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Americans resilient after tragedy

– A dozen years ago, when the towers fell and the oceans no longer kept Americans safe from attack, Wade Dauberman was only an eighth-grader, but he was old enough to feel the widespread panic and fear, as well as the sense of unity and purpose that followed.

This time, Dauberman says, there is no panic, not even much shock. But on Sunday morning, he led a couple of hundred runners in an impromptu marathon in his home town of Melbourne, Fla. – a tribute to the victims of the Boston bombing that he felt compelled to offer because “I feel like I knew all 27,000 runners, and I just need to come together with people to show who we are.”

In 2001, Fawaz Ismail kept his northern Virginia flag shop open night after night until midnight, giving away hundreds of flags and flag pins, ministering to the grief of the people with whom he had come to share a country.

Last week, sales at Alamo Flag were up 20 percent, but there was no crush of customers. This time, Ismail found himself not bound up in common cause with his fellow Americans, but wondering what the country has learned in nearly 12 years of living with the prospect of terror.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans largely agreed that everything had changed. A broad consensus quickly emerged that to secure the nation, some freedoms had to be sacrificed.

But then came years in which, despite warnings from intelligence officials that terrorism would certainly strike at home again, plot after plot was foiled, and no attacks were carried out.

Now that the inevitable has occurred, the impact of evolving attitudes toward terrorism is beginning to come clear as Americans react to the Boston bombing with sadness and anger but also with resilience and confidence.

Despite wall-to-wall coverage of the situation in Boston by the news media, TV ratings were nowhere near the levels sustained after the World Trade Center attacks, and although most Americans say they tuned in to the coverage, a Washington Post poll shows just 38 percent following the events “very closely.”

The poll, conducted Wednesday and Thursday evenings, also shows a far more muted public reaction to the bombing than the 2001 terrorist attacks. In 2001, most Americans – 53 percent – said they had changed their daily activities because of the attacks; only 6 percent said so last week. Similarly, 49 percent of those surveyed after Sept. 11, 2001, said they had difficulty concentrating on normal activities because of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; only 9 percent reported that kind of impact last week.

The Boston bombing was, of course, of a wholly different order from the Sept. 11 attacks, not only because far fewer people were killed, but also because the 2001 terrorism was a shock to the nation like nothing had been since Pearl Harbor.

“On Sept. 10, 2001, the notion that there might be terrorism on our soil was totally unexpected to virtually all Americans,” said Roxane Silver, a psychologist at the University of California at Irvine who studies how Americans responded to terrorism in 2001 and since. “The scale is really important, and so is the fact that people witnessed the events of Sept. 11 in real time – the towers falling, the second hit, all on live TV. People who see the attacks live responded very differently both physically and mentally in the weeks that followed.”

In interviews across the country, many Americans said the Boston bombing, though enraging and unsettling, wouldn’t tear the fabric of life as the attacks on New York and the Pentagon did.