Consequently, although it was not necessary for it to be so, there was much complacency and insouciance in the air. Maybe it is human nature, or maybe it is more specific to American culture, but traditionally, America has had a problem "with preparing for new and different threats, a syndrome which usually requires first the suffering of a murderous attack before taking effective action."2 Pearl Harbor was a prime example. September 11 too has many features in common with Pearl Harbor: "The horror and surprise of 9/11 was reminiscent of Pearl Harbor. This time it was not an attack against US forces deployed at the periphery of continental United States, but against significant symbols of U.S. power."3 The impact of 9/11 may in fact have gone much deeper into the American psyche than any thing that happened in the past. It may have forever changed how American people, as opposed to the Government, viewed the issue of national security. "Everyday Americans, especially those who in the past have favored social spending or individual rights over security and defense," began to get seriously concerned about "what the potential magnitude and effects of future attacks might be."4 Ever since, there has been a growing awareness that adequate preventative measures are vital to foil terrorist attacks that identify and exploit vulnerabilities of the American nation. The 9/11 disaster "vaulted preparing for terrorism from an issue with occasional attention but low visibility overall to an issue of national prominence and high priority."5
On 9/11 itself, the nation had a rude awakening from a long but uneasy slumber. In theory, the government as well the people knew about the escalating threat from terrorism, yet in practice, the government utterly failed to thwart a very simple and straightforward terrorist agenda, and the people had not been considerably worried until the images of mammoth imploding twin towers shook the ground beneath everyone's feet. In theory, as the 9/11 commission report put it, by September 2001, "the executive branch of the U.S. government, the Congress, the news media, and the American public had received clear warning that Islamist terrorists meant to kill Americans in high numbers."6 But in reality, the message did not really sink in. As the commission report rightly and frankly acknowledges, the most important failure of American leaders (as well as of the American people) was that they did not realize "the gravity of the situation." It was, above all, "a failure of imagination."
The relatively carefree attitude, which was one of the chief reasons for the particular nastiness of the surprise that people experienced in the aftermath of 9/11, was bolstered by a primary psychological outcome of the end of the Cold War era, which was that the people of America became overconfident. During much of the Cold War decades, America and Russia were continuously poised on the brink of the total annihilation. Except for today's teenagers, most Americans had lived through the nightmare of the Cold War - and emerged unscathed. This phenomenon naturally, although unreasonably, engendered a false sense of confidence in the American mind, even if only at a subconscious level. There had not been a single 'hot' incident throughout the entire length of the Cold War period,