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In the new version of normal, 9/11 hovers over life in general



Published: Mon, September 11, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Many see the effect of 9/11 on society, a poll shows.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Airport trash cans overflow with toothpaste and deodorant.

Thousands of college students bend their heads over Arabic texts.

In Minneapolis, networks of sensors continually sample air for anthrax, smallpox and bubonic plague.

In Nebraska, Gov. Dave Heineman is alerted when cars with out-of-state license plates are spotted cruising cattle feedlots.

On a gravel road in rural Indiana, the Amish Country Popcorn factory makes the federal list of potential terrorist targets -- a list of 77,069.

Five years after Sept. 11, this is the new normal.

Nearly 3,000 Americans died when terrorists hijacked four planes, crashing two into the World Trade Center's twin towers, one into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania.

Residents of New York and Washington remain edgy. And those who lost loved ones, or have relatives or friends serving in the military abroad, can't help but be reminded all too often of Sept. 11.

Remarkably, though, the day-to-day lives of most Americans have changed very little. We have found it easy, perhaps startlingly easy, to stick to routines and habits and mind-sets forged before we conceived of planes as missiles.

Results of poll

Last month, the Pew Research Center polled about 1,500 adults across the country. More than 40 percent said the terrorist attacks had not changed their personal lives at all. Another 36 percent said their lives had been altered "only a little bit."

Though most Americans have seen little change in their lives, many do recognize the effect Sept. 11 had on their neighbors and on society as a whole. In last month's Pew poll, 51 percent said their country had changed "in a major way."

Those changes are not exactly what the pundits predicted in the days after Sept. 11.

Back then, President Bush publicly wrapped the top Democrat in the Senate, Tom Daschle, in a bear hug; unity in the face of adversity seemed the only possible course. But fighting terrorism proved a sharply partisan issue -- and all too susceptible to fear-mongering.

It's also become a top priority for many voters, a noted change from decades past.

Immediately after the terrorist strikes, 64 percent of Americans said they trusted their government to do the right thing all or most of the time. By the summer of 2002, that number had dropped to 39 percent.

These days, the paradigm has shifted so dramatically that 36 percent of Americans say it's at least somewhat likely the federal government was complicit in the terrorist attacks, according to a July Scripps-Howard poll.

Online film

Tens of thousands have viewed an online film that asserts a government plot to bring down the twin towers and blow up the Pentagon -- and then pin the blame on Arab hijackers as a pretext to invade the Middle East.

In the weeks after the attacks, when American flags seemed to fly from nearly every home, when nearly every marquee proclaimed "God Bless America," it would have been impossible to imagine such a dark conspiracy theory gaining such traction.

In those days, many pundits predicted Americans would turn to God in their moment of stress, and for a time, church attendance shot up. Polls showed Americans grappling with big questions about God and salvation.

The revival lasted three months.

By January, church attendance was back to normal. The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, found no movement in standard measures of faith, such as Bible reading.

So what, then, has changed since Sept. 11?

The American Civil Liberties Union has devoted huge resources to fighting Bush administration policies such as eavesdropping without a warrant on certain phone calls and imprisoning American citizens indefinitely, without charges or access to a lawyer. Those efforts have clearly resonated: ACLU membership has grown more than 80 percent, revenue has jumped 34 percent, and the group has nearly doubled the size of its national staff.




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