We're coming up on the six-year anniversary of 9/11 and, unlike previous anniversaries of the event where countless thousands of new words were spilled trying to make sense of that day and where we've come since, this one seems a little quieter and less reflective.
Partly that's the result of the presidential race and the Iraq war squeezing having a firmer hold on our attention, and partly from some kind of fatigue. Plus, it's not the first anniversary, or the fifth, or the tenth... just number six... nothing extraordinary in a news milestone sense.
Newsweek went strong on pictures in this "EXTRA EDITION" and the picture on the cover was titled, simply, "9:03 A.M. TUESDAY, SEPT. 11, 2001: Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 explodes into the World Trade Center." Take a moment and look at this cover photograph taken by Kristen Brochmann of the New York Times, CLICK IT if you want to see the full size, you saw it on the newstands, you may even have bought several copies.
Try for a few moments not to think about all that has come since and how divided our country has become, again. Remember instead how it actually seemed in the aftermath of 9/11 that we would pull together, as we have done many times before, into a united country.
Nothing like this has ever happened to America before. With chilling skill, terrorists struck at our heart last Tuesday, hijacking commercial jets, then crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- cold-blooded murder on a mass scale. The human toll is beyond imagining, the psychic costs difficult to calculate. We always thought we were safe. We were wrong.
The magazine devoted its special coverage into only four sections: IN PICTURES; AN ACT OF WAR; THE AFTERMATH and A DAY OF AGONY. After an extended spread of photographs, the opening article, "A New Day of Infamy," began with the story of Jeremy Glick on the doomed United Airlines Flight 93, a telling that has seen two versions come to film this year, one on TV, the other in theaters. But after the Flight 93 story, the article kicked in:
A victory for courage over cowardice, but forces of terror carried the day on Sept. 11, 2001. The date, like Dec. 7, 1941, will live in infamy. The audacious air assault on the political and financial capitals made a mockery of Fortress America and ended the illusion that its citizens can somehow float above the hatreds of the world. The thick clouds of smoke and dust billowing from the spot where the World Trade Center once stood were eerily reminiscent of the photographs from the Japanese attack on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor -- only the clouds were engulfing lower Manhattan, where hundreds of thousands of civilians live and work.
The coverage then goes into the differences that sixty years have brought: no enemy army to be declared war on, and a fight that will, at times, resemble one against shadows.
There's so much in this issue to contemplate. Of course it would be easy to go back and point a finger at President George Bush who famously said, "Make no mistake: The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for those cowardly acts." Even Newsweek pointed out then that it was 90% likely to be Osama bin Laden, but that finding him would be no easy task. Five years later, he is still at large, but Sadaam Hussein is in jail. It's funny what lead to what.
Jonathan Alter got to write the article that ended Newsweek's coverage. Always eloquent, he began:
Summer is over in America. Fat and happy is history, a closed chapter in our national experience. By midday Tuesday, with the surreal horror sinking in, the sense spread widely that life in the United States will change as permanently as the skyline of New York City. But change how? Despite the unspeakable carnage, maybe we shouldn't change so much after all... For the past decade, we've lived in a golden age. Peace and prosperity -- as good as it gets. Now that feels like past tense -- as good as it got. But life on a downward slope is a profoundly un-American notion. As we grieve and heal, let's not let a horrible day open a horrible era in the life of this country.
Well, the truth is, even though we said that "everything changed" on 9/11, many things have gotten back to normal. We're still obsessed with vacuous celebrities and reality shows. But the road to retribution took a left turn into Iraq and we have the same old blue/red division we had when Gore and Bush tied on election day 2000 as we head into 2008.
Maybe everything hasn't changed. I wonder if Alter got it wrong and that maybe everything should have. For what it's worth...