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EVERYTHING CHANGED - FOR A TIME.

Byline: CHRIS WEINKOPF

LOOKING back at Sept. 11, 2001, I find myself feeling oddly nostalgic - not, of course, for the day's horrors, but for the national sense of focus and determination that followed. At the time, it was widely remarked that ``everything changed'' on 9-11. And that was true, for a while.

When the images of men and women leaping to their deaths from skyscrapers still seared our souls, America became, as a nation, more serious, more patriotic, more prayerful. The worst of times had brought out the best in the national character. Trial had made us stronger, more resolute, even more virtuous. And better prepared to fight the long, unprecedented sort of war that 9-11 had triggered.

It was truly an extraordinary time. Now, not quie a year later, it seems so long ago.

Back then, there was an American flag flying from the window or pasted to the bumper of every car on the freeway.

Today the flags are mostly gone, outnumbered if not replaced by the Laker pennants that popped up during the NBA playoffs or the Raider banners that have greeted the start of the football season.

Back then, no one was afraid to publicly thank God, to call on him for strength or to cry out to him in anguish. All of official Washington gathered for a prayer service at the National Cathedral, and the ACLU didn't so much as peep in protest.

Now, at least if the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is to be believed, it's unconstitutional to recite the Pledge of Allegiance - with that insidious phrase ``under God'' - in public schools.

Back then, Americans almost uniformly applauded the president when he said that the country ``should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.'' They cheered when he declared, ``Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.''

Today, even some members of his own party refuse to support him on the next logical phase in the War on Terror, an invasion of Iraq.

Back then, it was let's roll.

Today, it's let's roll, as long as the French, Russians and Syrians are with us.

Back then, the networks feared that reality TV was dead - people had plenty of reality; they no longer craved the contrived and manipulated kind.

Today, ``Survivor'' survives, the Osbournes' dysfunction has become the new national pastime and the sight of Anna Nicole Smith sweet-talking her dead husband's ashes passes for quality entertainment. Cheap thrills at others' suffering and embarrassment remain as popular as ever.

Back then, federal officials vowed to do whatever it took to make air travel safe once again. Yet shortly thereafter, the Bush administration rejected using ethnic profiling to spot potential terrorists, and it resisted arming airline pilots until last week.

Today, all we have to show for a year of Washington's efforts are the same, inept airport screeners - now enjoying the full protection of union membership and federal civil service laws - and an undermanned, demoralized sky marshals program.

Back then, political correctness appeared dead. The national obsession with racial color-coding, word games and hypersensitivity seemed childish in a society forced into sudden maturity.

The reports of PC's death, it turns out, were greatly exaggerated. First, New York City officials tried to ``diversify'' a 9-11 memorial by recasting the races of two of the firefighters photographed raising the flag at ground zero. In May, the U.S. State Department began a program of bringing Middle Eastern imams to American shores for the purpose of ``breaking down stereotypes.''

Rest assured, PC is back.

Back then, the country was united, determined to overcome its enemies and its darkest hour. Since then, the emotions of the moment have failed to materialize into a coherent national resolve, a resolve that exceeds mere sentimentality, one that persists even when things return to ``normal'' and our attention necessarily turns elsewhere.

What would it take to make the country more like it was less than a year ago, to restore the mind-set that's needed to fight a long and arduous war? Will the mere commemoration of 9-11 be enough? Or will it require another terrorist attack, this one to shatter public denial and convince us that 9-11 was no aberration, but a mere taste of things to come?

Let's pray that it won't come to that. But unless the country can return to back then, circumstances beyond our control are sure to take us there against our will.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 8, 2002
Words:759
Previous Article:EDITORIAL STORM WATCH.
Next Article:PARK FREE AT LAX SEPT. 11.


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