Amercia, before and after: What happened in 2001 |

Amercia, before and after: What happened in 2001

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) _ American editors and broadcasters named the Sept. 11 attacks as the leading story of 2001, according to a survey by The Associated Press.

The survey was replied to by 354 journalists across the United States.

Here are the top 10 stories:

1. Sept. 11 attacks.

2. War on terrorism.

3. Anthrax fears.

4. Recession in the United States.

5. Bush inauguration.

6. Execution of Timothy McVeigh for bombing of federal building in Oklahoma.

7. Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

8. U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont quits Republican Party and becomes an independent, tilting control of the Senate to the Democrats.

9. Power crisis in California.

10 U.S. tax cut.

-Terror attacks turned most other news into mere trivia

President Bush was in Florida, promoting plans to boost reading skills. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared “war on bureaucracy” at the Pentagon. Health groups were busy on the eve of “National 9-1-1 Day” — meant to raise awareness about heart attacks.

That was Sept. 10.

By late the next morning, America was a changed land, counting its dead and beginning to fashion a new set of heroes, villains, fears and preoccupations. Much of what happened in the first 36 weeks of the year suddenly seemed distant or trivial.

Just a few weeks earlier, news media had declared “The Summer of the Shark” after a handful of grisly attacks along the Atlantic Coast. U.S. Rep. Gary Condit was America’s most reluctant TV star, dogged by camera crews for months while dodging questions about his relationship with missing intern Chandra Levy.

There was trouble aplenty — or so it seemed at the time. California suffered rolling blackouts, Cincinnati endured race riots. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani grappled simultaneously with prostate cancer and bitter divorce proceedings. A man brandishing a gun opened fire near the White House.

Abroad, before Kabul and Kandahar became household names, India suffered a calamitous earthquake, Nepal’s royal family was massacred by its crown prince and Yugoslavia’s former leader, Slobodan Milosevic, was indicted for war crimes.

Even Sept. 10 — a day that now symbolizes less worrisome times — was bloody. A former security guard wanted in the slayings of five people killed himself after a hectic chase and shootout with Sacramento police. “I giveth and I taketh away,” 20-year-old Joseph Ferguson said in a video suicide note.

He was just one of many villains now eclipsed by the al-Qaida network. People like former Ku Klux Klansman Thomas Blanton, Jr., convicted in the 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls in Birmingham, Ala., and the Texas prisoners who gunned down a police officer during an escape that lasted 42 days — they’ve all faded back into obscurity.

For President Bush and the U.S. military, now popular protagonists in the war on terrorism, the pre-9/11 world was less daunting than the present but still full of pitfalls.

Bush was sworn in Jan. 20 after a near dead-heat election in which he lost the popular vote. One Cabinet nominee, Linda Chavez, withdrew amid controversy; another, John Ashcroft, faced bitter confirmation hearings before gaining the job of attorney general that now puts him in charge of the terror and anthrax investigations.

Bush’s dominant policy concerns included tax cuts and stem cells; perhaps his biggest setback was the defection of James Jeffords that tilted control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats.

For the military, 2001 had been a downright bad year. A Navy submarine struck and sank a Japanese fishing boat near Hawaii, killing nine people. A Navy spy plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter; the American crew was held for 11 days on a Chinese island. Training accidents — including an errant bombing in Kuwait and several aircraft crashes — killed dozens of soldiers and airmen.

It hadn’t been a much better year for law enforcers. The FBI uncovered a long-term spy in its ranks, and its mishandling of documents briefly delayed the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh — America’s unofficial public enemy No. 1 before Osama bin Laden assumed the role.

Like members of the armed forces, New York City’s police officers are now national heroes. But earlier in the year, the city agreed to an $8.7 million payment to a Haitian immigrant tortured in a police station bathroom, and an officer was charged with the drunk-driving killing of a pregnant woman, her son and her sister.

Even the news media benefited from an improved public image in the wake of the attacks as serious stories — often with international angles — took precedence over lifestyle features and celebrity gossip. Whether the change is lasting remains to be seen.

“One would hope that serious news has established a foothold, but I think the jury is still out,” said Carroll Doherty, editor at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

“What about China? Drugs in Colombia? The Argentine debt crisis? These are not minor stories. When the crisis subsides, what is the media going to do? And is the public going to tune in?”

Many of the characters who made their way into the spotlight during the first eight months of the year now seem like answers in a trivia contest. Among them:

–Denise Rich (socialite/songwriter who helped gain a pardon from President Clinton for her ex-husband, billionaire fugitive Marc Rich).

–Danny Almonte (overage Little League pitcher, at last report attending eighth grade in the Bronx).

–Karin Stanford (her affair with married civil rights leader Jesse Jackson produced a daughter).

–Dennis Tito (first space tourist).

–Tommy Maddox (first, and last, Most Valuable Player of the late and largely unlamented XFL).

And how many Americans remember Thierry Devaux, a Frenchman whose motorized parachute got tangled on the Statue of Liberty’s arm in August?

“It’s an artistic way for me to express myself,” Devaux said of his stunt-gone-awry.

To many New Yorkers, and hundreds of inconvenienced tourists, the artistic impulse seemed foolish at the time. But three weeks later, when other foreigners came out of the sky and turned a taller New York landmark into a killing field, anyone recalling Devaux for even an instant might have forgiven him.

-Desperately seeking normal, America trudges on

There is no pill to undo evil, no magic word to resurrect the good old days when jetliners didn’t turn into bombs and anthrax didn’t come in the mail. Since Sept. 11, America has struggled to find a new normal, one that could wrap itself around the sharp edges of terror and war.

We tried a thousand ways to adapt: We flew less and prayed more. We hoisted flags and draped holiday greens in red, white and blue. We canceled trips to Las Vegas and went to grandma’s house instead. We gave blood, wrote checks to charity and dusted off atlases to find Kabul and Jalalabad. We cried.

Day by day, we came to realize it wasn’t just the world that had changed. So had we.

One day in November, a misdelivered letter showed up in the mailbox of fitness instructor Susan Wallace. The slim envelope had been mailed from a business in Cherry Hill, N.J., to a family-support center in Trenton, N.J.

Nothing very odd there — except that Wallace lives in Olympia, Wash. She became suspicious: How had the letter made it all the way across the country? Why did it come to her? Could this be the work of terrorists?

She searched Internet directories for the addresses on the envelope but came up blank. She called directory assistance in New Jersey, but neither business was listed. Finally, she called the Olympia police, who advised her to throw the letter away.

Donning latex gloves, Wallace sprayed disinfectant on the envelope, gingerly sealed it inside two zip-lock plastic bags, then dropped the whole thing in the trash.

She felt a bit silly. “It’s highly unlikely that it was anything,” she said. “But still, I wasn’t willing to take the chance of getting anthrax. That seemed even sillier.”

Given the times, few would fault her reaction. The ruling motto: You can’t be too careful.

Americans stocked up on oil lamps, portable generators and survival books that had been gathering dust in warehouses since the Y2K scare. There was a rise in sales of firearms, such as the line of “Homeland Security” shotguns offered by the Ithaca Gun Co. “in our current time of national need.”

National Guardsmen with rifles roamed airport corridors. Security officers patrolled oil refineries. Coast Guard cutters escorted cruise ships leaving port.

Public tours were canceled at the White House and Capitol. Visitors to Mount Vernon found a guard at the front gate, searching bags. The wait at airport security points went from long to longer, and the wait at border crossings became interminable.

Not that Americans were in much of a mood to travel, anyway.

It was a time for cocooning, not venturing out. In Hawaii, tourism was off more than 30 percent in October from the year before. Nationwide, extravagant parties were out, and staying home to watch videos was in. People bailed out of diets, seeking comfort in chocolate.

Normal meant paying attention to simple things, like being alive. It meant remembering what is important: friends, family, charity, love.

“I’m hearing from my children much more than in the past,” said John Crowther, 72, a retiree in Sun City, Fla. “They want to get together more, even though they live up North.”

For some, the new normal meant defiantly clinging to old routines. “Live your lives,” urged President Bush, and people set about the task with vigor, attending football games and planning business trips as if any deviation from life-as-usual would have been a concession to the terrorists.

Dreams, however, betrayed our hidden fears.

Kelly Bulkeley, a dream researcher in Berkeley, Calif., said he was flooded with reports of nightmares, many of them juxtaposing horrific images with the ordinary: huge jetliners nudging the Earth out of orbit, soldiers marauding through suburbia, office workers unaware that their building is about to be destroyed.

“The attacks tapped into anxieties that people have been dreaming about for years: a fear of airplanes, fear of bombs, fear of tall buildings, fear of terrorist attacks,” Bulkeley said. “September 11th literally was a nightmare that came true.”

The new normal required new heroes, and there were plenty to be found, chief among them the hundreds of New York firefighters and police who died responding to the World Trade Center attack.

Their courage raised the stock of rescue workers everywhere — even in the little town of New Hope, Pa., where volunteers with the New Hope Eagle Fire Company found a newly appreciative public.

Out of the blue, people started going up to firefighters there and saying, “Thank you for what you do,” said Assistant Chief Craig Forbes. When a truck rushed to a call, motorists were quicker to pull over.

“When people see the fire department insignia, they give us a little more respect and courtesy,” Forbes said.

Even in New Hope, the specter of terrorism hovered. Firefighters’ names were removed from the fire department’s Web site — for security reasons, Forbes explained. He paid more attention to locking the firehouse door, worried that someone might hijack a firetruck.

Unlikely? Perhaps, but it was a time for unlikely things to happen. It was normal to feel vulnerable, to catch the flu and wonder if it might be anthrax. Counselors and psychiatrists were booked solid for weeks. Prescriptions for antidepressants and sleeping pills were up.

People called psychiatrist Kathleen McCarty in Tampa, Fla., with all manner of complaints: They couldn’t sleep. Crowds made them nervous. The roar of passing jets filled them with dread.

For the most part, she prescribed patience rather than pills.

“Normal does not entail having no reaction to an extremely tragic and overwhelming event,” McCarty said. “I’ve urged people to grapple with this, to look at it as a way of facing issues of good and evil.”

You’re normal, she told them. It’s the world that is strange these days.

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