Cover Story

Mourning has broken

From sadness to anger: America shifts to the second phase of the war, hunting terrorists at home and abroad. Washington prepares emergency actions, from suspending some legal protections to bailing out the airline industry. What will sustain Americans in the sacrifices to come?

Issue: "Mourning has broken," Sept. 29, 2001

For most of Week 1, America seemed frozen in a single moment. Thanks to handheld video cameras and 24-hour news coverage, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed again and again into the World Trade Center like a recurring nightmare. The image was impossible to escape, its emotional impact impossible to shake. Only a week after Sept. 11, as the numbness began to wear off, could the enormity of that moment sink in. The altered landscape of American life emerged slowly, like the shattered skyline of once-mighty Manhattan. Politics. Economics. Foreign relations. Civil liberties. War and peace. In so many ways, the future looked distinctly different than it had on Sept. 10. Aides to President Bush, in the hours before a nationally televised address to Congress on Sept. 20, began to emphasize that the war on terrorism would require sacrifices on the part of the American people. That was the president's theme throughout Week 2: Americans need to get back to work but remain on the alert for terrorism. He said Americans should be patient because the anti-terror campaign would likely be long and costly. While most of the nation tried to face that uncertain future, tens of thousands were still unable to close a painful past. Excavation crews worked round-the-clock to put a dent in the billion-pound mountain of rubble where the twin towers once stood. But even as cranes and backhoes slammed into the debris and dump trucks carted off load after load, the $100-million-a-week operation could not turn up any survivors. Despite estimates of nearly 6,000 dead, funeral home directors reported only a trickle of calls for their services-not just because there was nothing to bury, but because many families feared they might betray their loved ones by giving up too early. Besides, though many desperately wanted a sense of closure, planning an early memorial service had a distinct downside: If later recovery efforts turned up remains, the family would have to endure the anguish of a second funeral. So those left behind prayed and hoped and waited. Anywhere that wall space beckoned-construction fences, the Armory, the Brooklyn Promenade-friends and family tacked posters asking for information on their loved ones. Smiling faces of the likely dead stared out from the posters at shell-shocked locals, who often stopped to cry at the scope of the loss. Makeshift memorials sprouted as well, starting perhaps with a candle, then growing to include flowers, photos, trinkets, children's toys, and even notebooks in which passersby could scribble notes of condolence. And there were the prayers, mounted on walls or lampposts or tucked into the impromptu shrines. "Lord Jesus Christ," read one. "Have mercy on us. Make haste to help us. Comfort us. Rescue us. And save us. Do your will in our lives." With all the prayers and flowers and candles, hope seemed to outlast logic. Rumors swirled of cell phone calls and possible air pockets in the rubble. But the news leaking out from ground zero was not good: Even 80 feet underground, in tunnels used by commuter trains from New Jersey, rescuers found nothing but smoking wreckage. Structural engineers said such devastation was not surprising. Burning jet fuel inside the towers may have reached 1,000 degrees, melting and peeling away the buildings' external metal skeleton. That left 110 stories to collapse straight downward, one floor on top of another, gaining speed with the force of gravity and the ever-increasing weight from above. Seismologists said the resulting crash registered a 2 on the Richter Scale. The goodbyes came faster in Washington, where the physical destruction was more limited. Pentagon rescue workers quickly reached the grim conclusion that no one could be alive in the charred wreckage, so families were free to plan their farewells. Conservative commentator Barbara Olson was remembered just four days after the crash with a service at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. Sens. Phil Gramm, Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, and Don Nichols sat in the first two rows. Two of President Bush's top advisers, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, sat just behind them, listening to sermons and eulogies that were not just a celebration of life, but a grim call for justice. And justice, sometimes morphing into revenge, was the theme as Washington returned to work. Talk radio callers demanded an immediate, indiscriminate flexing of America's military muscle, but the Bush administration worked feverishly to gather intelligence on alleged mastermind Osama bin Laden and to build an international coalition against him. Authorities also moved quickly against potential terrorists already living in America, marking the one-week anniversary of the attacks with four arrests. One was of a man who tried to board a plane at New York's JFK Airport using a fake pilot's license. Some 75 others had been detained for questioning, and FBI agents were seeking almost 200 more. The need for speed was plain: Knowing they would be hunted down and punished severely, any accomplices of the hijackers still in the country had to believe they had little left to lose. Accordingly, military and law-enforcement units across the country remained on high alert, responding to bomb threats, guarding government buildings, and tying up nearly every form of commercial transportation with minute searches and tough new security requirements. Americans, accustomed to an ease of movement almost unknown elsewhere in the world, responded with equanimity. Air travel plummeted about 40 percent as tens of thousands of fearful passengers canceled travel plans. Those who had to fly endured long lines and seemingly endless delays, mostly with good humor. Safety, it seemed, trumped all the other niceties of an open society. The Immigration and Naturalization Service quickly changed administrative rules to allow officials to hold foreigners for 48 hours of questioning before deciding whether to charge them with a crime. That doubled the old time limit, but even the new 48-hour rule could be waived in times of national emergency-which this surely was. In effect, foreign nationals could now be detained indefinitely with absolutely no proof of a crime. If longer detentions were one sign of the "new normal" in civil rights, they were hardly the only one. Racial profiling, a law enforcement technique lambasted by both presidential candidates last year, suddenly became the norm, with Arab Americans subject to suspicion as they went about their lives. But like all Americans trying to recover from the tragedy, those of Arab descent seemed ready to accept the new rules-at least for now. "Mistakes will be made," acknowledged Kareem Shora, legal adviser to the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. "You can't have a perfect investigation. As far as we know, no intentional mistakes are being made. Everybody understands it's a very special situation. We all have to cope with it." How special? The Bush administration reportedly is looking at the feasibility of military tribunals to try suspected terrorists without the cumbersome due process protections of the American judicial system. The last time such tribunals were seated was during World War II, when they tried German spies-and hanged them within 30 days of conviction. As an impressively unified Congress moved to grant new powers to law enforcement, it also loosened the nation's purse strings to fight a new kind of war and to rebuild a devastated city. A $40 billion emergency spending plan was just a "very minimal down payment to what will be required," said a grim Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). The "down payment" funneled money directly to the disaster zones, including payments of up to $180,000 to the family of each rescue worker killed, and excavation costs expected to exceed $1 billion. Beyond the billions needed just to keep the lights on in Lower Manhattan, the Bush administration faced an array of spending demands. Some New Yorkers quickly began demanding that the World Trade Center, a symbol of American economic might, be rebuilt-a project estimated to cost $4.5 billion. Repairing (again) the newly renovated Pentagon will eat up $1 billion. Military brass estimated they'd need an additional $20 billion for their expected ramp-up. And airlines and insurance companies hit Capitol Hill last week, looking for multibillion-dollar grants and loans to prevent wholesale bankruptcies. Even Bush budget hawks seemed to acknowledge that the old rules of fiscal restraint couldn't apply in this altered political landscape. Officials grudgingly pledged to help the crippled airline industry, in what would amount to the biggest federal bailout since the S&L crisis. The airlines were seeking some $24 billion in direct aid, tax breaks, and low-interest government loans, though officials said they would probably have to settle for some fraction of that amount. Airline industry woes showed how surprisingly vulnerable the American economy is to terrorist attacks. Airlines are big, mature, well-capitalized businesses, yet the value of some companies' stocks plunged as much as 50 percent-and the industry overall lost $12 billion-when markets reopened after a four-day hiatus. Burdened with debt and unable to fill seats or keep up with the cost of increased security, the big airlines immediately announced layoffs totaling more than 30,000 employees. Experts say that number could rise to 100,000 in the coming weeks. The ripples spread quickly throughout the economy. Boeing, the world's largest aircraft manufacturer, said it, too, would lay off as many as 30,000 workers, mostly in Washington state. Hotels racked up losses as tourists and business travelers stayed home. Big chains planned to cut back their expansion plans for next year, idling untold thousands of construction workers, electricians, and the like. With the economy teetering on the brink of recession, President Bush began convening daily meetings at the White House of a special "domestic consequences group." Under the leadership of deputy chief of staff Josh Bolten, the group is charged with devising a stimulus package to get the economy moving again. Congressional Republicans have long pushed for a reduction in the capital gains tax rate, but that is only one of the proposals on the table. Others include slashing payroll taxes and speeding up depreciation allowances for business. But even as much of the economy contracts, one sector expects to see its biggest growth in a decade. Defense spending, which has seen a steady decline since the Persian Gulf War, is suddenly a top priority again. The president last week called up some 35,000 reservists, mostly detailed to protecting the nation's borders and transportation infrastructure. As many as 15,000 others could follow. Activating the reserves frees up active-duty personnel to train for an overseas operation that Mr. Bush warns could be "protracted." Pentagon officials, suddenly flush with cash, will push for more fighter jets, helicopters, and missile-defense systems. Defense contractors already are ramping up production of cruise missiles, the weapon of choice for attacks requiring pinpoint accuracy. And there will be new spending on communications and transportation gear, further shoring up employment in the sector. Where will the unexpected billions come from? Congress and the White House have agreed that military operations will be funded on an "emergency" basis, keeping that spending outside the budget caps that would force cutbacks in other areas. Instead, emergency monies will have to come from another hole drilled in the so-called Social Security lock box, the multibillion-dollar reserve once believed to be off-limits to politicians. The government will now pour those billions into defense, filling the Social Security trust fund with IOUs it hopes it can repay before millions of baby boomers start retiring. But with airplanes falling from the sky and buildings collapsing, the distant threat of an insolvent Social Security system was the last thing on almost anybody's mind. United in grief and anger, Americans pulled together to focus on the more immediate threats to physical safety. Amidst the worry and gloom, Americans discovered a long-dormant sense of patriotism-and perhaps something more. As thousands of mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil on the Brooklyn Promenade, directly across the East River from the southern tip of Manhattan, they occasionally broke into song in an effort to voice their emotions. Proud anthems like "New York, New York," and defiant ones like "If I Had a Hammer" inevitably trailed off in the night as the singers realized they didn't know the words. But one tune met with greater success. The familiar melody gained volume as more voices united, singing right up to the final note. "Amazing grace," they sang, "how sweet the sound ..."

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