The Day we commemorate the victims of 9-11 will soon be upon us — the day we all witnessed people burning and jumping off the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to bring death more quickly. America is still convulsed by the unbelievable horror of Islamic terrorists turning four jet airliners into human bombs and of the world witnessing unimaginable death beyond limit in the Land of the Free.
The Middle East, Ukraine, and Northern Ireland are still cauldrons of fear – despite all the progress that has been made.
Across the world today, the rational results of global cooperation and growth on the one hand can be stifled by the re-emergence of all the old bigotries and horrors.
Attacks on the Twin Towers and the US Department of Defense Headquarters of the Pentagon changed the way we think of the world. The bravery of those on board Flight 93 who stopped terrorists from striking at the White House; and it was either shot down or crashed, lost in fields of Pennsylvania.
Life every day is about choices. As Hillary Clinton says in launching her new book, difficult choices are made every day by world leaders and by every single one of us ordinary folk. But it is about how you face up to those choices and their consequences – decisions that can change the world on the Big Stage or change the way a family deals with the struggles of life.
The choices that were made in the Map Room at Southwick House in preparation for the D-Day Landings changed the course of history. And every single one of those Veterans still alive today were honored in many acts of Commemoration and Remembrance on the shores of France last month.
As America celebrated the 4th of July, Independence Day, thoughts too go to the millions of victims who died in Two World Wars. French President Francois Hollande, in the choices he made last month, brought together onto the D-Day Sword Beach, world leaders for a spectacular celebration led by French Commandos. And even as the Veterans chatted in the blazing heat, international diplomacy was being conducted by the Heads of State – captured by TV news cameras zooming in on their faces.
Russian President Putin and the United States President were pictured together on a giant screen – both gripped by the difficulties of Russia’s actions in Ukraine but still admitting to the tension-busting way the cameras had caught their expressions.
Life is full of choices. Of two men on a nuclear submarine battling over command in the film Crimson Tide and of whether to launch a strike in the absence of communications with US FLEET Command. Tony Scott’s film portrays the Executive Officer of the submarine, Denzel Washington, arguing it out with the Captain Gene Hackman, and reflecting that in Nuclear World War the true enemy is war itself.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 brought world leaders together to bring peace to Europe in the midst of Napoleon’s ventures. One of those men was British Foreign Secretary Lord Castelreagh, whose family seat and stately home is the beautiful National Trust Property of Mountstewart, the global tourist attraction on the shores of Strangford Lough.
And even today, two hundred years on, the legacy of peacemaking is still haunting some leaders in Northern Ireland – after all that has been achieved by US Presidents, British and Irish Prime Ministers, and by the European Parliament.
Belfast’s former crumbling docklands have been transformed into a Waterfront of hotels, concert halls, and even the setting for the gigantic film studios for the makers of that epic HBO series, Game of Thrones.
Her Majesty the Queen visited the studio this month and stood alongside the giant Throne for the cameras. The Queen had also been shown around the old Crumlin Road Jail by, ironically, two of its former guests: Peter Robinson and Martin McGuiness, the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland who were both locked up there for a time decades ago at the height of the Ulster Troubles.
So much has been achieved there by the making of difficult choices. It was in 2007 that Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley both sat down together, a meeting that was hailed as a momentous occasion in the newspaper headlines, striking a deal carved out by determined peace-making.
This week though, Northern Ireland is again in the spotlight as its politicians argue over parades and flags, with threats of demonstration from Orange Order leaders and vows by the Chief Constable to uphold the Rule of Law.
At Belfast City Hall there is a gigantic commemoration to all the names of the victims of the sinking of the Titaniic after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Surely the Flags of all Nations – including the United Kingdom’s Union Flag and that of the Irish Republic’s Tricolour — can all fly together next to it in the grounds of the City Hall.
International dimensions of Peace and Commemoration – and finding ways forward for future generations to come.
Life is about choices.