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Americans Are Just Not Used To This - 2001-09-16

Americans are just not used to this--to attacks by suspected international terrorists inside the United States. They've experienced the horror of domestic terrorism, isolated violent acts by Americans, like the attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City.

And with the comfort of being an ocean away, they're used to watching scenes of terrorist attacks elsewhere. It happens in other places, they say, not here. But now it has happened here, to an unimaginable extent.

Mary Riley, at Washington's Reagan National Airport to retrieve luggage, couldn't believe the Pentagon was the target of a terrorist attack. "I used to work for the Department of Defense and I just thought they were burning more classified information because, you know, they have a depot right next to the pentagon, where they burn everything and these big things of smoke go up,” she said. After the attacks in New York and Washington, Americans saw their much-valued freedom of movement restricted and limited.

Air traffic over U.S. airspace was frozen for several days, the first time that happened in American history. Thursday, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced some airports were reopening, but with new, stringent safety measures. New York's Wall Street, and the financial might it symbolizes, has been closed for days since Tuesday's coordinated attacks, the longest trading shutdown since the Great Depression.

There was more for Americans to absorb--U.S. lawmakers leaving the U.S. Capitol briefly, returning to work Wednesday, federal agencies briefly evacuated, aircraft carriers deployed offshore, National Guard troops patrolling the nation's capitol.

It was a lot to absorb. Americans are just not used to this. President Bush, all too aware of this, repeatedly appeared on national television to assure a shocked nation. "This will require our country to united, in steadfast determination and resolve. Freedom and democracy are under attack. The American people need to know we're facing a very different enemy than we've ever faced,” he said.

But despite those presidential words of leadership, there was no immediate remedy for the shock and disruption, the profound loss of life, and the heart-breaking personal stories. And it will take time for Americans to accept the carnage, the sheer magnitude of the carnage.

Some had to dispassionately accept it. It's their job. "Head trauma, all blunt trauma, assorted trauma, head trauma, broken bones, broken legs, broken arms, crush injuries, those sort of things," said one doctor, describing attack victims he had seen.

But for a generation of young Americans, this is the stuff of nightmares.

Americans are just not used to this.