A New Kind of Life
"A New Kind of Life"
Within days after the attacks, government officials urged the American people to resume their lives, to get back to doing the things they always did. If they stayed home or curtailed their normal activities, people were told, the terrorists would have succeeded. So outwardly, the signs of normal life returned. Children went off to school, parents went to work, and television networks began running programs other than news. But a closer look would reveal that life was far from normal.
"I Worry About Everything"
"I'll tell you one change," confides Pam, a coffee shop waitress. "I think a lot of people are like me—suffering from lack of sleep. Right after September 11, I was terrified all the time. I kept hearing airplanes, and I was worried they were going to fly into our apartment building. And that's nuts, because I live in a two-story building, and in Michigan, for Pete's sake! I know Osama bin Laden's not targeting me, but I can't help worrying. I worry about everything, and I never used to."89
Marnie agrees. She says that she can't get the image of the second airplane hitting the World Trade Center out of her mind—and it's made her more fragile emotionally. "I feel like I'm crying constantly," she says. "I close my eyes and see that image, and it's the most frightening thing I can imagine.
"I think of those people in the building and on the planes, and what they went through," she continues. "I don't want to keep feeling this way, because it isn't helping anyone. And I'm not a weepy sort of person. But I can't move on. I feel like I'm stuck in September 11."90
"I Called Him 8,000 Times"
Many people say that as a result of the attacks, they are nervous about being separated from family members, even for a short time. One Chicago woman whose husband works in the Sears Tower says that she fears for his safety at work. She insists that he keep his cell phone on all the time, and she admits that she calls him frequently. One day not long after September 11, she says, "I called him 8,000 times."91
Earl, a father of two daughters in college, says that he and his wife got in their car the weekend after the attacks and drove twelve hundred miles "just to be near them. I can't tell you how much better we felt. My wife and I were basket cases before that, just worried sick. But going to see them really helped. I mean, just hugging your kids, telling them how much you love them. I know we felt so much more grounded—we stayed a day and a half, and turned around and drove home! One of my [law] partners said, 'Don't they have telephones at that school?' I said, 'Yeah, but they weren't enough. Telephones just weren't enough.'"92
Many people, especially those who live far from New York or Washington, D.C., say they feel foolish worrying about terrorists—especially when people around them seem
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calm and unafraid. However, almost all Americans seem to be fighting their own private battles with fear and anxiety. Writes one observer, "Even people who appear to be calm will privately confess: I won't go to the mall anymore. I ask for a low floor at the hotel, near a staircase. I throw up every morning before I get on the train. I thought I heard a crop duster in the middle of the night."93
Too Much Coverage?
Many experts believe that the media unwittingly fueled the fears. In the first days after the attacks, all network programming shifted to news about the aftermath, about the new war, and about where the next terrorism would strike. And after regular programming resumed, many people felt the need to keep tuned in to CNN or CNBC.
"I was hooked," says one man. "It was like—okay, I really don't want to know what's happening if it's bad, because I know I'll just be more depressed, but I couldn't really relax unless I turned it on for a few minutes, just to check stuff out. It was like my security blanket, I guess."94
But while the constant stream of news and commentary might have been helpful to many people, some found that it fueled their anxieties. One New Yorker agrees. "My wife, she's homebound," he explains. "She reached the point last week where she couldn't watch the news, so I went to Blockbuster's. The place was mobbed. I looked around and everybody was sobbing. They all wanted to get away from it. It was mental overload."95
A family therapist in Minneapolis says she advised several of her clients to turn off the television. "I had some who were riveted, maybe watching seven or eight hours a day or more," she says. "It's too much for any of us. I don't think it's healthy or necessary. Better to do something positive or active—go outside, rake some leaves, go for a run or something."96
The heightened anxiety prompted some Americans to prepare for the worst. Around the nation, many army surplus stores reported high demand for gas masks. Those who wanted masks were concerned about another attack, which they feared might be a chemical or biological agent released into the air.
However, while they understood the public's fears, many scientists thought gas masks were a waste of money. "I believe individuals buying gas masks to protect themselves against an unspecified biological or chemical attack is pretty useless," says Dr. John Clements, professor of immunology at Tulane University. Clements says that most toxins would be released quietly into a populated area. In the case of anthrax, for instance, people would not be aware they had been exposed until much later.
"The [anthrax] infection takes one to six days to start showing symptoms," he says. "And you are not going to be aware that you were exposed for some time."97 In addition, he adds, many chemical and biological agents are harmful not only from inhalation, but also from being absorbed through the skin; a gas mask would offer no protection for the latter instance.
The Ugly Side of Fear
But while fear made many Americans more depressed and reclusive, fear brought on by the events of September 11 had an aggressive side, too. Angry and wanting to strike back, some struck out against innocent people. In many cities around the United States, there were instances of verbal or physical abuse of people who were—or looked like—Middle Eastern Muslims.
In Mesa, Arizona, a service station owner was shot three times by a passing motorist on September 15, four days after the terrorist attacks. The victim was Hindu, not Muslim. The man police arrested for the crime explained it by saying, "I'm an American."98
In New York City, someone threw large rocks through the windshields of taxis in Central Park, apparently targeting only cabs driven by Arabs. Law enforcement agencies nationwide were reporting hate crimes against Muslims and Middle Easterners.
President Bush spoke out against such crimes during his visit to a Washington, D.C., mosque and again before Congress. "We respect your faith," he said. "Its teachings are good and peaceful."99 He urged Americans to refrain from directing hostility toward Muslims or any other innocent people. But many Muslims who had never faced such hatred in the United States felt suddenly that they were no longer welcome.
"This Is My Home"
One Muslim who experienced this is Farooq Muhammad, a twenty-six-year-old emergency medical technician in the New York City Fire Department. Born in the United States, his parents came from Pakistan in the 1970s, seeking a better life. After the attack on the World Trade Center, Muhammad went on volunteer duty, helping to treat many victims on the scene.
While he was bandaging the wounded at Ground Zero on September 11, Muhammad says that he became aware of people looking at him, and at his Islamic name on the FDNY polo shirt he was wearing. "I felt ashamed," he says. However, he knows that his religion is not to blame for the acts of the terrorists. "Looking back, I feel ashamed for feeling ashamed.… Muslims aren't like this. They're peaceful people."100
Gus Karim believes that, too. He says, "The Koran says, if a man kills an innocent person, to God it looks like he is killing all innocent people on earth." Karim understands that there will be some who will act without thinking; his own daughter was taunted soon after the attacks. However, he also knows that most Americans would never do such things. A tailor, who is proud to have made the suit President Bush wore for his presidential inauguration, Karim says, "This is my home, and I am proud to be here. I will never forget what this country gave me.… And I want my country to come back together."101
Mohammed Ayesh has been the target of anger by some New Yorkers, but like Karim, he tries to understand. "I don't blame them," he says. "Every human being falls into the same thing. They might have had relatives in the towers." Even so, he says, he wants people to realize that Muslims grieved on September 11 like other Americans. "Maybe I don't look like a white boy," he says, "but this tragedy hurt me, too."102
Redefining Pop Culture
The dramatic shift in priorities that came about after the terrorist attacks had a profound and immediate effect on the U.S. entertainment industry. In "What's Entertainment Now?" James Poniewozik describes the shift in America's priorities after September 11.
"This, in a way, is the problem facing American pop culture in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: so much that we could say casually a month ago rings empty, even cruel, today. Our metaphors have expired. Pleasure seems mocking and futile.… Entertainers in every field are in a crisis of relevance, caught up in a nationwide feeling of survivor's guilt, unsure whether their work has any place in the new reality. 'I don't know if my writing right now is adequate to the time,' says playwright Jon Robin Baitz. 'I'm not going to write until I feel that's no longer an issue.'…
'No humor column today,' wrote syndicated funnyman Dave Barry. 'I don't want to write it, and you don't want to read it.' Sports went on hiatus, and after they returned, a pre-season hockey game between longtime rivals New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers ended with the players watching President Bush's address to Congress, shaking hands and skating off the ice in midgame.… A five-hour Law & Order mini-series was scuttled because it involved an anthrax-attack plot in New York City.… Terror-themed movies were shelved by studios and pulled from cable.…
Mainly, pop culture redefined itself in terms of what it now is not. It is not too flippant. David Letterman held the hand of a weeping Dan Rather on a moving return to the air; The Daily Show' s Jon Stewart tearfully invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.…
Above all, it is not too violent. Before September 11, panicked citizens running down a street from a collapsing building was an action-movie cliche.… 'It's going to be a very long time'[predicted one producer] before audiences will watch a building blow up."
"It's Hard Not to FeelEmotional"
However, not all of the changes that came about because of the attacks were negative ones. Many people say they had never felt more proud of being an American after September 11. The American flag became a hot commodity. So many were sold that stores quickly ran out. "We usually sell a lot around the Fourth of July," says one shop owner, "and we kind of take our time reordering. We've never had a rush on flags like this—I've had more than a hundred calls today already from people wanting a flag."103
Companies that make flags confirmed the huge demand. In the ten days after the attack, one company in Florida sold more than one hundred thousand flags—a number unheard of in the company's history. Says the owner, "I've got orders on my desk I couldn't fill in a million years."104
The women who sew the flags say that they feel that their job is more important since the attacks. "You touch these flags, it's hard not to feel emotional," says one worker. "You know that everybody in the nation is pulling together, that somebody out there really wants this flag. And we need to get it to them."105 Workers in one Pennsylvania company were very emotional about an order of five hundred flags that would be draped over the caskets of firefighters and other emergency workers who died at the scene of the attacks. At the Florida company, the workers are almost all immigrants. One Cuban-born woman notices that many Americans are for the first time seeing their flag as she and her family saw it twelve years before. They were on a boat with a broken compass, she says, and after three days they were rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol. "The first thing I saw as they pulled their boat up was the American flag," she explains. "That flag meant everything in the world to us. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen."106
"I Can't Believe This Is Me"
Patriotism showed itself in a number of ways—many of them quite new for some Americans. Some who stood in line to buy flags admitted they had never even considered buying a flag before September 11. "I'll tell you something," says one woman. "I'm a child of the sixties—marching against the war in Vietnam, sit-ins at the Capitol, everything. I used to equate flags with the conservatives, with the politicians. But boy, all that's changed. I've got flags on our house, a flag on the car. I can't believe this is me!"107
Others who contend they never felt anything remotely patriotic now are moved to tears by the national anthem sung before a baseball game. One sixth grader says that his mother taught him and his brothers three verses of "America the Beautiful." "She couldn't believe we never learned it in school," he shrugs. "So we all had to stand there and memorize it before we were allowed to go out. She told us it was important."108
America's New Heroes
Emergency workers—especially firefighters—were visibly heroic on September 11, and the staggering number of deaths in their ranks made the New York City Fire Department a legion of American heroes. The following excerpt is an interview reporter Tom Downey did with firefighter Lincoln Quappe; it appears in the New York Times Magazine. The interview was done in March 2001; Quappe was listed as missing after the towers collapsed.
"The rescue companies are the eyes and ears for everyone. If you get a report of people trapped, then we'll spearhead our attack up to that particular area. And maybe be able to control the fire enough to warn the guy upstairs that it's really getting bad here, and maybe it's time for them to get out. At Rescue Two, our main duty is looking out for the safety of all the firemen. Really, that's what we're there for. And we've shown time and again that when there's a fireman hurt, we'll drop everything and get him.
Being a fireman's fireman comes with experience. I still have so much to learn. I only have 16 years on the job. At Rescue Two, I feel like a probie all over again. I found that some of the most unassuming guys are the most fantastic firemen. They're always there at the right time, they're always in position, and in the heat of battle, they never shy away.…
When you're in a fire, things are running through your brain a million times a minute.… Every fire is scary. That's the way it is. You're a damned liar if you say you're not scared. It's hard to say which fires are the most dangerous. Each is completely different.… Even a silly little fire can get a guy killed. It all comes down to fate. But there are signs that you can pick up on at a fire when it's getting bad. I don't have all the answers, but I have an idea when it's time to go.… I'll be in contact with my guys.… If Bobby says it's time to get out, I'm going. I use him as my guardian angel, because I know he's seen a lot of things in the past. The captain, too. If the captain says, 'We're getting out of here,' I'm going. I don't want to die here."
Such patriotism is even evident on college campuses. At a University of Michigan football game on September 22, writes one observer, the stadium's emotional reaction to a halftime show surprised the marching band:
In a somber, patriotic tribute, the band formed an American eagle on the field while they played "America the Beautiful." They unfurled a giant flag on the 50-yard line. As she stood saluting, drum major Karen England was stunned by the crowd's reaction. Normally, Michigan football fans clog the aisles at halftime, racing for the concession stands and the restrooms. Instead, the crowd stood as one and sang. After they exited the field to a simple military drum tap, England had to comfort her sobbing bandmates. "I don't think anybody in the band realized the effect this would have," she said.109
For some young men and women, the feelings of patriotism have inspired them to enlist either in the armed services or in a service program that would benefit the United States in other ways. A twenty-year-old says that his decision to enlist in the navy has given him a pride in himself that he has not experienced before. One twenty-two-year-old graduate of Emory University was so moved after a trip to Ground Zero that she enlisted in the national service project called AmeriCorps. "I wanted to do more than give blood," she says. "This is something lasting that I can put my energy into."110
Many colleges are seeing the shift in students' thinking about their futures, too. Students are requesting classes and seminars to learn Middle Eastern languages, to understand the Islamic religion and the cultures in which it is a key component, and to explore terrorism and its history. Many schools have been more than willing to adjust their curriculum. Says one official at UCLA, "We agreed that it was important to connect the event with what we do here every day—which is teach and learn."111
One graduate student says that young people his age have always been known as the generation that had it easy. "We had no crisis, no Vietnam, no Martin Luther King, no JFK," he says. "We've got it now. When we have kids and grandkids, we'll tell them that we lived through the roaring '90's, when all we cared about was the number one movie or how many copies an album sold. This is where it changes."112
The same could be said for the entire nation. The attacks of September 11, 2001, left few Americans unaffected in some way—whether by grief for the thousands of people who died, or by the stories of incredible heroism, the investigations, the economic upheaval, the sudden burst of patriotism, or the declared war. Experts say that it is impossible to say what lasting changes will occur because of the attacks. Certainly vast changes will be made in the way the United States deals with the nations of the Middle East and with the more than 475 million people who come across U.S. borders each year. National security will probably never again be taken for granted, and the departments and agencies that oversee it will be far more vigilant.
"I Just Wanted to See What a 'Normal' Paper Looked Like"
Many Americans feel that they will become more informed as a result of the attacks. "A few days after this happened, I took out a newspaper from September 10," says one college senior. "It was bizarre in a way—like seeing an old shot of the World Trade towers in a movie or something. I just wanted to see what a 'normal' paper looked like, before all the stories had to do with terrorism.
"But I was struck by how little of that paper I'd read! I must have just looked at the main headlines [and] the sports. I didn't read any of the stories about the Middle East, or Afghanistan, or anything. And there were stories in there. They just didn't seem like they were that relevant to my life. I know a lot of things about me are going to get back to normal. But I hope I'll never go back to being that narrow. I bet a lot of other people feel that way, too."113
A Defining Moment
Over time, much of the evidence of the September 11 attacks will be gone. The Pentagon will be repaired. The digging and stabilizing of Ground Zero will eventually be completed, too. The sounds of bulldozers and dump trucks—a constant presence in lower Manhattan since the attacks—will be stilled.
For the American people, the raw feelings of disbelief and fear will fade over time. But the fiery images of airplanes exploding into buildings will remain. The attacks that occurred on that Tuesday morning—September 11, 2001—put an abrupt end to Americans' belief that their country was immune to the kind of violence that plagues the rest of the world.
"Whatever the outcome," wrote one observer just a few days afterward, "it was clear that some things had changed forever. The attacks will become a defining reference point for our culture and imagination, a question of before and after, safe and scarred."114