Nation prepares for a Monday morning unlike any other

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The Independent Online

Monday Morning. No two words better sum up the resumption of dreary routine after the weekend break, but this Monday morning will be quite unlike any other in modern US history.

Theoretically, it will be when the normal rhythms of American life reassert themselves – when the stock markets reopen, when the innocent entertainment of baseball and other professional sports is again available after unprecedented shutdowns. Planes, admittedly half empty, are again filling US skies.

Five days after the event, the shattered, smoking southern end of Manhattan is part of the new American reality. The military has withdrawn from the streets around the White House – if not from the skies above – and Americans, however warily, are going about their business. Schools are back on normal schedules.

But the shadow of tragedy hung unbearably heavy over the weekend. Sombre television programmes, no baseball, no college football, not even NFL football (which did not cancel its Sunday programme in 1963, two days after the assassination of President Kennedy).

A small box on the front page of Sunday's familiarly bulky issue of The New York Times captured perfectly the extraordinary moment. Noting that some sections had been printed before the terrorist attack: "The Times regrets that some references to events, and the tone of some articles and advertising is inconsistent with the gravity of the news."

From Hollywood to main street, in every conversation, frivolity has been out. As the sports writer Tony Kornheiser wondered plaintively in The Washington Post: "When it will be all right to play the games again – that's all they are, games to get our minds off the weighty issues. I want to know when it's going to be all right to laugh again. When can I start writing funny? Who's the arbiter of that ?"

In theory, it will be this Monday, but it cannot truly be so. Wall Street's re-opening is a minor technological miracle. What emerges there, and from the economic data that the Government will start cranking out anew from today, will determine whether the country is in fact in recession. As Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, implied yesterday, the aerial suicide bombings might already have triggered that recession. If the second quarter growth of 0.2 per cent is revised down below zero, and the third quarter comes in negative, as it surely will after the disruption wrought by the terror attacks, then the technical definition of a recession will have already been met.

Take just the commercial airlines, the transport glue holding the US together. They are losing $400m (£272m) a day, it was estimated yesterday. And almost everyone of them is facing bankruptcy. And where the airlines lead, the hotel, entertainment and catering industries will surely follow. Some "Monday morning as usual."

The deeper questions remain too, of the new trade-off between safety and personal liberties that Americans have taken for granted in a country they presumed inviolable from abroad. If the former is to be preserved, then people accept that there will have to be some curtailment of the latter.

In Washington, meanwhile, there is one enduring local symbol that this Monday morning is different. Reagan National Airport has always been a huge bonus for its residents, just three or four miles from downtown, and making the traveller feel he can almost touch the White House or Capitol on take-off or landing.

And that is the point. The view is too close-up, the consequences of the possibility of some other terrorists seizing an incoming or outgoing plane at National are too terrible to contemplate. Of all the airports in the country, National stays closed – some say indefinitely.