Saturday, 11 September 2021

TV review: Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, Netflix (2021)

For someone, like me, who distinctly remembers the events of September 2001 and the years that followed immediately afterward and who was, at the time, as involved in monitoring the public sphere as anyone who watches the news at night and who, to get more information, reads the broadsheets regularly, this series, which runs to five episodes, will make compulsive viewing. I recall vividly the moments after I learned about the attacks when, cigarette in hand, I was standing out in the lush garden of my uncle in Beecroft, a leafy suburb of Sydney. I’d just come back on a plane from Japan where my life had been interrupted by illness, and had travelled back on a Qantas flight occupying three linked seats as a courtesy and in consideration of my vulnerable state. I don’t know how to think about the airline’s conduct in this matter but I remember that I was glad to be back in my home town. The events of the day in question resembling my life in that the scale of the disaster was shocking and unforgettable.

Al-Qaeda did more than supply the world with visually stimulating imagery, however and, as the events of recent weeks show, many countries lost additional treasure and additional lives in the conquest of an unconquerable country, a place where tribal allegiance is far more powerful than attachment to any putative national government. The speed with which the Taliban took Kabul testimony to the strength of the appeal of Islam in the lives of Afghans.

Regardless your own personal views on nation building, this Netflix show delivers much of what I expected though I would’ve liked to hear more from the people of America. And more from the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. A long segment of vox pops could have added variety to the mix, though you are given time to hear from a range of different participants, including the families of first responders, Defense Dept employees, government lawyers, and soldiers in the Afghan Army. 

The makers of this series did some of the work that one might’ve wished had been done closer to the events: describing a state of affairs where the CIA failed signally to pass important information about the plotters to the FBI. Refreshingly (irony alert) the CIA operative who appears on-camera posits that even if they had the outcome might’ve been the same. I doubt it, and the failure at the level of law enforcement was compounded by embarrassed elected representatives who, after the conclusion of the immediate period of political fallout, gave into their worst instincts and, almost to a person, supported the call for retaliation. We know now how futile that was, and hopefully America will have learned another bitter lesson.

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