We often talk about terror in terms of the terrorist. We do so less in terms of the terrorized. But it was how this act changed those of us who were bystanders that made this event more awful than a mere mass murder. It was mass murder as theater and as threat.
It took months for this initial trauma to ebb, years for my psyche to regain its equilibrium. And it took me close to a decade to realize just how slickly Osama bin Laden had done his evil work, how insidiously his despicable performance art had reached into my mind and altered it, how carefully he had set the trap and how guilelessly I—we—had walked right into it.
We need to understand that 9/11 worked. It worked as a tactic to induce American self-destruction, even if it failed spectacularly as a strategy to advance Al Qaeda—and its heretical message of suicidal warfare—across the globe.