If You Want To Humble An Empire

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LYLE OWERKO / POLARIS

(15 of 20)

In Chicago, Steve Bernard was huddled around the TV with colleagues on the 36th floor of Chicago's Sears Tower, shortly after 8 a.m., watching the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center after the first attack. When the second plane hit, bewilderment at a faraway spectacle turned into a much more personal, creeping panic. The Chicago staff of the Piper Jaffray investment firm suddenly redirected their gazes toward the windows, quietly searching for jets on their own horizon. The 110-story Sears Tower, even taller than the World Trade Center, is the tallest building in the U.S.; a vulnerable target. Bernard's wife called him and insisted he come home. Within an hour, the building was evacuated.

Across the country, houses of all kinds of worship filled with grieving Americans singing America the Beautiful, wiping away streams of tears. "Humanity came apart in lower Manhattan today, and each of us is wounded. We mourn the loss of our innocence," declared Rabbi Gary Gerson at Oak Park Temple, a Reform Jewish congregation outside Chicago. "Terror has struck us, but it will not destroy us. Now we are all Israelis," he added.

Indeed, there were many Americans who refused to be intimidated by the tragedy, rightly or wrongly. They were reassuring, if not necessarily reasonable. The order to close the U.S. Courthouse in Little Rock, Ark., came shortly before 10 a.m., and it was promptly heeded by everyone except a solitary federal district judge. There sat Henry Woods, age 83, his lined face framed by a mane of white hair, beneath a replica of the seal of the U.S. Around him, at his insistence, a jury and lawyers carried on in a damage suit stemming from, of all things, a 1999 American Airlines crash. "This looks like an intelligent jury to me," Woods said, explaining his refusal to grant a mistrial to the defense after getting word of the disaster. "And I didn't want the judicial system interrupted by a terrorist act, no matter how horrible."

If people all over the country had a sense of being suddenly at war — chat boards on Yahoo filled up with people wanting to volunteer for military service — it was with an enemy they could not see and not easily touch.

Meanwhile the U.S. government reassembled and mobilized. Secretary of State Colin Powell cut short his trip to Latin America to return to the U.S. By midafternoon, members of Congress were calling on their leaders to summon a special session, to show the world the government was up and running. About half of the Senate convened in a conference room at the Capitol Hill Police Station to hear from their leaders — some to vent their outrage at President Bush. Both Democrats and Republicans wanted to know, Where is he? Why isn't he here? Why isn't he in New York? Why isn't he talking to the country? The answer: Bush had been told by the Secret Service, the military and the FBI that it was not yet safe to return to Washington. Only 24 hours later, after absorbing a wave of criticism for his delayed return, did aides claim there had been "credible evidence" that the White House and Air Force One were targets.

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