[27 September 2001]
After the first shock all European countries vowed their solidarity to the Americans, culminating in the declaration of the Parisian newspaper Le Monde: “Nous somme tous New Yorkais, aussi sûrement que John F. Kennedy se déclairait, en 1962 à Berlin, Berlinois.” (We are all New Yorkers, in the same way in 1962 John F. Kennedy declared himself in Berlin ‘ein Berliner’.)
They sound like dramatic words, but they are appropriate in the present circumstances. In the dark ours of the cold war America showed its solidarity with a threatened and divided Europe, symbolised in the Kennedy speech in Berlin. Now it is time for Europe to show its solidarity with a shocked nation.
The Amsterdammers and the Europeans were in shock on Tuesday and afterwards.
On the street one met grim and silent faces.
Memories of the two disasters in Holland of the past year came back in mind. Only now with an ugly political twist to it. A twist that was immediately transformed into rhetoric of war.
First, just over a year ago, there was the devastating Enshede fireworks explosion, which costs a neighbourhood its houses and many their lives.
And then the brightness of the 21st century was shattered to pieces at a 2001 new years party at a bar in Volendam, which turned into a blazing inferno after cheerful fireworks stars lit the ceiling decoration of dried Christmas tree branches. It left many young and beautiful kids mutilated for life.
Now, out of the blue sky, the New York disaster.
The city, that was founded by our ancestors, was struck in its hart with devastating accuracy and precision.
One could read the fear from the faces on the sidewalk. And all spoke to each other and shook heads in disbelieve and scare for the peaceful future that suddenly seemed to have been lost.
Why? What have we lost? And what is there to come?
The sudden war rhetoric was as much a shock as the death of so many fine young lives.
Young lives that were working in the supreme temple of bureaucratic/ commercial/ careerist life. The thrill of conferencing, or reading your email on top of the world turned into a horrific nightmare the moment the nose of the first airplane slammed on the first desk somewhere on a high up floor.
Did the employee just took a sip of the first morning coffee? Did he or she think of the night before? Or was the mind already focused on the first meeting? Or was the employee aware what was coming towards him?
Are these relevant questions? Is this a relevant question?
It are ‘imaginary’ images that keep popping up anyhow. Images that feed the horror, that feed the hatred towards the evil doers. Towards a manifestation of evil itself.
Should we turn our cheek and let them come again? Let ‘them’ inflict more terror? Let we terrorize ourselves? Or do we take fate in our own hands? And what does that mean for us? How will our behaviour change? Will it be necessary to become ruthless, as ruthless as the terrorists itself? And what will that mean for our freedom and democracy loving societies? What does law mean now? Can the west keep up the discipline to adhere to the holy laws that our chosen legislators decided upon and that kept the balance between the individual and the state. The powerful institution that exists to provide for, at the least, our security?
At “The Day” I was in Vlissingen, Zeeland, at a film festival. The night before we attended the opening film; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. An unlikely, but true, war story on a Greek island in the second world war.
Germans and Italians occupied the Island. After the death of Mussolini the Italians were glad to be defeated unhurt on their little holyday island. The Germans didn’t like it and in their mistrust butchered all Italians.
This true European horror story is entangled in a nice love tale of John Cage and Penelope Cruz falling in love, losing each other nearly, but finding each other again in tender sadness. All filmed in grandiose Hollywood style cinema.
The promising film of the next evening was the re- cut of the giant filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola; “Apocalypse Now”. A film that influenced my life considerably. A film that took all glory of military life and the business of war making. An epic film that tells about a lot more than just the Vietnam war and the way Americans viewed their wrong and lost war. It tells about war itself, the nature of it, and the nature of man that fight it. The meaningless violence and the very essence of ruthlessness. Not only of the American military, but of both armies. Of both cultures, the western and the Asian.
These were the vague images that I always kept in the back of my mind.
But first we were to go cycling on high sea dykes in the morning and the afternoon.
Our hotel room had a view on the sea. When we woke, we could see a grey curtain of unstoppable rain pouring down on a deserted Boulevard. We decided not to cycle and to spent the day at the festival, just taking in film. A Bunuel first and the epic in the evening.
We had a late romantic and loving lunch. Coffee to combat heavy eyelids, a book to finish, thoughts to write down. We were in our own little love story and loved it.
At the bar, getting another coffee, someone tells an agitated story to the barmaid. I heard some alarming words and asked what happened. “Two planes, to big planes, have flown into the World Trade Center. It can’t be a coincidence, it must be a terrorist attack.”
“This must be some Palestinian attack”, was my immediate reaction. But I couldn’t believe it. I returned to my booklet and wrote down that I would only believe it if I had seen it on CNN. I went looking for television images, and I was horrified.
Just before ‘Le Journal d’une femme de Chambre’ started, another visitor told in astonishment that he saw the building collapse.
The beautiful hyper realistic film by Bunuel with a young Jeanne Moreau made us forget the disaster for a moment.
The film was an impressive portrait of French bourgeois life in the countryside in the thirties. An economically told story. Moreau enters as the new ‘femme de chambre’., in an uneventful and sexual repressive environment. All man are desiring her.
The ‘Monsieur’ of the house, played by Piccoli.
The neighbour and the servant Joseph. Joseph tattles to the ‘Madame’, is a suspect of murder on a little girl, but gets free and conspires with the verger in the “Action Française”, an anti Jewish right wing political group.
His dream is to have a pub for soldiers in Cherbourg and to have Moreau as his wife behind the bar.
Moreau marries in the end to the neighbour and Joseph gets his pub and another, not so pretty girl named Glia.
In the last scene a demonstration of the Action Française passes his pub. Satisfied about his achievements and the great number of demonstrators Joseph stands in the doorway. When the mob is silent for a moment he shouts: “Vive Glia”.
The mob starts mimicking him, going down the road, not knowing what they shout, like donkeys: “Vive Glia, Vive Glia”.
A foreshadow of the mindless politics of fascism, of following slogans that are not understood.
Between the two films was very little time to gather any news. I just had a bite. My girlfriend could not handle the Apocalypse. She rather went to the Hotel to see “Sex in the city” which turned out to be skipped for WTC disaster reports.
I didn’t want terrorist control my agenda. And above all I had the vague idea that Apocalypse Now would tell me more about the horrific reality then CNN.
The film was stunning beautiful and horrific. The most breathtaking parts were the dialogues of Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) and Captain Willard (Martin Sheen).
Kurtz went insane in the jungle of Cambodia. He was out of control. Willard was send to Kurtz in the depth of the jungle to assassinate him.
He travels along the river to Kurtz. Going up the river all military they meet are in some way crazy. They have met the insanity of war.
When he arrives in the heart of the jungle, at Kurtz private hell, he gets captured.
Kurtz turns out to be a holy man to the jungle people he commands.
And then he lets Willard free in his dark caves, knowing that he has come to assassinate him, het reads the Hollow Man by T.S. Elliot and he talks to him:
“It’s impossible in words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means.
Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror.
Horror and moral terror are your friends.
If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly your enemies.”
Horror and moral terror are in other words, according to Kurtz, necessary to survive the ones who are horrific.
And then he tells a story from his time when he served at Special Forces.
We went into a camp to inoculate.
We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying, he couldn’t see.
We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm.
There they were in a pile, a pile of little arms, and I, I remember I…I…I cried, I wept like some grandmother.
I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget.
And then I realized like I was shot, like I was shot with a diamond, a diamond bullet right through my forehead, and I thought, my God, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that – perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline pure!
Then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand up. These were not monsters. These were men, iron raised.
These men who fought with there harts, who have families, who have children, who are filled with love.
But they have the strength, the strength to do that.
If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly.
You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment – without judgment.
Because it’s judgment that defeats us.
What struck me, watching Brando recite those lines, was the accuracy of his analysis of what happened the very same day. It hit me almost with the same diamond bullet.
Those men who hijacked the planes and flew them with an iron will towards their own death and therewith the death of many others.
What feared me was Kurtz conclusion;
“Horror and moral terror are your friends.
If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly your enemies.”
If this attack is a strike in a larger plan of more Kamikaze actions then a very large asset of our societies will be at stake: Trust.
Without trust we will live in “Apocalypse Now”.