|The San Diego Union-Tribune
Sept. 12, 2001
Terrorist assaults deal blow to nation's psyche
By GEORGE E. CONDON JR.
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- Nothing in any American war or previous brush with
terrorism could prepare the country for the horror visited upon us yesterday.
A day of stunning assaults on American territory, American lives, and a
long-cherished American sense of invulnerability will be seared into the public
The death toll, while not yet fully known, will be staggering. But long after the
bodies are buried and the buildings rebuilt, the country will be paying a toll in
heightened suspicion, growing fear, diminished civil liberties, onerous security
precautions and a lasting change in a basic sense of self.
Before yesterday, the pivotal dates of American loss were Sept. 17, 1862, at
Antietam, the bloodiest day of any American war; Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl
Harbor; Nov. 22, 1963, at Dallas, when President John F. Kennedy was
assassinated; and April 19, 1995, at Oklahoma City.
Now, add Sept. 11, 2001, to the list, with casualties that will be well into the
"Our world has changed," said Daniel Goure, a top Pentagon official under
former President George Bush. "Like Dec. 7, Sept. 11 is going to mark a
change in the way the United States handles itself militarily against these kinds
Historian David McCullough, who has spent his life writing about America's
past, was similarly moved by the sight of the world's only superpower forced
by nameless zealots to ground its air fleet, evacuate its government buildings,
hide its leaders and watch helplessly as towering marvels of modern
architecture and commerce crumpled to the ground.
"I believe it is the worst catastrophe in the history of the United States," he
said as he stood stunned near a White House suddenly ringed by automatic
weapons and heavy security. "Think how much they hate us to do this vile
To McCullough, the terrorists' choice of targets -- the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon -- made the deaths even harder to take.
"The skyscraper was an American invention," he said. "It's the ultimate
symbol. They're attacking our commerce, our defense. ... They're attacking
us, our way of life."
Only about two miles away, Harold Schaitberger was reliving a day he would
rather forget. The president of the International Association of Fire Fighters,
he was in Oklahoma City when domestic terrorism claimed 168 lives. Now,
he was standing amid smoke and debris at the Pentagon.
"It's Oklahoma City multiplied several times," he said. "I remember how the
Oklahoma City building looked. This looks hauntingly similar. This is going to
be a world-measuring event."
Even more than Oklahoma City, though, this tragedy is going to forever alter
the American way of life. Most likely, it will also alter American foreign
policy, shift budget priorities, inconvenience millions of travelers and force
what could be a very public and very embarrassing review of what is looming
as yet another failure by the agency responsible for countering domestic
terrorism, the FBI.
"There are going to be changes in the way we live our lives," said Lawrence
Korb, a top Pentagon official under President Ronald Reagan, who said those changes will first be evident to air travelers when airports reopen and force "some diminution" in civil liberties.
President Bush gave little inkling of those changes when he returned to the
White House last night.
In his Oval Office address, the president spoke of a "quiet unyielding anger"
now gripping the nation.
In addition to leading the national mourning, the president also signaled an
important shift in policy. He served notice on Iraq, Iran, Libya and
Afghanistan that the United States will make "no distinction" between the
terrorists and "those who harbor them."
Samuel R. Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, said Bush has
no choice but to strike at the perpetrators and their backers. But he said the
president must do far more than recent presidents who used a few cruise
missiles to express their anger.
"This response cannot be just an air strike," Berger said.
The president also made no mention of the intelligence debate already roiling
"This is a failure and a catastrophic failure," said longtime Indiana Rep. Lee
Hamilton, now retired from Congress. "This was a highly sophisticated attack. The coordination and success of it are just astounding."
Yonah Alexander, an expert on terrorism at the Potomac Institute for Policy
Studies, said he had heard intelligence warnings that something big was
coming. "They were told to watch it," he said, suggesting the government must now explain why warnings were ignored.
"The terrorists have won in the sense that they are bringing the United States
to its knees," he said. "The purpose of terrorism is to instill fear, so they won
in the short term. But though we lost the battle, we didn't lose the war."
But victory in that war, he said, will be determined by the president's ability to convince average Americans it is safe for them to go about their daily lives.
And restoring that sense will not be easy as long as there are vivid memories
of a planeload of innocents exploding into a skyscraper.
Copley News Service Washington correspondents Finlay Lewis, Dana
Wilkie and Dori Meinert contributed to this report.