Review

After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era

by Steven Brill



"The terrorists' goal is fear, not conquest," states Steven Brill
in his treatise on the attacks on America in September 2001. "If
terrorists can convince enough people to be scared because their
government hasn't figured out how to deal with any number of
threats at the same time, they win. Yet from a political point of
view, if he or she alarms people so much by talking about all the
threats and making the price of addressing them so onerous in terms
of freedom, cost, and convenience, the terrorists win that way,
too."

AFTER: How America Confronted the September 12 Era is the story of
how the nation banded together and fought those fears. In the dark
days that followed what will be forever remembered simply as
"9/11," millions of people, Americans and non-Americans, wondered
how life could ever return to normal. But in Steven Brill's
commendable book, readers will learn how quickly attempts were made
to get the nation back on track.

Of course, the focus that day was on the victims who perished or
were injured in the horrific attacks. The days that followed were
filled with palpable sadness and mourning. Jews traditionally have
a seven-day period of mourning, after which it is time to get on
with life.

Brill, founder of The American Lawyer and former editor of
Brill's Content, reports in painstaking detail the efforts
made by New York and America, through a handful of examples, to do
just that --- the widow, reluctantly giving in to the inevitability
of her husband's death; the long-time shopkeeper who lost
everything, wondering what to do next; the businessmen on both
sides of the insurance table, anxious to rebuild on the one hand
and trying to avoid massive payouts on the other; the New York
senator trying to get the most available aid for his battered city;
the ACLU lawyer, seeking to keep mass hysteria from infringing on
the civil rights of those who might become targets of persecution
simply because of their nations of origin; the airline official,
whose entire industry is already down dramatically, looking for
assistance to avoid total collapse in the face of lost business and
potential lawsuits; and the Red Cross worker, trying to maximize
assistance to victims of 9/11 while juggling political
sensitivities.

Unfortunately, there are always those looking to capitalize on such
a situation, whether they seek financial, social or political
glory. "[I]t is pointless to try to gauge the mix of 'selfish' or
'selfless' motivations at work. We live in a society that depends
on both," writes Brill in the book's epilogue.

The sum of AFTER is an amazing collection of research and yet it
remains a human story, rather than cold facts and figures.
Congressmen cry along with family members, while the phrase "I feel
your pain," often considered a joke thanks to the previous
Administration, takes on real meaning.

The reader also gets a sense of the enormity of planning to re-seed
a new financial infrastructure where the World Trade Center once
stood. To do less, to sit and brood for an extended period, despite
the unparalleled depths of anguish, would be to grant an even
larger sense of victory to the madmen behind the attacks.

Brill's brilliant analysis ends with a note of hope: "Although
American freedoms and the legal system that protects its people
have been tested and even changed, Americans are still
fundamentally free."

Brill concludes: "The American people and the American system have
been as resilient as ever. Even as the nation changed, it
prevailed, because its people remained fundamentally the same ---
motivated enough and tough enough to pursue the same mix of
self-interest and public interest in the same spirited, open arena
that, since its beginning has been the source of America's enduring
strength."

AFTER does not make for emotionally pleasant reading. With the
first real test of that national grit since December 7, 1941 ---
another date to remember --- it is, nevertheless, important
reading. It reminds us how far we have come and how much farther we
have yet to go.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (ronk23@aol.com) on January 20, 2011

After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era
by Steven Brill

  • Publication Date: April 7, 2003
  • Genres: Current Events, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743237099
  • ISBN-13: 9780743237093