A Changed World
A news photographer was walking through Manhattan toward home when she passed a candlelight vigil Thursday at 108th and Amsterdam. She'd had a draining day documenting recovery efforts near the rubble of the World Trade Center, but she stopped to take pictures anyway. The scene spoke to the diversity and strength of New York: a crowd of 25 people singing hymns in Spanish, clutching rosaries and crosses, and holding American flags.
As she started to work, a woman approached her and made a request in a thick Spanish accent. Would she lead them in a song they knew only as "Oh Say Can You See"? They knew the tune. They knew it was important, in some way. But they didn't know the words.
The photographer hesitated. Then she put down her camera and led them all in "The Star-Spangled Banner," the singers carefully following her voice and mimicking her words as tears streamed down their cheeks.
There's been a lot of crying in America - indeed, the world - the past six days. Seldom in human history have the tragedies of a few hours' time created so many spontaneous communities of comfort.
It's possible the short-run emotion won't lead to long-term cultural effects. Americans are a people who like to move forward. Too much dwelling on the past causes problems, like all those ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. Atlanta used to call itself "the city too busy to hate." In a way, the United States is sometimes the country too busy to remember.
But right now, that doesn't seem likely to be the outcome of the most devastating terrorist attacks ever. Last Tuesday was the worst single day for US casualties since the Civil War.
The costs of Tuesday's destruction will surely be felt in the US for years to come. There will be a huge cost in time - the minutes and hours spent in delays caused by new public-security measures. The cost in dollars to remove crumpled steel and masonry, and rebuild, is incalculable. The effects of the blow on the US economy could be profound.
Then there's the effect on Americans themselves. Will this strange new sense of vulnerability last? Will an emerging generation find its purpose in response to terrorism? Will a wounded nation turn inward? Will it stand for a long struggle with a faceless, shadowy foe?
Look at it this way. It's 8:48 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11. Smoke is billowing from a jagged hole in the north tower of the World Trade Center. The book that holds America's defining mythologies has just been opened. "How we act in the aftermath of this tragedy will forge American civilization for the next 100 years," says historian Kevin Starr.
The first person on US soil to see that airliners were being turned into missiles was probably an air-traffic controller based in a windowless bunker in Nashua, N.H.
The job of the Nashua Federal Aviation Administration center is to handle long- distance air traffic once it has taken off and flown away from airport airspace. Early on the morning of Sept. 11, the controller in question was threading a number of airliners through and around the skies of New England. One of them was American Airlines Flight 11, which had left Boston's Logan Airport at 7:59 a.m., bound for Los Angeles with 81 passengers, 11 crew, and a full load of jet fuel.
About 15 minutes after takeoff, as Flight 11 cruised over western Massachusetts, the controller says he radioed permission for the aircraft to climb from 29,000 to 31,000 feet. Nothing happened.
He tried contacting the pilot on a regular radio frequency. Nothing. He switched to 121.5, an emergency frequency, and tried again. Nothing.
He and his colleagues noticed that the transponder - the electronic ID - of Flight 11 was not broadcasting. That was a very bad sign. At 8:28 a.m., the plane turned south, heading down the Hudson River toward New York City.
Then, suddenly, controllers heard a transmission from the plane. But the voice wasn't a pilot's. Someone was saying, in English, something like, "Don't do anything foolish. You're not going to get hurt."
Controllers knew instantly that the plane had been hijacked. The pilot had apparently activated a "push to talk" button on the plane's wheel, allowing them to surreptitiously monitor cockpit conversation. The transmissions faded in and out for about 10 minutes.
One phrase became clear only in retrospect. The hijackers said something that sounded like, "We have more planes, we have other planes," says a controller.
At 8:48 a.m., Flight 11 slammed into the World Trade Center's north tower at around the 97th floor.
"It sounded like someone dropped hundreds of tons, like a giant truck fell on the street," says Jane Brown, a visitor from South Carolina who was staying a few blocks from the point of impact.
* * *
Tom Elliott was at work in his office at the Aon Corp., an insurance brokerage firm, on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center's other, south tower. Most Aon employees did not straggle in until 9 a.m., but he liked to arrive around 8:30 and have a quiet cup of coffee while he checked his e-mail.
He was just typing in a response when a bright flash of light startled him, and a rumble shook the structure. Flames appeared to be crawling up the outside of the building, along with dark smoke and debris, burning paper and ash.
Mr. Elliott could feel heat coming through the windows. As far as he knew, it was his building, not the other tower, that was aflame. Oddly, no alarms were going off. The building emergency system was broadcasting no warning.
"I don't know what's happening, but I think I need to be out of here," he remembers thinking.
About 1,100 people worked at Aon in the World Trade Center, but the vast majority weren't there. Elliott and two others headed down the building stairwell, a narrow beige corridor with a yellow stripe painted down the middle of concrete steps. They ran into a few other people as they descended, but there still hadn't been any announcements, and the absence of other escapees was making them feel as if they had prematurely panicked.
Then, as they reached the 70th floor, they heard an announcement: The building was secure. No one needed to evacuate.
One woman in the small group said to Elliott, "Do you want to believe them? Let's go!"
They had descended three more floors when United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into their own south tower like an arrow from a giant crossbow. It was 9:03 a.m.
Flight 175 had left Logan 15 minutes after American Flight 11. It was also bound for Los Angeles, carrying 56 passengers and nine crew.
Although its spectacularly televised impact was above Elliott, at first he and those around him thought an explosion had come from below. An incredible noise - he calls it an "exploding sound" - shook the building, and a tornado of hot air and smoke and ceiling tiles and bits of drywall came flying up the stairwell.
"In front of me, the wall split from the bottom up," he says.
In a flash of panic, people began fleeing higher into the building. Then a few men began working on the crowd, calming people down, saying that downstairs was the only way out.
As they descended, a few other survivors stumbled into the corridor. A construction painter, his white T-shirt covered in blood, was helped downstairs by others. But the stairwell was still far from jammed with evacuees.
Elliott assumed his was one of the final groups descending. They saw only two firemen going up. They told them there had been an explosion near the 60th floor.
At 9:40 a.m., just short of an hour after he first fled his office, Elliott finally made it out of the World Trade Center. He was in a daze. The plaza was strewn with paper and dropped coffee cups.
He walked to the subway. During the 10-minute trip to his roommate's office in Midtown, the south tower collapsed. When he found out at the office, he broke down, fell to the floor, and sobbed.
* * *
Early on the morning of Sept. 11, George W. Bush was en route to Emma E. Booker Elementary in Sarasota, Fla. The president was scheduled to hear a reading demonstration at the school, and then address a crowd of about 200 local luminaries, students, and teachers.
About six blocks from the school, a news photographer overheard a radio transmission. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer would be needed on arrival to discuss reports of some sort of crash. The radio also said that Mr. Bush had a call waiting for him at his holding room in the school from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Mr. Fleischer told the press what Ms. Rice told the president - a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Nobody knew how serious the situation was.
Bush entered a Booker classroom at about 9 a.m. Two rows of students, about 16 in all, sat facing their teacher. They started to run through their reading exercises. At 9:05, Chief of Staff Andrew Card entered the room, leaned over, and whispered in Bush's ear. Those words would turn out to alter the course of a presidency.
Since then, much of the nation has seen on television the exact moment when their commander in chief learned that a second plane had struck New York - and that the situation was thus one of stunning terrorism, and not a terrible, isolated accident.
The two White House reporters who had been allowed to accompany Bush to the school thought they detected a distinct change in demeanor.
"The president's face became visibly tense and serious," reads the report they released to other media. "He nodded."
Bush seemed a bit distracted, but he picked up eye contact with the students and at least feigned interest in their reading exploits. He smiled when they finished.
"Really good," he said. "These must be sixth-graders."
As he left the room, the president skirted questions about the situation in New York. He'd talk about that later, he told reporters.
The schedule called for the president to speak after leaving the classroom, but he didn't appear for about a half-hour. When he did, he delivered a terse message to the nation - confirming what millions already knew. Somber, he called the strikes an "apparent terrorist attack on our country." He then departed for Sarasota-Bradenton Airport, where Air Force One was waiting.
At the airport, guards made the pool of reporters drop their gear for a security sweep, although they had just gone through a similar check at the school. Even some White House stenographers had their equipment investigated. After boarding, the plane made a hasty departure - wheels up at 9:55 a.m. Nobody - not the flight crew, not the Secret Service, not White House aides - knew where they were going.
Secret Service agents wandered back to the press cabin to watch the World Trade Center disaster on TV. The New York field office of the agency was in the building, one said. Reporters noted that they were able to pick up a signal from the same TV station ("Fox channel 47 from somewhere," the reporters noted) for quite some time.
"On that, we guessed that Air Force One might be flying in circles, or at least not moving very far," says the report, written by Judy Keen from USA Today and James Carney from Time.
* * *
Back in Washington, accurate information was similarly at a premium. In a city where watching CNN is as ubiquitous as Jos. A. Banks suits, the grim news from New York traveled fast. But rumors pouring off the news wires were impossible to confirm. One held that a car bomb had exploded at the State Department. Another said the Capitol was under attack. One, or possibly two, or possibly eight other airliners were unaccounted for, and presumed hijacked. (None of it turned out to be true.)
And what was that thick column of smoke? Seen from the city's K Street commercial corridor, it seemed to loom over the back of the White House, as if for some odd reason there was a forest fire on the Ellipse.
Actually, it was across the Potomac River, in Virginia, at the headquarters of the Defense Department. At 9:43 a.m., shortly before Bush took off from Florida, American Airlines Flight 77 had come in low and cleaved one side of the building like an ax.
Congressional staff attorney Fred Hey was driving by on Route 50 at that moment. "I can't believe it! This plane is going down into the Pentagon!" he shouted into his cellphone. On the other end of the line was his boss, Rep. Bob Ney (R) of Ohio. Representative Ney immediately phoned the news to House Sergeant-At-Arms Bill Livingood, who ordered an immediate evacuation of the Capitol itself.
Flight 77 had left Dulles International Airport outside Washington, bound for Los Angeles, at 8:10 a.m., carrying 58 passengers and six crew. It hit the west side of the Pentagon, a section of the building normally occupied by Army and some Navy personnel. It could have as easily hit the northeast section where the secretary of Defense and other high officials have their offices off a dark-paneled corridor.
The area it did hit had recently been scoured of asbestos and renovated. Not all offices had been reoccupied, keeping casualties below what they might have been. The force of the impact pierced three of the Pentagon's five concentric rings. A fireball of jet fuel raced through the area.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in the building at the time, holding a meeting dealing with missile defense. He ran to the scene and helped load some of the injured onto stretchers before a security detail shooed him away.
Back across the river, Vice President Dick Cheney had been whisked to a secure location. Personnel evacuated from White House buildings were streaming across Lafayette Park in an unnerving exodus. Capitol police were walking quickly down the Hill's ornate halls, opening doors, and telling people to get out, fast.
"I couldn't believe we were under that kind of a threat," said freshman Rep. Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia.
Representative Cantor and some staff members tried to get to their cars, parked in the garage underneath the Cannon House Office Building. It was gridlocked. So were the streets of Capitol Hill. By then, word had spread that the Pentagon had been hit, and that a fourth airplane was unaccounted for, and that Congress was perhaps the next target.
(That airplane was United Flight 93, out of Newark, N.J., bound for San Francisco with 38 passengers and seven crew. It would crash well short of Washington, apparently due to a heroic assault on the hijackers by passengers.)
Cantor eventually took refuge in an aide's home in a surrounding residential neighborhood. With phone lines jammed, he communicated the only way he could: with his Blackberry, a wireless e-mail device. He tapped in a message to his wife, via his district office in Richmond: "Tell her I'm safe."
But he felt isolated. What if the president and other national leaders needed to get in touch with members of Congress? He went back on the street and ran into a colleague, who told him that Capitol police were briefing lawmakers at their headquarters a few blocks away.
There, he learned what had happened to the congressional leadership. Speaker Dennis Hastert, third in the line of succession to the presidency, had been whisked to what law-enforcement authorities would only describe as a secret, secure location. Other Senate and House leaders were taken to Capitol police headquarters for briefings.
By about 12:45 p.m., helicopters had carried all top legislators to Mr. Hastert's hide-out. They were sequestered together for three hours. They had conference calls with Vice President Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and intelligence officials.
Mostly, they did what everyone else in the US was doing - watching television, and talking. That in itself was an interesting development. Some of the people in the room had gone for months at a time without speaking.
Debate might be more bipartisan now. A burst of fear can do strange things.
Nor will it be easy for lawmakers to forget last week's events. Suddenly, the quibbling over who lost the budget surplus has vanished. The fretting over tapping into the Social Security trust fund seems almost petty.
Instead, lawmakers are now standing shoulder to worsted-wool shoulder - and they are talking about new doctrines of warfare waged not against nations but rather against unseen agents of fear. On the new agenda: everything from bailing out the nation's sinking airlines to revamping America's intelligence-gathering apparatus. And that clamp on federal spending? Three days later, they would vote to spend $40 billion for recovery and investigation into the hijackings.
They're also anticipating a fundamental change in their daily routine: Like airline passengers, they are likely to encounter tighter security every day.
"We're not used to seeing machine guns around the Capitol, but it looks like that's the type of change we're in for, at least for a while," says Cantor.
Union Square Restaurant is one of New York's most beloved high-end eateries. It's also located in the lower half of Manhattan, relatively close to the scene of the World Trade Center disaster. Last Tuesday, as the enormity of what had happened sunk in, Union Square management and staff decided that it was not a day for business as usual. They threw open their doors and offered free food and service to anyone in need.
Many who came in had fled the disaster area on foot. At least one was coated in ash and debris. A man who had escaped from a World Trade Center tower's 51st floor was reunited with his wife just outside the restaurant. They embraced. "You're looking at one happy woman," said the wife. She burst into tears.
As the day went on, a number of elderly residents from the neighborhood came in just to sit. They couldn't bear to be alone in their apartments.
America is traditionally a nation that has valued freedom over community. Its cinematic and literary heroes are loners, rogues, people who have little regard for rules. Even its affinity for small clubs and societies, like the Jaycees and Kiwanis, has declined in recent years, according to some. There's a pop-sociology phrase for this, taken from the title of an academic study: We're "bowling alone."
That American trait, at least for now, has vanished in a day of villainy. One reflexive reaction to the terrorist blows against America has been a collective rush to grief, remembrance, and relief - all together.
At one level, this means a rush to do something, anything, to help. Just try to give blood at the local Red Cross - the wait may be weeks. Cash is pouring in to recovery charities.
In New York, rescue crews toiling in the moonscape that was once the World Trade Center want for nothing. At least, nothing material. Restaurants have quickly come together to coordinate food deliveries. At the four-star French restaurant Daniel, 50 cooks have been working overtime on a sandwich assembly line, using materials they have on hand - filet mignon, leg of lamb, and duck.
"In a lot of people's minds, it used to be that there was New York and then there was the rest of the country," says Kenneth Adams, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. "Now it's all just one place."
* * *
But there is another aspect to this new community that seems to include a need for personal connection. It is as if millions of people want some outlet to say, "We are all wounded. We are in this together."
Thus a young Marine scrambled through the wreckage of the Pentagon to retrieve an undamaged corps flag. He walked to the Marine commandant's office to deliver it, in person. Three civilian firefighters came with him, filthy and tired in their turnout gear.
The emotion transcends boundaries - even borders. The outpouring of sympathy for America from many nations of the world has been unprecedented. Weeks ago, allies grumbled about a crisis in relations, and what they saw as the Bush administration's unilateralism. Now, tragedy has put things in a different light.
Almost overnight, the world is reordering into two camps: countries that are ready to try to eradicate terrorism from the planet, and those that are equivocating or even sympathetic to the causes of such attackers. It used to be communism versus democracy, socialism versus capitalism. Now it looks more like Islamic militants versus the West.
Will this realignment last - or even should it?
The initial emotions, at least, point to a wide solidarity with the US. In France, old women stop strangers who seem American on the street, and ask how they are doing. In Israel, a main thoroughfare in Jerusalem has been temporarily renamed "New York Street." In England, Queen Elizabeth II ordered the playing of the US national anthem Thursday at Buckingham Palace. She sang along and cried.
* * *
One of the cruelest aspects of these attacks is that they have left the families of the missing without certainty. It would be almost inhuman for them to completely abandon hope that their loved ones will be rescued, or are even now lying injured and unidentified in a hospital bed.
So, last week, many of the families spent their time walking. They went from hospital to hospital on foot, checking occasionally at Chelsea Piers or the armory on East 27th Street, where they register their relatives as "missing" and check master hospital lists.
Many have set up what they call "command centers" at one person's house. They are places where relatives and friends can congregate and draw up plans of attack. (Two people to deploy to lower Manhattan, for instance, with another group to check New Jersey hospitals, and someone left behind to man the phones.)
Outside the armory, outside Bellevue hospital, and at Union Square park, certain walls are covered with fliers about missing people. The one at Bellevue has become known as the "Wall of Prayers." Seeing it is like visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. People start at one end, and work their way down, stopping to peer closely at photographs and the information provided. Sometimes they smooth down a flier that is sticking up out of place. Every so often, someone comes along and adds another one.
In recent days, one corner of Union Square has turned into an impromptu memorial. Its sidewalks are covered in chalk inscriptions. "Blessed are the peacemakers," said one. "Laura God Bless you," ran another. "I'll see you soon Calvin. Love Always," said a third.
One of the first flights Continental Airlines flew out of Los Angeles after the nation's airports reopened on Thursday was a cross-country "red eye" to the East Coast. After the plane took off, according to a passenger, the men in one section got together on their own, and decided to take turns sleeping. That way, one passenger would always be on duty, to try to ensure the aircraft was safe.
If nothing else, the hijackings that began last week's terrorist attacks have virtually ensured that US air travel will never be the same. Stringent, European-style security seems almost certain to become the norm in America. As the example of the vigilante Continental guard shows, Americans' very attitude toward the airways may have undergone a striking transformation.
The "friendly skies?" Don't think so. Delays and overcrowding were bad enough. Now Americans will remember the apparent ease with which determined men armed only with box cutters and knives changed the course of history.
Rebecca Liston is a tour guide, someone who practically lives on the airlines of the world. She's flown in 54 countries. One flight, in Nepal, was on a plane so rickety she could see through the crack around the door. On another - in China - the pilot didn't bother to wait for all the passengers to be seated before taking off.
But the hijacking and subsequent destruction of American Flight 11 has thrown her. Over the past eight years, she's flown that very flight from Boston to L.A. at least 20 times.
She loved it for its reliability and simplicity, she says. Plus, American Airlines is a respected carrier. "If I can't feel safe on that flight, well, I'm not sure what flight would be safe," says Ms. Liston.
* * *
The vividness with which the disaster played out in the kitchens and offices of America - live, in color, with replay in slow motion - had much to reactions like Liston's. On Dec. 7, 1941, many Americans heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor during a radio broadcast of the New York Philharmonic. On Sept. 11, 2001, Americans saw disaster for themselves.
"People ... could never really experience something on radio that was unimaginable," says Joshua Meyrowitz, a University of New Hampshire communications professor. "In World War II, everybody created their own image of the war."
But last week people didn't have to try to imagine the unimaginable - it played out shockingly right in front of them, creating what Mr. Meyrowitz calls the "shared arena" effect.
No matter where they were, says Meyrowitz, people felt as if the attack was happening in their own living room. No matter how many times they saw it, it still seemed unbelievable.
"It's just surreal. It's just like a movie. And every time you watch it, you expect it to have a different ending," says Janice Garbarino, a kindergarten teacher on New York's Long Island.
The imagery was so powerful that CNN's New York anchor, Aaron Brown, has said in interviews that Tuesday night, when he tried to sleep, the only thing he would see when
he closed his eyes was a plane slicing into the World Trade Center.
The visual experience of disaster may have created a shared experience that the nation, for a moment, can rally around.
But the United States is a less cohesive society than many others. Its citizens do not have a common ethnic heritage, as do most in, say, Japan. It does not have Britain's hundreds of years of history.
The outpourings of recent days are shared grief, nothing more, nothing less, according to Stanley Weintraub, a Penn State English professor and author of a book about the effect of Pearl Harbor.
Mr. Weintraub says he would like to believe that the attacks will change the US forever, as did the Pearl Harbor attack, which in one stroke ended the nation's tendency toward isolationism.
But he's doubtful. "The unity we have is a unity in distress, but it isn't targeted at anyone, or any goal," he says.
Others aren't so sure.
True, the current London-during-the-blitz national cohesiveness will fade with time, says Ronald Steel, a political scientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Workaday life and concerns will inevitability reassert themselves.
But he believes that the shock of terrorism on domestic soil has finally awakened many Americans to the fact that there are people in the world who do not consider the US to be the fount of all that is good and true.
Unlike, say, England and France, the US is not an old imperialist power whose ruling class traveled the world in the 19th century for purposes of subjugation. The US has more power now than those nations did then, but the general American reaction remains using power to insulate, rather than to reach out and engage.
"What it does is remove the blinkers from our eyes about the larger world and our role in the world," says Mr. Steel, author of "Temptations of a Superpower: America's Foreign Policy after the Cold War."
* * *
National cultures are like oil tankers. They change direction slowly, if at all. If big enough, sudden shocks can move them. Pearl Harbor was one such blow. Grinding change taking place over a longer period of time can have a steering effect, as well. The civil rights movement of the 1960s altered the US forever.
As happened in the '60s, it is the young who sometimes seize the cultural tiller. And many 20-somethings today think that they and their generation will be forever changed.
Was last week Gen Y's Vietnam?
That might be overdrawing the comparison. It might, at least, be their Gulf War. It might be their JFK, or RFK, or Martin Luther King Jr. assassination.
Kerry Murphy, still a couple of years from 30, is a website producer in Seattle. She grew up in L.A., with summers in New York.
"It's amazing how emotional this has been, especially for young cynics like myself," she says.
Ms. Murphy says she now realizes how fortunate the US has been, in terms of domestic isolation from the world's conflicts. It's amazing to see, as expressed in the hijackings, the level of hatred for the US that exists in far corners of the world.
If it's not a turning point, then thousands of people have died in vain. "You feel like you've been prodded out of a dull sleep," she says.
Jennifer DeLury is close to Kerry Murphy's age. She grew up near Sacramento, Calif., and now lives in Managua, Nicaragua, where she does non-violence education work.
She says that her peers' sense of invulnerability is gone with the World Trade Center. "In my lifetime, that's been an illusion for us," she says.
But young people today have one advantage over their elders, she maintains - they've traveled more at an early age. The end of the Cold War has opened up opportunities in far corners of the world that were unavailable 20, or even 10 years ago. That's given them a sophistication about the general way the world works, Ms. DeLury insists.
The fact that terrorists picked the World Trade Center and Pentagon as targets because they are perceived as symbols of oppression is not lost on twenty-somethings, she says.
"People my parents' age would wonder, 'Why would someone do this?' " says DeLury. "And while my generation says it was horrible, we get that those two buildings were targeted for a reason."
Already, the emerging generation has had its opportunity for heroism amid the tragedy - and has risen to the occasion.
Jeremy Glick, a computer executive from New Jersey and the father of a baby daughter, was apparently one of the passengers who confronted the hijackers in the plane that ultimately went down in Pennsylvania.
While airborne, Glick had phoned his wife, Lyzbeth. The couple, barely in their 30s, said their goodbyes, and he told her to tell his family that he loved them all, recounts Glick's sister, Jennifer Glick.
The couple also showed great poise and presence of mind. In between the brief time for the "I love yous," they found a way to patch the conversation into 911, where operators could listen but not ask questions. Jeremy told his wife that he and few others were thinking of trying to overpower the hijackers, and after a moment Lyzbeth gave her blessing.
"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.
"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.
* * *
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.