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Wednesday, September 11, 2002

That Day, Part II: The Lessons of History

The next morning we had our weekly department talk, so I went to work. I walked to work, as usual, and I began to notice something odd. But first I must ask a riddle:

Q: What is the difference between Sydney and a similar-sized American city?
A: The American city has fewer people wearing American flags.

I was always amused, walking to work, to see people wearing clothes with stars and stripes on them, or bearing the letters USA. The latter was particularly popular in the form of sweatshirts from Russell Athletics. I have no idea why. I had always heard that Canadians should be sure, when abroad, to sew Canadian flags on their backpacks, so as not to be mistaken for a nasty American. And I heard that many Americans did this also. Once I saw fellow with a Canadian flag on his backpack; he looked a bit miffed.

But on September 12, all those USA shirts had disappeared. Surely I should have seen one on the walk in? I was a little irritated at first. In normal times you're proud to wear us on your chest, but we get attacked and suddenly we're not cool to be seen with anymore. But then it occurred to me that this was just simple prudence. We still didn't know what might be coming.

Once at work, I went straight in to the room the talks are held in. I was radiating heavy GO AWAY vibes and was glad that most people didn't say anything. One guy, an Italian, was not receiving, and came straight over to offer condolences. I was annoyed at the time, but his was the kindest expression of sympathy I got from anyone, then or later.

There were two other Americans there: our Texan secretary, and another guy who thinks that nationality is an artificial political construct which is an artifact of a more primitive blah blah blah... I didn't say much to him about it, for fear I'd have to punch him.

My Japanese officemate, K, asked me if my parents were OK. Then he said he'd heard that the attacks were "another Pearl Harbor". This seemed to disturb him, and he wanted to know why. Plugging in my diplomacy module, I told him it was because it was a well-excuted surprise attack which in all likelihood propel us into a war. I forbore to say: And it will mean someone will get a well-deserved ass-kicking. The Other Italian in the department, a very pro-American fellow, is not so diplomatic. He gave K the "terrible resolution" quote from Tora! Tora! Tora!. K still did not understand, so the Italian spelled it out for him: "You got nuked for it." This, apparently, came as an utter surprise to K.