(U-WIRE) NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. “We will never forget” a phrase often used to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001 can still be seen in some storefront windows in New York City, although it is not as common as it once was immediately after of the attacks. The memory of that day, however, still lingers in the minds of many.
This year marks the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, when four commercial airplanes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Since the events of that Tuesday morning, the United States has not been the same.
According to The New York Times, in a New York Times/CBS poll, “69 percent of New Yorkers polled said that they are still ‘very concerned’ about another attack on the area where they live.” Also, “New Yorkers are more fearful and more likely to think about 9/11 every day than other Americans.”
In response to the attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was created to protect United States territory from terrorist attacks and respond to natural disasters. A color-coded alert system was also created to inform American citizens of levels of security and safety in their area.
According to Angus Gillespie, a Rutgers University professor of American studies and author of “Twin Towers: The Life of New York City’s World Trade Center,” it is difficult to remain on a state of alert. Gillespie said Americans quickly became wary of the lack of information passed on to them from the government and the ambiguous color codes to identify levels of safety.
“And so there was a certain amount of fatigue that set in,” Gillespie said. “How alert can you be, and what are we supposed to do?”
The New York Times/CBS poll recorded the habits of Americans after Sept 11.
“Nearly a third of New Yorkers said that they had not gone back to pre-Sept. 11 routines, [while other Americans had] and that they were still dealing with changes caused by the attacks,” the poll said.
“I think 9/11 will always be a day an event that always gets an emotional reaction,” said Ingrid Reed, policy analyst and director of the New Jersey Project at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. “I think it is a sense of vulnerability, at a time when we were really seen as the leader of the global economy.”
Before Sept. 11, Americans were only used to seeing terrorism plots and attacks of violence occur more frequently in other countries. However, after the attacks, “terrorism” became a household name, and citizens tried adjusting to living on edge and alert.
“I think it’s going to take quite a while for Americans to adjust to the new global situation,” Gillespie said. “Israelis, for example, have been living with this for a long time, and it’s very unpleasant, but it’s the world we live in.”
Reed agreed with Gillespie’s assessment of Americans’ ability to adapt.
“We are still very capable of being shocked at violence,” Reed said. “We haven’t had it in our own country, but we’ve seen it in other countries; we see it repeatedly in Iraq or in other parts of the world.”
The lack of information given to citizens about the Sept. 11 plot and the discoveries made by the 9/11 Commission Report have given rise to distrust of the government, Reed said.
“It’s a question of ‘When will we be able to trust again?'” Reed said. “To trust government to be able to be honest, to be competent and to be honest with us about the threat. The many unknowns about 9/11 are still great even though the 9/11 Commission certainly laid it out. We haven’t really accepted a lot of the realities they presented or the recommendations.”
Gillespie said there is a great deal of room of improvement for national security.
“We have a considerable way to go to bring things up to a minimum level of security,” Gillespie said.
What concerns Gillespie is the measure of protection and security when it comes to importing cargo through seaports, transporting chemicals through railways and maintaining chemical factories.
“Very little has been done with that, and that’s a major potential threat,” Gillespie said.
Whether or not the government has been more honest with its citizens or has implemented effective ways of gathering intelligence on terror plots since Sept. 11 such as wire-tapping Americans have changed their outlook on the future of national security.
“What I think is we have become is more fatalistic and more accepting of the kinds of constraints on us,” Reed said.
After the shock of Sept. 11 wore off, Americans soon came to realize that it may not be possible to always know who the enemy is, and the United States cannot always be in charge of its own destiny, she said.
Regardless of faith in the government to protect us or lack thereof, people will still feel grief and sorrow today.
Lee Clarke, associate professor of sociology and expert on disasters, crisis and organization, said he believes distress caused by Sept. 11 will be subdued.
“The pain and the grief will still be there, but they will be muted and expressed in different ways. After all, you can’t live on the edge of a razorblade,” Clarke said.
Clarke said he believes that the tone of the day will be “respectful and appropriately mournful” but emphasizes that as time passes, grief changes form, and people must get on with their lives.
“There’s forgetting to some degree, because you can’t live in that moment, Clarke said. “You can’t let it take over your life. The community has to get back to business the business of living.”