America's bloodiest day
America recovering from 'the second Pearl Harbor'
It may have been the bloodiest day in U.S. history, when our two biggest office towers were obliterated and the Pentagon, symbol of our military authority, was ripped open like an egg carton.
Our commercial jetliners were turned into weapons of mass murder, and we had to stop doing things we always do, from trading stocks to going to Disney World.
People ran through the ash-covered streets of lower Manhattan like extras in a nuclear winter fantasy, chased by a mighty cloud of dust and debris from the office towers they once occupied. Others, some on fire, jumped from 30, 40, 80 stories. One couple held hands as they leapt.
The shell of what was once one of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center remains standing above the smoking rubble.
This time it was civilians dying in the nation's political and financial centers, not soldiers and sailors in a distant Pacific territory. This time the targets were not outdated battleships, but buildings familiar to every schoolchild.
And if this really was war 86 percent of Americans in a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll Tuesday said it was who was the enemy? What did he want? When was the next battle?
Suspicion focused on an individual, indicted Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden, not a nation.
As some called for a congressional declaration of war, Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia asked, "Who do you declare war on?"
History will find that something about America changed at 9 a.m. EDT Tuesday, predicted John Morton Blum, a retired Yale historian and World War II scholar.
"Americans aren't used to being in a war zone," he said. "From here on, they are. No superpower has ever been hit like this."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., struck an apocalyptic note: "I don't think our lifestyles will be the same for a long time."
The prime casualty was America's sense of safety. When Arab terrorists bombed the World Trade Center eight years ago, six people died, and the complex came back better than ever.
But by noon Tuesday, the Trade Center looked like a smoldering dump and America looked like a nation in retreat office workers ran up Broadway, and men and women in uniform walked from the Pentagon past Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial. They glanced fearfully behind them, as though afraid of what would happen next.
"Things are never going to be the same in this country again," said lawyer Alan Krauss, 48, watching the ruins of the Trade Center from a bluff in New Jersey. "This is the worst day in the history of our country, with the exception of the Civil War."
Some feared his qualifier would prove unnecessary.
Until Tuesday, the bloodiest day in U.S. history was Sept. 17, 1862, when a total of about 4,700 Union and Confederate soldiers died in the Civil War battle of Antietam. Pearl Harbor killed 2,388 Americans, and the first day of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, killed 1,465.
All the major terrorist attacks on U.S. targets since 1980 have killed fewer than 1,000 Americans.
Officials refused to speculate about the death toll in Tuesday's attacks and declined to comment on estimates that 10,000 people might have perished. But about 50,000 people work at the Trade Center, and tens of thousands more visit each day.
With 266 dead in four plane crashes alone, Tuesday's death toll seemed poised to surpass Antietam. An unidentified foe had done what Hitler and Tojo couldn't.
The attacks left America a nation in lockdown. All civilian flights were grounded until at least noon EDT Wednesday, and jet fighters patrolled skies above New York and Washington. The Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier to New York Harbor.
Cancelled: major league baseball, PTA, book group, soccer practice, even prayer itself. A noonday service at stately Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston's Copley Square had to be called off because of fears that the neighboring Hancock Center might be a target.
In Detroit, General Motors and Ford sent workers home, and in Atlanta, Coca-Cola did the same. Los Angeles International Airport was evacuated. At one point, about 30,000 passengers were stranded at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport. Lines at some rental car counters stretched more than 100 yards, and dozens of people clustered around pay telephones.
Office towers closed, including the Sears Tower in Chicago, the nation's tallest building but not as capacious as either Trade Center tower.
Landmarks shut down, including the nation's biggest mall (the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.) and the biggest theme park (Disney World). The Liberty Bell, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Hoover Dam visitors' center all closed.
At Antoine's, the 161-year-old restaurant in New Orleans' French Quarter, waiters stood by empty tables at lunchtime. "We're open, but there's no business," manager Paul Greco said. Outside Antoine's, cab driver Christus Fernando, an immigrant from Sri Lanka, sat waiting for a fare. "The same thing is happening in my country," he said. "This kind of thing is not new. That's why I am here."
Until Tuesday, the great national tragedies had been essentially local, confined in their action to Ford's Theater or O'ahu or Oklahoma City. But with four different hijacked airliners crashing, fear spread across the land.
The West Virginia Capitol was evacuated. The El Paso, Texas, City Hall closed, and Denver set up an emergency preparedness center in the basement of City Hall. Even in Idaho, free-lance writer Julie Fanselow said, "there was a moment of fear when we heard an airplane outside, just after hearing the FAA had grounded all flights."
The implications of the bombings were as fearsome as the immediate destruction.
Gabriel Hannaford, 31, who teaches high school drama in San Francisco, talked about his reaction while waiting for a van after the Golden Gate Bridge was closed to pedestrians and cyclists.
"I'm not sure this is so surprising, shocking as it is," he said. "You almost get the sense that there's a global climate building, that ... that this might be the beginning of something big. ... You always think that we're so insulated from danger in this country, (but) we have so many targets here. Look at the bridges and public works in this country. You can point to any state and find a great target."
Elgen Long, 74, of Reno, Nev., a retired airline pilot and World War II veteran, worried that something like paranoia would grip the nation. "You're going to have security way beyond anything you have now. ... I'm afraid, at least for the time being, it is going to be the end of the world, at least as I've known it all of my life. ... Our freedoms and what-not are going to be sorely restricted. I'm afraid we will probably overreact."
Gahzi Khankan, a Muslim leader in New York, recalled the attacks against his fellow Muslims after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 but before it became clear it was the work of a homegrown terrorist, ex-GI Timothy McVeigh. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says more than 200 Arab- and Muslim-Americans were victimized then. "Please do not start speculating and pointing the finger at us," Khankan said.
Anna Gruba, 21, of Estonia, visiting U.S. on a work and travel program, saw snipers dressed in black on the roof of the White House and concluded that "Now, in America, it's like Russia. No stability."
But heroism graced the catastrophe. In New York, people literally took the shirts off their backs and bandaged the injured. Retired cops reported for duty. An office building doorman intercepted a reporter heading toward the Trade Center and told him to turn back, minutes before one of the towers collapsed, burying the street and possibly himself.
A fireman threw a newswoman against a wall and shielded her from the blast of one tower's collapse. Another insisted, "I gotta get back there!" as he was taken from an ambulance at a hospital and put into a wheelchair.
Americans especially those who knew people in greater Washington and New York called each other to ask whether they were OK, no matter that the odds of someone in New York or Washington being hurt were very small.
Cindy McCoy of Crossville, Tenn., got a call in Kennebunkport, Me., where she was on vacation: "My daughter said, 'Come back to the Midwest. Get home. Get off the East Coast.' "
For some of those old enough to recall Pearl Harbor, there was again the juxtaposition of the banal and the beastly. Clarence Frank, 80, of Columbus, Ohio, was at a stag party on Dec. 7, 1941, when he heard the news on a radio. Tuesday, he was watching Regis Philbin's show and had briefly turned from the set. "When I turned back," he said, "there were pictures of the Trade Center burning."
In one sense, memories of Pearl Harbor offered hope. "Pearl Harbor brought us together to face a problem," said former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. "Maybe this can do the same."