The War on Terrorism
A collection of features from The Atlantic Monthly and Atlantic Unbound.
From the archives:
"America's Heart" (February 1999)
"New York's story is the nation's ... The city was the birthplace of window shopping, American bohemia, the Associated Press, and the hot dog." Timothy J. Gilfoyle reviews Edwin G. Burrows's and Mike Wallace's Gotham.
From Atlantic Unbound:
Flashbacks: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (September 18, 2001)
Americans today are finding new inspiration in Julia Ward Howe's anthem—originally published in The Atlantic in 1862 to rally Union troops.
Flashbacks: "Coming to Grips With Jihad" (September 12, 2001)
What are the roots of Islamic fundamentalist rage against the U.S.? How did Afghanistan become a hotbed of international terrorists? Three Atlantic articles look at the origins and consequences of jihad.
Flashbacks: The Triumph of Terrorism (September 11, 2001)
Who could have perpetrated Tuesday's attacks—and why? A collection of Atlantic articles gives insight into the terrorist mind—and how the U.S. may have both inflamed and encouraged terrorist groups.
Atlantic Unbound | September 19, 2001
Ground Zero, the Day After
A pilgrimage to the "ash-covered canyon" that was once the World Trade Center
am at the foot of the
smoking wreck, Building Seven. This is ground zero, the heart of the blast
I know maybe I shouldn't be here. But after two days in the city, interviewing
families, victims, officers, and relief workers, and after having ridden the
elevator with the mayor as he returned to his command center from the wreckage
on that first night, silent, covered in soot, mouth turned down, eyes sick with
grief, something has drawn me here. There have been no reports yet from the
inside; no time in the chaos of these early hours to bear witness.
The city block is an ash-covered canyon. Buildings on either side rise silent
and black, their windows shattered. Two fire fighters on extension ladders in
front of the mountain of rubble fade in and out of vision between waves of
purple-gray smoke and hissing steam, spraying impossibly small arcs of water
across the wreckage. Water trickles beneath my feet, mingling with ash and
shards of broken glass in a gritty mud paste.
Everywhere is frantic activity: men, shirtless and sweating and covered in ash,
kneeling in mud, nailing together two-by-fours; grim processionals of helmeted
fire fighters hauling supplies in all directions; officers leading search teams
of lanky German Shepherds through the rubble; contractors in dust masks and
orange construction vests gesticulating wildly in front of giant Caterpillar
An unmarked white eighteen-wheeler stands parked by the World Financial Center
with its back doors open, two orange body bags laid out in the refrigerated
interior. Not many body bags are being brought in tonight. Those that do come
are often only half full, sagging limply in the middle. They are carried out
from the debris through a passageway that connects two of the World Financial
Passing through that dark corridor, now illuminated only by a string of
construction lights, I see testaments to quick flight: half-kneaded dough on a
sandwich-shop counter, bearing the imprints of a hand; coffee cups and
half-eaten danishes scattered across a café table; chairs pushed back in alarm.
Fire fighters drag a length of hose past red beaded party dresses in a clothing
boutique's window display. Further down the corridor, the vaulted glass atrium
over the Financial Center's enclosed courtyard has been blasted inward and is
now a small mountain of debris. But the courtyard's palm trees remain, standing
tall and whitened by ash in the dark above deserted tables and benches.
Behind the atrium, the North Cove Yacht Harbor's boardwalk is blanketed with
glass shards and singed paper. Boats, covered in debris, remain
moored to the dock, bobbing gently on the water, unperturbed by the inland
devastation. I follow a female police officer to the third floor of a nearby
building to use the toilets. There is no electricity and she leads with a
flashlight. The plumbing has been shut off too, we discover when we arrive, and
the toilets give off a stench that brings tears to my eyes.
Back outside, firefighters fan out in teams, sliding across the girders and
beams, prodding the ground, looking for bodies, guided only by the smell of
death. But the odor is everywhere, and there are many false alarms—"Got one
here, chief!"—a team descends, search dogs are brought in, a frantic
digging ensues, yielding nothing, a scrap of skin, a leg.
In the center of the debris field lie two fire engines and an ambulance—the
early response unit—crushed beneath piping, drywall, metal casings,
insulation wire, shoes, parts of water coolers, printer paper, crushed metal
garbage cans, and an endless array of reinforced steel bars.
By 5:30 a.m. many firefighters have succumbed to exhaustion and lie sprawled on
makeshift cots and chairs in the triage areas, some curled in fetal position
with dust masks still on, oblivious to the howling bulldozers not twenty yards
I, too, am tired—exhaustion has seeped in, unnoticed in the adrenaline-doped
hours of the night. My bones feel ground, my nose numb from dust and
I bike home from Manhattan into Brooklyn at midnight on Thursday, just as the
first cold thunderstorm of autumn is unleashed overhead. I ride hell-bent along
barren sidewalks through the pouring rain. For the first time in days I am
clean. There are no cars—no life anywhere. I pedal through the streets of
Brooklyn, passing the silent red brick façade of St. Mary Star of the Sea,
the church where Al Capone was christened. Through the dark twisting trees, a
yellow light shines in the vestibule, the front doors are open, and a
handwritten sign out front beckons: "Please come in, we're open."
What do you think? Discuss this article in