Learning to be a new nation

America is preparing to outdo all previous memorials with an extraordinary pageant of commemoration on Sept. 11, now designated as Patriot Day.

The day-long events will range from bagpipes and odes to the dead in New York to the pealing of the huge American Freedom Bell every hour on the hour in Charlotte, N.C. As momentous as anything is that the television networks will forswear commercials during long periods.

This nation of optimists is getting very good at solemnity. But grieving should include learning, and it is not clear whether on Sept. 11 Americans will have come to terms with what it means for this mighty nation to be running scared.

Alerts in various colors have become part of life in America. This nation of immigrants is preparing to fingerprint hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors. The government has created a new class of suspect called "enemy combatant" with no legal rights.

The jails and the camp at Guantanamo Bay are full of people held on ambiguous grounds.

Part of the commemoration is US Airways in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and other airlines suffering from fear of flying. When you take off your shoes for inspection at the airport, think of this as also part of the commemoration.

President Bush wants a big, new Department of Homeland Security, but he has run into trouble with Congress. The states and localities are assigned specific roles in the national security strategy, but the money-strapped states have yet to receive any of the $3.5 billion in emergency funds voted by Congress.

A preoccupation with whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive seems to substitute for getting America on a new footing.

It has become a cliché to say that America is a different nation from the way it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But a question for the anniversary is whether America is adapting itself to being a different nation.

• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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