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By: Derek McIver, Randolph, USA
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant

Many older people these days will say, “I remember exactly where I was when Kennedy was shot.” In thirty years my generation will be saying, “I remember exactly where I was on September 11.” And as I'm saying that, Spanish people in my generation will say, “I remember exactly where I was on 11 Marc h.”Even I can remember where I was on 11 March, 2004, for it was yet another day of mass terrorism during which Atocha station, a central train hub in Madrid, was attacked.

I remember that 11 March was a Thursday just as clearly as I remember that September 11 was a Tuesday. I remember that 11 March was a Thursday because every Thursday morning during our stay in Spain, the other students from my home university and I would meet with Dr. Borge, our host professor, in a café to enjoy a coffee and small lunch while discussing upcoming events and other practical matters. But this Thursday was an odd day from the moment I woke up. We had our meetings at 11 and for some I woke up unusually late that day. I quickly put clothes on and went to the café to meet the others. I was the first of the students to arrive so I sat with Dr. Borge. The first thing he asked was whether or not I knew what had happened. I said “no,” of course, explaining that I had just woken up. Then he told me.

The others didn't take long to arrive and they, like me, were as shocked as I was when they saw the images playing on the TV screens all over the café. People were lying on stretchers bleeding from all sides. There were decapitated bodies, people crying, and people running. On everyone's face there was a look of shock. Even Dr. Borge seemed different. He was much quieter than normal and like many Americans on September 11, he was confused and saddened. Our meeting changed from one being about practical matters to one discussing what had happened. The anchors reported that this attack was the largest that Spain had ever witnessed.

Surprisingly, Spain is no stranger to terrorism. Basque separationists in a group called ETA have terrorized many Spanish cities over the past couple of decades. They were known to use bombs and committed devastating acts of terrorism, such as in a Barcelonan department store in the late eighties. But this attack was much more significant than the others. Everyone in the bar stared at the television screens while sitting puzzled in their seats. ETA was the obvious culprit, but why did they stoop to new levels of evil?

At our table in the café we continued watching the dusty and blood-stained news reports. The Spanish were calling that day 11M and were very quickly comparing it to September 11. Was it right for them to call it another September 11? September 11 had huge global consequences that are still being felt today. Would 11M be just as significant? Could they really be compared? Sure, Spain was attacked, but the number of deaths was significantly less than those in New York and to the Spanish, terrorism was already a part of life.

Diana and I left the meeting and discussed this comparison to September 11. It wasn't fair to us. I don't know if Americans should be proud of what happened on that day, but it should hold a special place in each of our hearts. It affected us all in one way or another and so to claim that the attacks in Madrid almost cheapened the meaning of September 11. And on that day in 2001 America went crazy. Schools were madhouses, businesses closed, and there was an immediate public outcry. As Diana and I walked down the street everything looked normal to both of us. I'm sure most of the people had already heard the news by that time, but the reaction was nothing like what it was here in the United States. We were angered by this comparison, but there wasn't much we could do about it.

As the day went on more information was released. Original theories that ETA was the guilty party started to fade as a closer analysis was made. By the next day, it seemed that Al Qaeda was considered the responsible group. Representatives of the Basque terrorists released a video, as they often do, stating emphatically that they had nothing to do with the events. A copy of the Qu'ran was found near the site of the biggest attack along with remnants of explosive devices. Many Muslims and Hindus (why Hindus, I don't know) were being detained in the capital and definitive answers were finally abounding. Some claimed that the attacks even happened 911 days after 9/11, though I have never counted to verify that assertion. The normality that I saw the day before changed to public outcry. Black ribbons appeared on windows, flagpoles, and lapels everywhere as a symbol to the memory of the victims of the attack. Signs popped up everywhere, too, and a popular slogan read, con las víctimas, con la constitución, por la derrota del terrorismo (with the victims, with the constitution, for the defeat of terrorism). That night most businesses in the city closed early so that everybody could participate in a huge manifestación, or demonstration in the streets.

Diana and I thought it be most appropriate to take part in the demonstration. Our American university told us to avoid such events, but how bad could a peace rally be? And besides, we were living in events that would go down in Spain's history texts. She and I walked uptown together and we could tell there would be a lot of people there early on. Everybody we saw on the streets was walking in the same direction as us and when we came to a certain street all we could see was a line of at least fifty empty buses that surely brought people in.

The rally might be the largest event I have ever attended. The streets were absolutely packed with people; getting anywhere was impossible. In the far distance we heard somebody giving a speech, but the speaker was too distant and the crowd around us too loud. Soon enough we began to march along with 350,000 other people. We looped around city blocks and chanted words of peace. Everybody came together, much like Americans did after September 11. These manifestaciones happened all over the country at the same time that evening. Millions and millions of people marched at the same time. It was beautiful.

To me September 11 will always represent the worst of humanity and a drastic change of American lifestyle. Its effects rippled across the world and tears were shed from millions of eyes. 11M was also an example of how deeply evil is rooted into peoples' heads. Nothing about it was justified and its victims were not just those attacked, but rather the entire Spanish population. At first comparing the attacks at Atocha to 9/11 seemed unfair and cheapening, but it wasn't. Spaniards came together in the same way Americans did, and they will never be able to forget how it affected them personally.


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