, Doi, Economos, Bijoux, Agarwala, Gscaar, Carranza, Gjonbalaj ...
The left's confusion over the attacks turned incomprehensible once America launched its response. A couple of weeks into the conflict, the Herald's Margo Kingston wrote: "It's hard to find victory or exit strategies or any other sanity in what's happening … as predicted by everyone except the Yanks, it appears, it's supposed be a LONG war, requiring PATIENCE and INTELLIGENCE."
And LOTS of CAPITAL LETTERS. Australia's left wanted no part of the war, long or otherwise. Kingston felt the war was nothing to do with us. FitzSimons wrote: "Have I missed something or is the whole thrust of our response so far been to write an absolutely blank check to the Americans?"
As usual, FitzSimons did miss something, or rather 22 things. That's how many Australians were killed on September 11.
Peter Gyulavary moved to New York from Australia after marrying an American woman. He painted their house green and gold, Australia's colors. "I always knew," said Jane Gyulavary at her husband's memorial service, "that Australia would bring me something special and magical."
Not our war, eh?
I suppose the war, such as it was in the days before America commenced bombing, was nothing much to do with Tom Kaade, either. Kaade lives in South Bend, Indiana. When the WTC was attacked, Kaade and his friends Ron and Wayne drove a Dodge pickup to Ground Zero, where the trio loaded the truck with ice and bottles. "Help yourself to a drink, sir," Kaade called out to every cop, ambulance staffer or fireman who wandered past.
At some stages they were giving away 640 bottles of water and soft drink every hour, while Kaade glared at the rescue site, quietly furious there was nothing more he could do. Kaade wasn't in much of a mood to apologise to anyone.
Nor should he have been. An apology made for something you haven't done represents a kind of death: a death of justice, or truth. There are deaths and there is Death; I would have preferred to have taken my chances in the World Trade Center on September 11 than live in the soulless, unfeeling, inhuman void where the likes of O'Shane, Adams, FitzSimons, and Kingston dwell. They place ideology above humanity. They seek to justify evil. They witness chaos, and see reason.
They would walk Manhattan streets that scream with suffering, and hear not a sound.
Blaming Ourselves will be published in May by Duffy & Snellgrove. The author accepted no payment for this piece, and will donate all eventual profits to New York City charities.
Tim Blair is an Australia-based journalist who first encountered the horror of environmentalism as a grade school student, when a bearded teacher told him that all the fossil fuel in the world was about to vanish and everybody would soon be driving electric cars. Born in 1965, he has been a senior editor at Time magazine, a columnist at Sydney's Daily Telegraph, and the editor of Sports Illustrated's Australian edition. He currently writes for various Australian newspapers and magazines, publishes Timblair.com and has owned dozens of cars and motorcycles — none of them electric.