Last Friday's Chicago Tribune featured brief responses to Tuesday's catastrophe from a wide range of Americans. Daniel Creson, an anthropologist and professor of psychiatry, behavioral sciences, and public health at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, made an observation that I have heard again and again in the wake of the terrorist attack: "There has been this myth on the part of Americans that our world is different, safer, that we stand apart from the rest of the world. Now we have been brought into the world." Many commentators have said we thought we were invulnerable.

As I have read and heard those words, I have wondered who "we" is. I was born in 1948, and my brother (two and a half years younger) and I were part of the first TV generation. Some of my earliest memories of television are of the World War II documentaries that were then ubiquitous. Needless to say, these carefully edited films did not show the full horrors of war, but nonetheless its reality was imprinted indelibly on my mind. I knew that America had won the war, yes—a victory my brother and I reenacted many times—but at a level below articulation I also knew that vast, incomprehensible forces could be unleashed as they had been in the world just a few years before I was born.

And it was not as if America had no enemies in the postwar world. Movies (on TV again) and stories introduced me to the shadowy world of communist spies intent on undermining America from within. It was fashionable for a long time, in the wake of McCarthy's excesses, to mock the fears of communist infiltration. We know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that those fears were well-grounded. Certainly they did not bespeak a sense of invulnerability.

And then there was ...

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