Terrorism pervades American consciousness

The images of commercial airliners plummeting into the World Trade Center at unimaginable speeds have been seared into our psyches in ways we’re only beginning to understand. Many Americans will think twice every time they walk into a tall building. Many of us will now take notice which direction planes are flying when they are far overhead. Some of us will never look at another “blow-’em-up” action movie the same way. Life changed for all of us on Sept. 11.

The psychological, economic and societal repercussions of the terrorist attacks will take years to fully realize. Some of the effects are already becoming clear. The stock market has dropped substantially nearly every day since it reopened last Monday. Airlines are laying off thousands of workers and canceling hundreds of flights. As the dominos fall, the U.S. tourism industry is losing millions of dollars. And all of these factors send us further into a recession.

As the number of dead or missing in New York City jumped on Friday from 5,422 to 6,333 people (mostly due to delayed reporting from other countries that had offices in the World Trade Center), the New York Stock Exchange suffered steep losses for the third day in a row. Although analysts offered an upbeat outlook, fears over an upcoming war will likely continue to keep stocks down. This only adds to the poor economy the country already faced prior to the terrorist attacks. With unemployment up and the stock market down, the country was already staring down a recession; the attacks merely cemented the fact the U.S. economy will not be able to rebound any time soon.

Airlines were also preparing for a slowdown before the terrorist attacks but nothing like this. How can passengers have confidence in the airline industry after they watched four commercial jets become supersonic, fuel-loaded bombs? The airline industry is projecting at least a $3 billion loss this year, and airlines are increasingly aware of the possibility of bankruptcy.

As travelers cancel flights and rearrange travel plans, the businesses that rely on the airline industry are also incurring serious losses. Hotel chains, rental car companies, cruise lines, and general tourism across the United States have been heavily affected by the downturn in airline traffic. This will only continue.

Airplane flights have become such a terrifying, anxiety-ridden experience they are bringing out the worst in some passengers. On Thursday, some passengers aboard Northwest Airlines refused to fly while three Arab male passengers were also onboard. These three men were removed from the flight and flew home on a Delta Airlines flight instead.

Arab-Americans in the United States are facing horrible discrimination in the wake of these terrorist attacks, even after many political, academic and religious leaders have pleaded with Americans not to turn against one another. The Arab community is not responsible; they are targeted the same as other American citizens, and they have been stricken with the same grief from these attacks.

The few people who are attacking and threatening Arab-Americans have created a deep tear in our societal fabric – one which will take a significant amount of time to repair, particularly for those violated. It’s been almost 60 years after Pearl Harbor and Japanese internment camps; I was hoping our country wouldn’t regress to Americans turning against other Americans who happen to be of a particular ethnic descent.

But the societal effects are much wider than the effects on just one community. People of all colors, creeds, genders and backgrounds will forever be scarred by these attacks. We will notice the impact for years to come. At some point, the changes will just become an ordinary part of our lives. But we’ll all remember the way things were before, just as you might remember how your family was before a close relative or family member died.

We will tell our children what it was like before the attack: when you didn’t have to get to the airport two hours in advance, when you could go to the top of the World Trade Center and look out over all of New York City and part of New Jersey, when getting on an airplane didn’t make you say a silent prayer and check if your cell phone was close at hand.

We will tell our children about when football announcers started to respectfully avoid terms like “aerial attack,” “shotgun formation,” “blitz,” and other war metaphors. “I was in New York when the attacks happened,” said John Madden, a NFL analyst on the Fox network. “The first thing I thought about, seeing people run out and the firefighters and police go in, was I’ll never use the word ‘tough’ again to describe football players.”

We will show our kids movies from before the attacks, when seeing meteors hit the Empire State Building in “Armageddon” or images of the White House and Capitol exploding in “Independence Day” were light-years from reality.

As a result of the recent tragedies, Hollywood has pushed back the release dates of several movies, television stations have changed the plot lines of numerous dramas, late-night shows have changed to a more serious format and what seemed like every big name in music, movies, television and elsewhere spent last Friday night answering telephones to raise money for victims.

Future history classes will teach lessons about the war we’re about to fight. For many University students, this will be only the second war of their lifetimes and probably the most destructive. Many of us have friends and family members who will be directly affected by the military actions in the upcoming weeks and months. We all know the young men whose lives will change if, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld alluded to last week, the draft is reinstated. Most of us will lose loved ones in a war seeking to bring justice to those responsible for the cowardly acts of Sept. 11.

And this is only a partial list of the effects. Children and adults alike will face post-traumatic stress syndrome. Increased resources will be spent on our nation’s security. International students, travelers, business people and citizens in general will be subject to increased scrutiny by governmental agencies – possibly in violation of their civil rights. The list could go on for pages.

But more far-reaching than any of these other effects is the injury to our national confidence. The attack on the Pentagon was the first time our nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C., had been attacked since the War of 1812 – when Dolley Madison risked her life to carry the famous portrait of President George Washington to safety. And the death toll from these attacks combined is quickly looking to triple the number of lives lost during the last attack our nation suffered – Pearl Harbor.

Maybe you will be one of the people who closes their eyes to the dramatic explosions the next time they watch of an action movie, or who becomes anxious as they walk into skyscrapers or board airplanes. You might not fully realize it for some time, but the events that happened so many miles away from Minneapolis and St. Paul will affect everyone in some way.

It might not be obvious immediately, but every single American, as well as others throughout the world, will be significantly changed by the terrorism of Sept. 11. These terrorists didn’t just attack New York City or Washington, D.C., they attacked every single American.

Erin Ghere’s column appears alternate Mondays. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]