The impact on shaken confidence

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Even for those at the epicenter, the events of Sept. 11 seemed surreal. In a very limited way, we had grown used to bombs and even to carnage in our schools. Nothing prepared us for the nearly unimaginable sight of jets plowing into two of our nation's most recognizable and symbol-laden landmarks-the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Forty-eight hours later, most of us still can't quite comprehend the new shape of New York's skyline. There is emptiness where those two buildings once stood that goes far beyond physical space. It's a void that we feel in the pits of our stomachs. A wrenching reminder not just of the human lives so violently taken and of the shattered lives of those left behind, but of what we as a nation have lost.

We knew full well that America was a prime target for terrorists at home and abroad. We spoke of the possibility of chemical warfare, of bombs in government buildings and airplane cargo holds. Most of us never imagined that an entity existed that would have the organization, the funds, the resolve necessary to take on the world's most powerful nation and win. Nor did we believe that such a plot could escape the notice of our intelligence community. They did and it did, and now we are left to wonder where that leaves us.

Even if we are able to exact some measure of revenge against the perpetrators of this crime, we will be living in a different world. The '93 bombing at the World Trade Center, '95 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the bomb left at the Atlanta Olympics in '96 were all greeted with a sense of horror and fear and a common agreement that Americans would never again feel completely secure. Somehow that never came to pass. Certainly, security became tighter at places like the U.S. Capitol, but the average person lived life the same as always. Unlike people in many other countries, Americans do not routinely see heavily armed members of the military patrolling in front of banks and government offices. Nor are we subjected to particularly stringent security at our airports. In our heads, we were aware that acts of terrorism were a fact of modern life; in our hearts, we continued to feel protected by a simple but powerful faith in the strength of our nation.

And now? Now we're not quite so certain. Once the U.S. has countered this action in whatever way it chooses we may very well sink back into complacency. Or perhaps this time the visceral impact is so great that we truly will be changed. In our industry, the symbols of the United States, of our economy, our culture, are our currency. We are a nation of icons, and the meaning behind many of those icons has been altered. How quickly will we forget the image of the Statue of Liberty swathed in black smoke against a backdrop of destruction? How soon will images of New York's financial center spark associations with wealth and power rather than vulnerability?

From the end of World War II until the mid-1980s, the U.S. stood as a symbol of freedom and power-perhaps even strength and honor. Since then, we have become the target of increasing degrees of resentment, anger and derision. To some extent, that comes with the territory of being a global superpower. One can't play a dominant role in political and economic affairs without creating a few enemies. What is surprising to many Americans, however, is the negativity emanating from our friends-a byproduct, for the most part, of the export of our culture and brands.

America, long the prom queen, had been largely oblivious to-or at least willing to ignore-indications that members of her court were speaking cattily behind her back. Now she must face the reality that not everyone likes her. And maybe they have reason not to. What happened in New York and Washington on Tuesday morning was in no way a reasonable response to U.S. foreign policy. It was a violent expression of rage and resentment and hatred. And even as we vow revenge and imagine the satisfaction that will come with our ultimate victory, some Americans are taking a moment to consider whether the U.S. going forward should tread more lightly. And that includes U.S. corporations abroad. We're all vulnerable-and not just to terrorism and the plots of extremists, but to the sentiments of the people in the markets in which we trade. As Europe unifies and as Asia wields greater strength, it may behoove us to realize that we are now part of a pack-still the strongest member, but increasingly beholden to the others.

What advice should we give those whose brands are in our care?

For the moment, we can simply listen to and observe the reactions of those around us. Certainly, we can point to the probability that Americans' shaken confidence may be played out in more conservative spending and decreased leisure travel. We can acknowledge that our own industry may even serve as a scapegoat for the role it plays in globalization and the spread of excessive consumption. One would like to think that those of us close enough to witness the horror of that day would help others gain a greater sense of perspective regarding how we prioritize our lives.

In the end, what may be the greatest change is a new understanding that our national security is only as strong as Americans' sense of personal security. Freedom cannot be allowed to bow to fear.

Mr. Matathia is worldwide director of business development and Ms. Salzman is worldwide director of strategy and planning, both at Havas Advertising's Euro RSCG Worldwide, whose Manhattan office is located in the vicinity of the World Trade Center. They are co-authors of "NEXT: Trends for the Near Future."

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