By 8 p.m. Tuesday, the green grass of Cross Campus was transformed into a somber sea of flickering white candles. On the seventh day of the academic year, a campus of 10,000 seemed, for a moment, to engage in single, silent conversation with itself. The unspoken words, of course, were questions: how, who, why?
“We must not rush to judgment,” President Richard Levin said on the steps of Sterling Memorial Library, the impromptu handwriting on his notepad still wet. “We do not know who was responsible for these attacks, but we should remember that it was the work of individuals — not the work of a people, a race or a unified nation.”
Anger, directed at an unknown culprit, was not so easy to contain. In Washington, where the Pentagon still billowed with black smoke, there was a steady drumbeat of pledges. Pledges of justice. Retaliation. Prosecution. It was all too late and altogether unsatisfying. When thoughts of vengeance came — and come they did — they were soon dwarfed by the human iconography of the day: firemen stranded in hollowed-out buildings; airplane passengers strewn on city streets; government workers covered in blood and thick dust. The story of the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history is now the story of individuals thrust into unimaginable reaches of horror.
The tally of those who perished — in offices, in planes, on quiet city streets that, in an instant, became war zones of flying steel and glass — never came. On a day of agonizing question marks, a simple figure was hard to come by.
The obvious was said Tuesday and said often: the nation’s airline system is grossly porous to terrorists; our intelligence services woefully unprepared to handle well-planned terrorist attacks; the country unready to admit its vulnerability.
Human nature demands a culprit, within and without. We will find one in time.
Life did not go on Tuesday. It slowed, sputtered, then stopped. Yesterday was primary day in New Haven, with the stakes put into the kind of brutal perspective that left even the city’s loudest partisans speechless. Voters were lethargic, and you had to understand why. Bitter local politics went head to head with the fate of untold numbers of dead and dying. Politics, it seemed, lost.
If energy and answers were hard to find Tuesday, analogies were not. “It’s a modern version of Pearl Harbor,” lecturer Charles Hill said. But even the parallels fell flat. “This is Pearl Harbor,” law professor Harold Koh conceded, but “we don’t have a bad guy.”
The simple analysis failed when the nation discovered that its newest enemies in the post-Cold War world are not foreign armies but makeshift terrorists armed with knives, cunning and a death wish. President George Bush ’68 told Americans that “these acts shattered steel but they cannot shatter the steel of American resolve.” He neglected to note the shattering of the nation’s sense of security in an era of superpower supremacy. That will likely never be repaired.