9/11: Remembering a quietly uplifting tribute from that time

“On a day like this, I wonder: what would the world be like without America, without the US. A darker place, certainly.” These were the words of Anders Ferm, Sweden’s former ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; he was addressing colleagues, particularly those from the US, gathered at the international organisation’s headquarters in Paris, France, on 14 September 2001, before leading a three-minute silence in mourning.

The 9/11 attacks had shocked everyone. I was at work when they happened, as millions of us were, but who could really do any more work that day or even that week? We were traumatised, confused, a terrible tragedy had knocked us all off our feet. It was very much a shared sorrow and even now, 20 years later, what happened on that day is still beyond most people’s comprehension.

I often re-read Anders Ferm’s short address, his carefully chosen, yet personally felt words, and when I do, I remember the silence in the great hall where he delivered them, and how everyone present seemed quietly uplifted by them. I was pleased when he agreed to publish his address in the OECD Observer, for others to read, then, now and in the future.

Sadly, Anders Ferm passed away in October 2019, so I am sharing his address again, as a tribute to him and to the victims of 11 September 2001:

“We have come together here today in this hall to show our solidarity with you and your fellow Americans all over the world, to share your grief and sorrow and also to seek comfort and consolation together with you. On behalf of us all I offer our condolences.

There are moments in life when one feels small and helpless. You realise what is futile and what is important. Love is important, friendship is important, solidarity is important, life itself is important. When you look around you will find that you are surrounded by friends.

What has been done to you, to your country, to your society, has also been done to us. For we share the same values of freedom, openness, tolerance, democracy.

We work with you here every day. We agree and we disagree. But on a day like this, I wonder: what would the world be like without America, without the US. A darker place, certainly. A place with less freedom. A place with more dogmatism, a place with less tolerance and openness. With less wisdom. With more poverty. What I am trying to say is simply this: we need you, and we are with you in your difficult moment as you have been with us in our difficult moments.” (©OECD Observer September 2001)

In the same edition of OECD Observer, I also published an extract from a tribute by Arthur Miller from the French daily, Le Monde, in which the playwright decries the vulnerability of New York and laments what “a terribly dangerous species” humanity can be. You can read this and other short tributes to mark 11 September 2001 in the OECD Observer No 228 September 2001, which can be found on OECD iLibrary.

Writer, editor, podcaster, producer, former editor of OECD Observer, L'Observateur de l'OCDE. Formerly with EIU (The Economist). Economy, politics, climate…