Voice of the Times Terrorist assault creates a nation at war

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

Tuesday's attack against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and other targets will change many things in America, perhaps virtually everything about the way our society functions and protects itself.

The attack was the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century. And like the bombing of America's Pacific fleet in 1941, which brought the United States into World War II, the terrorist attacks seem likely to bring us into a new and largely undefined war, one in which the enemy is difficult to identify and deal with.

The attack will almost certainly change the way we as a nation feel about national defense, particularly our defenses against suicide bombers and death squads like those who took control of airliners in flight and crashed them into two of the nation's highest-profile buildings.

Many thousands were killed and injured, more than in some of the nation's most historic wartime battles. And millions of people, both here and abroad, were stunned as they watched on live television as the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, crushing an untold number of trapped office workers and emergency personnel working in and around the building to rescue them.

The psychological damage of Tuesday's events is, for now, incalculable. One thing seems certain, that all those who work in public safety everywhere in the nation must be on a heightened alert for an indefinite period. And national security agencies will be under extreme pressure to counter new threats and to track down those responsible for this dastardly plot.

The attacks created an eerie effect on Alaska. In Anchorage, with all airports shut down, the skies were clear of all but military aircraft, an unprecedented scene in one of the nation's most aviation-minded cities. Military bases went on high security, resulting in miles-long traffic jams as military personnel and civilian employees tried to report for work. In Anchorage, government and civilian buildings were evacuated, employees sent home and meetings canceled.

Many have expected a terrorist attack against domestic American targets for some time. The good news, if there is any good news about this horrible event, is that it did not involve a thermonuclear device, delivered either by airborne missile or some surface delivery system. That remains a possibility, one that the nation's security agencies must take seriously.

Will America become, like Israel, an armed society under permanent siege? Hopefully the answer to that will be ''No.'' But the war against terrorists is now joined. Where it goes from here is impossible to predict.

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