It happened today - September 11, 2015

9/11If I have to tell you what happened on September 11 I fear you have not been paying attention. I realize if you hang around long enough days that will live forever in infamy tend to pile up all over the calendar. But it’s no excuse for not being alert.

Especially because other people are. When I lecture on American history, and in my view a proper modern history course gets to the present day so I certainly include George W. Bush as he fades in the rear-view mirror, I mention to my students that September 11 was a day worth watching.

Would you like a list of reasons why? Oh good. I was hoping you would.

Well, on September 11, 1941, the ground-breaking ceremony took place for the Pentagon, one of the targets on 9/11. On September 11, 1922, the British High Commissioner and Commander in Chief for Palestine, under the League of Nations mandate, took their oaths of office. On September 11 1990, George Bush Sr. proclaimed a “New World Order”. And for what it’s worth, in 1991 the UN declared September 11 an annual International Day of Peace. (Other even less noteworthy anniversaries include Canada’s first hijacking, in 1968, of a plane to Cuba, which failed; German bombs hitting Buckingham Palace in 1940; and Salvador Allende being overthrown and killed.)

It’s also almost the date when the King of Poland, Jan III Sobieski, broke the siege of Vienna in 1683; in fact his troops arrived on the high ground over the city that day, and while skirmishing began on the 11th the main battle and decisive victory were on the 12th. (Can I just mention that Louis XIV tried very hard to keep Sobieski from rescuing Vienna?)

Now of course you can’t guard against everything or you guard against nothing. On the other hand, unlike the average American, the planners of 9/11 were aware of these things – and for whom the long sweep of history was part of every day, whereas if I asked my students about the siege of Vienna I doubt four in a hundred would know the year, let alone that it was the high water mark of a long, determined Ottoman jihad against infidel Europe.

Osama bin Laden knew these things and was still bitter. In a famous video he spoke of 9/11 happening “after 80 years” which may have been a reference to the British in Palestine. And he was certainly still steaming about the expulsion of Muslim conquerors from Spain in 1492 to his dying day.

So yes, you can’t pay attention to everything. But when your enemies are, you’d better be paying at least some attention to some things. There are no vacations from history and the bad guys aren’t looking for one.

As we discovered on September 11, 2001 and, I hope, still remember.

It happened todayJohn Robson