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Six Months Later Americans Reflect on September 11 - 2002-03-08


Just six months ago terrorists flew hijacked passenger planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing more than 2,600 people and sparking a U.S.-led war against terrorism. Today, life in the United States seems much as it did before September 11, and yet it has also changed.

For over a month, hundreds of photographs depicting the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center have been on display in a downtown Chicago gallery. For Mary Sorenson, Ann Arbor, Michigan, they are reminders of what she has tried to block out of her mind since September. "I'd stopped watching TV afterwards, so these are the first pictures I've seen," she said. "I have not looked at any magazines or books. They [the pictures] are pretty devastating."

Six months after the attacks, which many Americans have compared to the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, some say they still don't feel any better. "It still hurts," said Jackie Reece, a visitor from Washington, DC. "It still hurts." She says she remains dismayed over the loss of life in New York, Washington, and the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, but also by what she calls a lack of understanding.

The lack of understanding is on both sides. These are people. We are all human beings," she says. "Those who were attacked are not animals and those who did the attacking, at least the culture of those who attacked, are not animals, either."

In many ways, life in the United States has returned to normal. Attendance at church services rose sharply in September and October, but is now back to pre-September levels. A national public opinion poll recently found that 35 percent of Americans thought they might become a victim of terrorism. Back in October, 59 percent expressed that concern.

However, the American landscape has changed. Security has tightened at airports where passengers can expect long delays at check in. In Chicago, some office buildings require visitors to pass through metal detectors. Others ban visitors with no appointment from even visiting the lobby.

The attacks have also changed how some people see the rest of the world. David Tynan, who was living and working in London last September, described his new frame of mind. "More resilient, more tempered, more tolerant to the world," says Mr. Tynan. He adds that living overseas showed him how little many Americans understand about other countries and cultures. "I think Americans in general, have not really opened their eyes to the rest of the world in foreign policy. I think if there is any one good thing we can take out of this, [it is] a slap across our face to open our eyes to the rest of the world."

Recent polls suggest 82 percent of Americans support President Bush's performance in office. In the days after the attacks, Mr. Bush told the country the war against terrorism would not be won quickly. Phil Shandling of Chicago says he accepts that, even if U.S. troops have to be sent into tougher combat. "In the recent few days there have been American casualties. As that continues to build, that question wavers back and forth, but I still think we have to carry out the mission as planned," he says.

Public opinion polls suggest most Americans support the military action against the Taleban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. Though support is weaker when they are asked if the United States should take unilateral action against terrorism in the future in other countries.

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