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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 19:47 GMT 20:47 UK
Fear and loathing in the US
Girl with red candles in German tribute
People over the world have expressed their sympathy
By BBC News Online's Nick Caistor

For many people, 11 September 2001 marks the beginning of the 21st century, the day the United States fell from its unique, privileged position.

Newspapers in the United States speak of "the end of our holiday from history", and declare the country to be at war.

The German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has called the attacks "a declaration of war against the entire civilised world".

Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi was even more emphatic: "I think this has changed the course of human history," Mrs Ashrawi said.

"It changes our global perceptions of enemies and friends, it changes the dynamic of human relations."

Global capitalism

Other commentators have spoken of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon as the "end of the post-cold war era".

For a decade, it seemed that global capitalism had triumphed- not only did the Soviet Union collapse, but the ideal of communism was seen to be bankrupt.

The United States remained as the only superpower.

It proved its vast technological superiority in wars from the Persian Gulf to the Balkans.

New York cop with sign calling for revenge
People want someone to blame for the horror
But the attacks on the symbolic centres of United States' power - the World Trade Center and the Pentagon - demonstrate its vulnerability.

Leon Fuerth, former vice-president Al Gore's national security advisor, put it this way: "We face a chronic and serious threat to our security, and in effect we must now absorb an extremely disturbing fact: it is possible to bring war to our country, notwithstanding our possession of the most mighty army, navy and air force on the planet."

Frailty

Others, such as the British writer Ian McEwan, suggest there is a deeper problem: "Our way of life, centralised and machine-dependent, has made us frail."

"Our civilisation, it suddenly seemed, our way of life, is easy to wreck when there are sufficient resources and cruel intent."

What is most difficult for people in the United States it seems, is to imagine that there could be people who hated their "way of life" so much they were willing to commit such dreadful acts.

They find it hard to accept that the people who for them are "terrorists" could be seen as "freedom fighters" by others.

This was pointed out by no less a person than Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Expressing support for the American people and offering medical aid, Mr Castro also took the opportunity to remind the United States that Cuba has been suffering from what he termed "terrorist" attacks for the last 40 years.

These attacks have been mounted by people who many in the United States see as fighting for Cuba's freedom.

Benefits

Beyond this, there is also an awareness-usually outside the United States- that economic globalisation as exemplified by the World Trade Center has brought no benefits for many millions throughout the world.

Veteran Spanish journalist Juan Luis Cebrian points out for example that: "Evil, rooted often in ideological or religious fundamentalism, finds its recruits among the disinherited, those who have nothing to lose because they have already lost everything...in the new world order."

This sense of evil being unleashed, and the helplessness of the ordinary citizen in the face of it, has also been striking in the wake of the attacks.

Evil

But although President Bush calls for prayers and speaks of a " monumental struggle between good and evil," the secular, capitalist society he represents finds it hard to discuss the question of evil and its origins.

Pope John Paul II praying
Pope John Paul II spoke of a dark day for humanity
It is left to someone like Pope John Paul II to suggest the complexity of the problem: "How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people."

"But faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail."

Time

For those who do not have faith, the best healer seems to be time.

Dr James Thompson, director of the Traumatic Stress department at University College in London, says that: "It is natural after a disaster of this sort to want to find a scapegoat as quickly as possible."

But, he says, "after an event of this sort, people imagine nothing will ever be the same again, but gradually behavioural continuity asserts itself."

"In a few years' time, people will be giving no thought to getting on planes or working in skyscrapers again."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Willis
on the reaction from America's mid-west population on Route 66
Porter Goss, Republican congressman
"The President is well entitled to call this an act of war against us"
Former US ambassador to Britain
"It is not suprising there is a depth of anger"
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