A Changed World
(Page 9 of 9)
"Jeremy and Liz, they were so brave in their conversation to get as much description of what had happened out, that I'm sure that it's become important," says his sister. "He described everything - what they looked like, what they were wearing, what they were carrying, and what they were doing.Skip to next paragraph
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"I mean, that's the closest you can come to what happened on these airplanes because all these people are gone," she says, her voice wavering. She and her family have no doubt that Jeremy helped to keep that Boeing 757 from hurting anyone on the ground.
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If any single characteristic of the nation is likely to be tested in the weeks and months ahead, it may be the American sense of openness. Between 1820 and 1920, 100 million immigrants landed on US shores. They were of all races and creeds, colors and persuasions. They and their descendants are the core of what the nation is today.
From President Bush on down, national leaders have emphasized that the events of the past week should not, specifically, lead to suspicion and scorn for Arab-Americans. The vast majority of Muslims don't support terrorism, they note.
"If we begin to lose faith in an open society ... then the terrorist will truly have won," says historian Kevin Starr.
It won't be easy to strike the balance between securing US safety and the nation's historic principles, he notes. But America has little choice.
"We can't move on until we've absorbed the tragedy emotionally, morally, and imaginatively, and have reorganized American society in a more defensive posture, in a way that is compatible with our freedoms," says Mr. Starr.
Yet another enduring impulse, revenge, is also running deep. Suzanne Swinton is a homemaker in Boston pushing her daughter through the supermarket in a pram.
She's worried about security. She's worried about an erosion of civil liberties. She thinks America will now expand, not curtail, racial profiling - and might harm perfectly innocent people whose heritage is based in the Middle East. But she sees the nation remaining unified for at least one mission.
"I really think the country is going to remain galvanized by this common desire to see them brought to justice," she says. "And I don't think it's going to be what we traditionally in America consider justice - having someone brought to trial. I think most Americans want the guy [Osama Bin Laden] dead. That's new for us."
The Rev. Walt Gerber should probably have the last word. He's the minister of a modest, whitewashed Presbyterian church in Menlo Park, Calif. Like thousands of clergy across the country, he was called on last week to provide some sense of meaning for an event that he himself was struggling to understand.
He held a prayer service. Hundreds showed up. They filled each pew and spilled out into the hallways. They bowed their heads in contemplation. They listened intently. What was most powerful on this still night, though, was what wasn't said.
"Above all, tonight we need silence," Mr. Gerber said. "Don't be disturbed by it. Use it to seek this still, small voice that God is sending." r
Reported by staff writers Kim Campbell, Mark Clayton, Stephen Humphries, and Susan Llewelyn Leach in Boston; Liz Marlantes, Ron Scherer, Marjorie Coeyman, Alexandra Marks, and staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman in New York; Abraham McLaughlin, Gail Russell Chaddock, and Dante Chinni in Washington; Daniel B. Wood in Los Angeles; Mark Sappenfield in San Francisco; Peter Ford in Paris; Cameron W. Barr in Jerusalem; Ilene R. Prusher in Tokyo; Danna Harman in Nairobi, Kenya; Robert Marquand in Beijing; as well as contributors Harry Bruinius and Elizabeth Armstrong in New York, and Craig Savoye in St. Louis.