A Day To Remember

Horror remains vivid by dawn's early light

For Americans, a day of raw emotions

2001 - 2006 -- 9/11 -- Five Years

September 11, 2006|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Sun reporter

Not long ago Angelika Williams was watching television when she saw, once again, videotape of those jets slamming into the World Trade Center.

Williams had no personal connection to the events of five years ago: The victims were strangers, the attacks occurred far from her home in Edgewood and job at Aberdeen Proving Ground. But the searing emotions of that terrible morning came flooding back.

"I felt the same shock and disbelief again," said the 61-year-old travel agent.

Today, the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, will dawn on an America where memories still feel fresh and emotions raw, psychologists say. The pain will be strongest for those who lost relatives or friends. But researchers say the events made Americans in general more fearful and cautious, angrier and more impatient.

These powerful emotions have helped make Americans more trusting of government authorities, some psychologists say, more focused on their homes and communities, less tolerant of dissent. They may be more willing to sacrifice some privacy and other rights for a sense of communal security.

"Whenever uncertainty arises, there's a general support for one's own community and one's own culture," said Arie Kruglanski, a psychologist and terrorism expert who teaches at the University of Maryland, College Park. He runs the largest government-funded center in the nation for the study of the psychological effects of terrorism.

"There is a tendency to rally around the leader, to support cultural icons and cultural values," he said. "Political arguments that stress our values and stress our cohesion tend to be very appealing."

Before Sept. 11, 2001, Americans had been the targets of assassins, hijackers and bombers. Islamic radicals tried unsuccessfully to bring down the World Trade Center with a truck bomb in 1993. A homegrown terrorist, Timothy J. McVeigh, blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

But many Americans seemed to put those tragic events swiftly behind them. The assumption seemed to be that the United States was separate from the rest of the world and invulnerable to the conflicts that divide it.

That changed five years ago.

On the day of the attack, Tom Fitzpatrick of Keyport, N.J., climbed to the top of a parking garage near his office in Secaucus, N.J., after the first plane hit the trade center's north tower across the Hudson.

He saw the flash as the second plane hit, the two military jets scream down the Hudson River, and the twin towers vanish in hurricanes of dust.

"I can remember everything about that day," the 50-year-old said.

His daughter Savannah was at school. When classes were canceled, parents started to pick up their children. The mother and father of one never appeared. Both had been killed in the attacks.

"I still think about it," said Fitzpatrick's wife, Gretchen, who frequently rides the bus through a tunnel into Manhattan. "You say to yourself, `Am I going to be on the bus the day they decide to hit the tunnel?' You just never stop thinking about that. We'll never again feel 100 percent safe."

Psychologist Jennifer Lerner of Carnegie Mellon University leads a team conducting a long-range study of the emotional state of Americans since Sept. 11. The team began studying the responses of a representative sample of 1,000 Americans nine days later and has continued to track them ever since.

Everyone responded emotionally to the events in his or her own way, Lerner said. But reactions generally fell into two categories: Some people mainly felt fear, while others reacted mostly with anger.

These two groups, she said, "saw the world very differently then and respond very differently now."

Jim and Gail Miranda of Albrightsville, Pa., are among many who, in recalling Sept. 11, still express outrage.

During a late-summer visit to Baltimore's Inner Harbor, both said they refuse to be frightened or intimidated by the threat of terrorist attacks. Both applauded the stepped-up security and government vigilance.

"We were lax for years; we were complacent," said Jim Miranda, 65, as he stood outside Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, with its huge American flag flapping in the sunshine.

Like many families, they were brushed by the events of that day. Their son was supposed to attend a meeting at the World Trade Center that morning. It was canceled at the last minute. "If he had gone, he would have been dead," said Jim Miranda, a retired communications worker.

They said the Islamic world should have done more, and should do more, to stop terrorist attacks. Neither, they added, should Americans ever forget what happened that day.

"I don't think we will ever forgive, ever," said Gail Miranda, a 64-year-old nurse.

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