It is difficult to think of a topic related to the Regency period or about writing Regency on this day, Sept 11, the fifth anniversary of the horrific event known by its date, the three numbers we punch into our phones in the event of an emergency. 9/11
I was at work that day, a social worker for the county that includes the Pentagon. A co-worker brought in a radio for the first time that day and was just testing it when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. That was how we heard. We canceled our clients and otherwise remained helpless, watching out the windows at the smoke rising from the Pentagon or listening to the radio. Thanks to cell phones, I was never out of touch with my loved ones. It took my husband, who worked in Washington DC, hours to get home. Had it not been for the heroes of Flight 93, he might never have come home again. My co-workers and I were asked to stay at work while all day people and cars streamed past our building getting out of the city. Our county’s police, fire, and medical workers were busy responding to the emergency. When I finally left, it was 4 pm and by then the streets were eerily deserted.
I won’t be watching the TV coverage or the controversial ABC docudrama. Have no plans to see the 9/11 movies. I’m just not ready. Last year when the emergency dispatcher tapes were released, I burst into tears hearing them. Last week I heard an actress who happened to be in NYC that day, tell about stepping out into the street and seeing the ash-covered survivors walking toward her. She saw a business man weeping being held by a homeless man who comforted him. I burst into tears and have tears streaming down my face now in the retelling. I don’t know why that image gets to me. I suppose because it symbolizes both the grief and the glory.
I visited the World Trade Center site this summer, as I did the summer of 2001. This time instead of a raw gash in the earth-a horrible scar- there was rebuilding. Rebirth. Hope. I didn’t cry.
What event in the Regency could be most similar to this?
Waterloo? Encarta says: “French casualties totaled about 40,000, British and Dutch about 15,000, and Prussian about 7000; at one point about 45,000 men lay dead or wounded.” That’s pretty horrific. On the other hand, the people knew the battle ended the killing.
Maybe the French Revolution, even though it was before the Regency and was a protracted event, not a single, terrible day. According to Wikipedia, 1200 people met their death on the guillotine or otherwise in the Reign of Terror, less than half our losses on 9/11. Many of the aristocrats in England knew these French contemporaries, some were even related to them. The English must have been terrified their own masses would rise up and kill them all. They certainly took repressive steps to nip any revolutionary sentiment right in the bud. No wonder the English feared a French invasion and made Nelson a hero for averting it, and later Wellington for ending it. In Regency times, Napoleon was the “Boneyman,” aka “bogeyman”, still scaring children today.
I wonder how history will paint 9/11 in 200 years?
I’d like to think somebody like me will still be brought to tears.
Like the example of that homeless man, my cyberhugs to all of you.
What an interesting and difficult question, Diane — what event in or around the Regency era would have been most like 9/11.
Waterloo certainly had a huge death toll — much larger than 9/11, in a world that had a much smaller population than ours — but most of the dead were military, who went to fight. War was nothing new, and was not thought to be that shocking, really — it was part of the mindset, the culture, the everything, through and through. So I think that, though Waterloo was presumably quite traumatic for some who were in it, or lost loved ones in it, those at the time experienced it in a very different way.
I think the Terror might be closer to the mark… Surely the upper and middle classes throughout Europe felt shocked to the core when it happened, and experienced it not just as a horror and an outrage, but as an unnatural, unimaginable departure from the world that they knew, from the world that they thought was a good and correct world.
But another possibility occurs to me. In the aftermath of the siege of Badajoz, civilians were attacked, raped and killed with total lack of mercy or human feeling. So whereas Waterloo involved soldiers, whose profession was war, and who mostly had at least a little choice about becoming a soldier, this involved civilians, just as 9/11 did. Of course, given that atrocities in such circumstances (besieged towns that finally fall) has been common as long as we have recorded history, the element of surprise, of shock, would not have been present.
Anyway, those are my thoughts.
Mmmm, I see what you mean, Cara. It must have been like being trapped in hell for the citizens of Badajoz, but from the perspective I’m coming from, this would have been appalling and terrible atrocities performed by “the good guys.”
A whole different thing.
Though terrible things happened around the Regency era, I don’t think there was anything quite like this, because they didn’t have the media we do now. Everyday people going about their business could read about the casualties of Waterloo, but they were not bombarded with images of what happened.
I know it affects me a great deal. After a while I couldn’t watch any more and like you, Diane, I’m not ready to go through it all again with the movies and other anniversary coverage.
I couldn’t write for some time afterwards. Not an uncommon reaction, but it felt empowering to return to the fun little Regency I was writing at the time. People need the solace of books and I finally realized that it was not wrong to have fun with stories again.
All throughout history, soldiers have committed atrocities on the civilian men and women (and children) of enemies they’ve routed or of allies they think they’re superior, too. It’s as if this last hurrah is necessary to cement their battle prowess and success. Nothing intimidates a group of people more or galvanizes them more than innocence being shown no mercy. Soldiers die, well, that’s sad, but that’s the nature of their job. Civilians dying is a tragedy.
Diane, I find that I’m unable to watch a slick film being made about people’s suffering. I could never watch a movie on Katrina. What is the purpose of revisiting the horror? It lives on painfully bright in people’s memories; seeing it live will only add to it. A question of looking back, or moving forward.
I think I dislike the docudramas the most, Keira. At least a documentary shows the real events, not re-enacted by actors.
Although I did watch a TV play -wish I could remember the name – about a firefighter who hired a woman writer to help him write the eulogies he had to make. Very powerful. I was sobbing. I believe this was aired in 2001.
But I really don’t want to be sobbing.
I think we all have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder about 9/11
No question that 9/11 was a traumatic event for the whole country–really, for the whole world. It was one of those times everyone will remember clearly all their lives. And I remember the reaction, afterwards, the feeling of how useless everything I did was in the grand scheme of things.
For the Regency era (broadly defined), the Terror certainly had the most long-lasting resonance. Even though it wasn’t that big compared to many other atrocities that have followed–far more people died in the Siege of Paris after the Franco-Prussian War–but the Terror seemed to mark the violent closing of an era and the opening of a new one, filled with fear and uncertainty. Not too different from 9/11 that way, either.