Six months after Sept. 11, many are `back to normal'

Pain of attack lingers, but its effects seem to be fading quickly

March 11, 2002|By Doyle McManus | Doyle McManus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was during Sunday school at St. Mark's Lutheran Church that Janice Vogel finally got angry.

Her husband, Fritz, had been away from their Birdsboro, Pa., home for months. The Air Force recalled Fritz to active duty Oct. 21 to manage construction projects at an Air Force base in New Jersey, part of the Afghanistan call-up.

That was bad enough. But Fritz Vogel owns a small welding firm. When he was called up, he had to close the shop and lay off his two oldest sons.

So when Janice Vogel, 48, heard one of her neighbors announce her relief that she felt free to go shopping at the mall again now that life had "returned to normal," she reddened.

"Don't they understand how this has changed our world completely?" she asked.

Six months after Sept. 11, here's what's changed:

The federal government, its budget and its public image. The focus of American foreign policy. Security measures at airports, seaports and border crossings. The nation's sense of patriotism, cohesion and vulnerability. The lives of almost 1.4 million people in the armed services, including more than 78,000 reservists abruptly yanked from their civilian lives.

Here's what hasn't changed much: Everything else.

Instead of the war on terrorism changing "everything," as some predicted, the nation has seen a kind of patchwork mobilization. The government, the military, the airlines are all still on a wartime footing. But the rest of the country is largely "back to normal."

When the hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many likened the attacks to Pearl Harbor.

But Pearl Harbor and World War II transformed American society by drawing more than 16 million men and women into the armed forces.

This war is being fought by a military of 1.4 million, less than one-half of 1 percent of the population. (And only about 5,300 of those troops are actually in or around Afghanistan.) "Imagine Pearl Harbor if it hadn't been followed by World War II," said William A. Galston, a political scientist at the University of Maryland.

"What transformed the World War II generation wasn't the shock of the [Pearl Harbor] attack but the comprehensive national mobilization that followed," he said.

"Well, we've had the attack but not the mobilization. What is most dramatic about the six months since Sept. 11 is not how much our lives have changed but rather how little."

Doyle McManus is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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