An Epoch-Making Event

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On September 11, we at American Demographics were like most Americans: heartsick and incredulous over the day's events. As a monthly magazine we had long closed the October issue, which was already set to hit the presses. Still, we wondered what we could say about one of the worst massacres on U.S. soil. Should we say anything at all? The answer quickly became obvious. This was a time to acknowledge and mourn the loss of thousands of victims, and given the mission of our magazine, to try to understand the implications for American attitudes and perceptions of the seemingly inexplicable events. We therefore pulled apart our October issue and raced to report a new cover story: “What's Next?� (Page 34.)

Certain moments in history fundamentally change the way people think about their world. Like Pearl Harbor and the assassination of JFK, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have the power to transform who we think we are, what we want and how we feel. For most Americans, attitudes — and the filter through which we perceive reality — may henceforth be divided into two categories: pre- and post-September 11.

This issue of American Demographics gives readers a little of both — our attitudes before the terrorist strikes as well as insight into how public sentiment is likely to change. Our cover story is a commentary package from 24 notable authors, historians, economists, psychologists, sociologists and public opinion experts as to how this epoch-making event will alter worldviews.

Robert Hunter, former ambassador to NATO, worries whether the massacres will change “the attitude of tolerance and our acceptance of a more pluralist and multiethnic society,� warning that we may go through a period of xenophobia. George Gallup Jr., chairman of George H. Gallup International Institute, expects to see “a transformation of the human spirit and a religious renewal.� For Benjamin R. Barber, professor at the University of Maryland, the conflict places the nation at a crossroads: either we lapse into isolationism or “we embrace our interdependence,� says Barber. “We can only lick terrorism in collaboration with one another.�

Those are samplings of what we heard in the days following the attacks. The opinions are not canon, but they represent the wisdom of some of the best minds across a number of disciplines as to what we might expect in this abruptly uncertain world.

Note, however, that while the cover story was compiled after September 11, the rest of the magazine is based on polls and surveys conducted before bloody Tuesday. If the attitudes expressed in those articles seem strangely out of time, anachronistic, it's a sign of how much has already changed.

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