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An article by Baltimore writer Robert Stone published her March 8 said this about the person who bombed the World Trade Center in New York: "Or maybe he stood at the window of a mosque in New Jersey and looked at them [the twin towers of the trade center] thrusting so immodestly a thousand feet in the air . . ." Mr. Stone's original text, published in the New York Times before an arrest was made in the case, read this way: "Or maybe he stood in the window of a safe house in Queens or New Jersey . . ."

Other Voices was in error in changing the text and apologizes to Mr. Stone.

PUT yourself in the mind's eye of the bomber.

Whoever he is, it's likely he first viewed the city from the air, looked out and saw the twin towers mirroring each other's dizzying rise.

Or maybe he stood at the window of a mosque in New Jersey and looked at them thrusting so immodestly more than 1,000 feet in the air. No doubt he thought they mocked his passionate intensity.

The World Trade Center towers don't have much poetry in them. It might be harder, psychologically, to bomb one of the old cathedrals of commerce such as the Empire State or the Chrysler Building.

These seem to aspire beyond mammon. Belonging to a bygone era, they no longer challenge the world. The Michelin Guide to New York describes them in virtually archaeological terms.

The twin towers were built for an age that will probably never come to pass. They represent an ultimate reduction of the American Dream: America as home of the unadorned Economic Man -- practical, rational, powerful, even brutal.

They are the expression of an aspect of America our true-believing enemies have learned to hate and fear.

Now, as America's influence contracts, the world returns to old romances. In Europe, blood and soil are back. In what is sometimes still called the Third World, religion flourishes.

In our radical interpretation of democracy, our rejection of elites, our well-nigh demagogic respect for the opinions of the unlearned, we are alone.

Our country has been so long identified with its wealth and power that a sense seems to be growing abroad that it will eventually somehow disappear, as though we were no more than our own compulsive communicating, a media phenomenon, a pop artifact going out of style.

Although every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has denied it, we did set out, years ago, to be the world's policeman. The image was of Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeves and wading in to do the right thing.

The unheralded corollary was that we might do well by doing it. After all, the original Uncle Sam was a rather shady defense contractor.

On the international scene these days, our trumpets have

sounded slightly sour and uncertain. Our pro bono military operations have been conducted with noticeable diffidence. And this has been noticed, in friendly and unfriendly quarters.

Cops make enemies. The best cops are good diplomats, which we have not always been. The impression of weakness, even relative weakness, invites predation.

Malcolm X, exercising his customary cruel wit, called the assassination of President John F. Kennedy a case of the "chickens coming home to roost." His allusion was to the murder of President Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam in which some felt the U.S. had colluded.

The world is much smaller now than even during Malcolm's lifetime. The poor are poorer and more restless. Entire populations are on the move. The migration of the world's poor has been compared to the barbarian migrations of the fifth century A.D.

Borders are porous; in jet planes and on rafts, desperate people cross oceans.

Literally and figuratively, our cities have no walls. We have lived for a long time like ancient Rome, relying on far-flung power for defense.

To a degree we have claimed exemption from the forces of history. Now, late in "our" century, history is presenting old, half-forgotten bills.

In striking at symbols, terrorists destroy the real lives of American working people, traumatize actual American children. We will learn to cope as other nations have; we are good at coping.

Eventually few Americans will remember the country as it was before X-ray machines appeared at airports and in the vestibules of public buildings, before security guards were deployed at every other corporate door.

During the Cold War, we lived in fear of nuclear holocaust. Now we know that if a nuclear device ever goes off in an American city it will not likely come launched from some Siberian silo. More probably, it will have been assembled by a few people, perhaps in the guise of immigrants, in that safe house with a view of lower Manhattan. These days, people are dying again for their national or religious identity.

The new breed of terrorist may be those whose cause we have offended perhaps by simply being what we are.

DTC Robert Stone is author, most recently, of "Outerbridge Reach." He wrote this from Baltimore for the New York Times.


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