What If Sept. 11 Had Never Happened? Assume the Sept. 11 attacks had failed. Would U.S. troops be in Iraq? Who would be president? Would another attack have materialized? Where would we stand as a member of the community of nations?

What If Sept. 11 Had Never Happened?

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

As the nation approaches the fifth anniversary of 9/11, many of the same solemn questions lie before us about preparedness, grief, national security, and who we are as a people. The Pentagon has been repaired. In New York, there's still an enormous hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood. Long and difficult wars continue in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's been a series of subsequent attacks in Madrid, London and Bali to name just a few, and several more plots that were disrupted.

We now frame elections, foreign, domestic and military policies in the context of the post-9/11 world, but how would we see the world today if the attacks never happened? New York magazine turned the usual 9/11 questions on their head.

In its August 21st edition, the magazine imagined a world in which the day that changed everything never happened. Editors posed that premise to thinkers, writers and politicians, from the Rev. Al Sharpton to Tom Wolfe to French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Today we'll talk with the editor of that collection and with some of the contributors, and we want to hear from you. What would be different if there had been no 9/11? Was some kind of attack inevitable? Would George Bush have been reelected? What would we be writing and thinking and talking about? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Later in the hour, screenwriter, author and New Yorker Nora Ephron on the ravages of age and how to laugh about them, and we read about your letters. But first, if - what if 9/11 had never happened?

We begin with John Heilemann who writes The Power Grid column for New York magazine and edited this collection. He joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. JOHN HEILEMANN (Columnist and Editor, New York Magazine): Hi.

CONAN: And I guess we have to begin, as you and several contributors noted, with 3,000 people who would be alive today.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, that's certainly true, and it's a sobering fact. Of course, it's brought back to us every year when this anniversary comes around.

CONAN: Yeah. How did you come to this idea of this counterfactual history?

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, I think - I mean, as you said, Neal, a second ago, I mean it's natural with the anniversary coming around, this fifth anniversary coming around, to try to ask the question which is, you know, how has the world changed, how has the country changed, and how - and from our more narrow, local perspective, how has the city changed? And that question is kind of a question that comes up, you know, every day here, but more on the anniversary than normal.

But we thought it would be an interesting and more provocative way to go about it would to be the ask the question in the reverse and to kind of, you know, ask for these counterfactual histories as a way of kind of trying highlight what really had changed and what really hadn't, and try to kind of get at some of the conventional wisdom and unearth some of the kind of, you know, subtle assumptions about how much really had and hadn't changed.

CONAN: How did you decide who got to write some of this counterfactual history?

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, I wish I could say that it had really very much to do with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HEILEMANN: The assignments were made really from levels above my head. But we turned to, you know, people that we felt had been important voices either in terms of thinking about New York itself over a long period of time, someone like Tom Wolfe...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HEILEMANN: ...and then we looked to people - you know, one of the lead pieces in the magazine is Andrew Sullivan's piece on where we would be - his sort of counterfactual present. He's written a blog-style account of what would be happening right now if 9/11 hadn't happened. And, you know, Andrew obviously has been an important voice in writing about the war on terror and on everything in terms of American foreign policy and security since 9/11.

CONAN: And, of course, your contributors all take their own vantage points. There's no set history or counterfactual history that you've laid out that they contribute to. They each have their own ideas. I found it fascinating that two different ones decided - included in their short essays different films from Oliver Stone that he would be making today.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Yes, that's right. And that's exactly right what you said a second ago, which is that we gave nobody - we gave really no assignments to people and sort of said that they had to write from any particular perspective. We sort of let people be either as imaginative or as close to the facts as they wanted to be. And so we got some very kind of almost novelistic kind of fictional accounts like Andrew's and some that were much more nitty-gritty.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Did any surprise you?

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, I think that - for me at least, that the overarching thing that surprised me more than any of the particular things that surprised me -although I could talk about those - but the overarching thing was the extent to which so many people did argue that the world would actually not be as different as we assume.

I mean there's this assumption of course that 9/11 did change everything, and that was the rhetoric that we heard around it at the time of the event - that nothing would ever be the same.

And in particular with respect to the city, there were a number of people who argued that in fact we would be very much where we are now, that the larger forces that have changed the nature of New York - the rising (unintelligible) quality and the real estate boom and the decreasing crime - that these things that shape our lives here in New York most fundamentally, those things wouldn't be very different at all.

And at the same time on the grand kind of geo-strategic level there were also a lot of people who argued, look, you know, there was going to be a war on terror one way or the other, and the question was not whether but when. And so the -that we would be engaged in this kind of long twilight struggle against terror and Islamic jihad was not something that 9/11 ushered in, but rather it just -it was - the question wasn't whether it would happen, but when it would happen. Whether it was 9/11 or 9/12 or 9/13, it was inevitable.

CONAN: We want to get listeners involved in the conversation. What would have -what would the world be like today if 9/11 never happened? 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And Brianna(ph) starts off. Brianna's calling us from Vancouver, Washington.

BRIANNA (Caller): Hi, I was working at a credit union in Washington at the time that 9/11 occurred and worked there. I'm now a stay-at-home mom. I worked there up until about a year ago. But at the time, we used to be really member-focused, and people could come in off the street and get an account, not a problem. But after the fact, we had to hire people specifically to make sure we stayed in compliance with the things that had changed. And some of the other smaller credit unions in the town where I lived actually went out of, like, went into the negative because they could not keep up with all the regulations.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

BRIANNA: And so it's placed a strain on some of the smaller financial institutions, and I'm sure there's a lot of other businesses that have to comply with these same checks or background checks of customers. Even - I know car dealerships now have to make sure they're not selling to a terrorist.

CONAN: Yeah, this sort of informal, internal security structure, John Heilemann.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Yeah, that's exactly right. I mean certainly that's true, and there are things that, you know, we all obviously go through that are different now in terms of airport screening. Those small inconveniences in daily life are pervasive in a way now that they obviously weren't. That's one thing that clearly has changed.

If you go around the country, it's also the case now that it's very hard to get a driver's license, for instance, in America now without a Social Security card, which never used to be the case.

So on the kind of - on the most quotidian level, there are like thousands of ways in which 9/11 clearly has changed our lives. And if it hadn't happened, we might still be cruising along and having a little bit less encumbered bureaucratic existence.

CONAN: Brianna, thanks very much.

BRIANNA: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's talk to one of the contributors now: Ron Suskind. He's a Washington author and journalist. His latest book is The One Percent Doctrine, and he joins us on the phone from his office. Nice to speak with you.

Mr. RON SUSKIND (Journalist; Author, The One Percent Doctrine): Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: You buck some of the conventional wisdom. A lot of the people in this piece say, well, the one thing that would have happened is we would not be in Iraq. You say we might be in Iraq anyway.

Mr. SUSKIND: Well, I think I'm a factual offering to this counterfactual exercise. It's clear from my reporting actually in The Price of Loyalty - a book that came out in 2004 - that from the very first National Security Council meeting in January of 2001 that it was all about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

I've reported about internal classified documents about a political/military plan for a post-Saddam crisis in Iraq. And through the spring of 2001 there were significant plans, action plans - we've always wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein - but these were real action plans in that period as to what we would do once we possessed, owned Iraq.

So what was interesting is that from that point forward it was a matter of how to move forward against a rogue state like Iraq. And the thinking, interestingly, is a bit of an echo of what we're hearing now in terms of Iran and North Korea.

From the very start, the administration was very concerned about the growth of weapons of mass destruction among rogue states. They said essentially there's no way to stop it. Much of it's carried on civil technology. We need to essentially create new rules of the game, if you will, and we need a demonstration model.

Saddam Hussein, it was decided, would be that demonstration model to show states the risks of challenging the U.S. And obviously it has turned into something that essentially is demonstrating the limits of U.S. power.

What's interesting is the 9/11 sort of addition to the Iraq conversation inside the administration was really one of integration after 9/11, and there was talk of this global war on terror. The challenge for the policymakers, for the president on down, was how to integrate these two rather separate things: Iraq and the larger global war against transnational terrorists. It's really quite different.

That integration of course is the run-up to the Iraq War that is so controversial. And now I think we're seeing much of the relationship between Iraq and the larger battle is a catalytic relationship, like gasoline on fire, that Iraq seems to be stoking essentially the growth in recruitment of jihadists and in some ways multiplying our problem of what we're really talking about here, which is how to fight terrorists.

CONAN: Another thing you speculate about is if 9/11 had never happened, other plots might have succeeded. For example, the plot that was allegedly broken up just last month in London to blow up 10 aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr. SUSKIND: Yeah, certainly 9/11 created a kind of heightened awareness and a heightened vigilance in America. And we did have some successes, especially in the first two years. I think this is something that is really quite important to note. We were making headway prior to the Iraq campaign. That really undercut much of the successes, especially in terms of human intelligence. That's what broke that London plot. A person came forward, cooperated with British authorities.

After Iraq went south for the United States in 2003 and in 2004, our human intelligence has really withered. Folks just - even if they're aggrieved as to what the jihadists are doing, saying that's not my religion, they're very hesitant to approach U.S. authorities at this point.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SUSKIND: And I think that's a real key issue as to, you know, ultimately how do you fight and win this kind of - new kind of war?

CONAN: Any advice on that in 30 seconds?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SUSKIND: Thirty seconds? You know, I think we need a coordinated strategy. Right now many of these variant, demonstrative, militaristic positions of the United States is sort of a right hand undercutting with the left hand, the kind of quiet battle against these terrorists groups, you know. We're working across purposes, Neal, and a coherent strategy doesn't do that. And ultimately, in some ways I think we're less safe now than we were on September 12th. I don't think there's anyone who disputes that in the know who actually fights the war.

CONAN: Ron Suskind, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Mr. SUSKIND: My pleasure.

CONAN: Run Suskind is a Washington author and journalist. His latest book is The One Percent Doctrine. He joined us from his office here in Washington, D.C, and of course he's among the contributors to the New York magazine article, or series of articles, What If 9/11 Never Happened? A counterhistory.

More of your calls on this question when we come back from a short break. If you'd like to e-mail us, our address is talk@npr.org. The number to call is 800-989-8255. I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. With the fifth anniversary of 9/11 a week away now, we're trying to imagine a world without the attacks. New York magazine did that for us in an issue and posed the question to writers, politicians and thinkers.

Today we're asking you what if 9/11 never happened? If you'd like to send us an e-mail, the address is talk@npr.org. Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Our guest is John Heilemann. He writes The Power Grid column for New York magazine and edited the collection What If 9/11 Never Happened? Let's get another caller on the line. This is Chris Anderson(ph), Chris calling from Phoenix, Arizona.

Mr. CHRIS ANDERSON (Caller): Yes, sir. Thanks for having me on the show. I actually just wanted to make a general comment. I'm 26 years old, recently graduated from college. And kind of my observation was kind of a unifying effect that 9/11 had on my generation. And I kind of wondered what your guest's thoughts were on, you know, these tragedies such as 9/11 or, you know, the Vietnam War and what kind of effect that had - what kind of societal effect...

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. ANDERSON: ...they have on a generation. And I'll go ahead and take my comment off the air.

CONAN: Okay, Chris, thanks for the call. It's interesting, one of your writers speculated that we'd be just talking about the same kind of trivia we talked about before 9/11.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Yeah, that's right. Well, and there's certainly a reasonable chance that that's true. It is interesting the caller points out, you know, that there was a unifying effect. And of course we all experienced that after -in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

But, you know - but I think that as you read through this collection you also note that, you know, clearly in after that - kind of the immediate aftermath of the event, you then had an extremely, extremely divisive election in 2004 that was driven primarily by 9/11-related national security issues.

And generationally(ph) speaking, I mean I think we have what most people would agree is a kind of highly polarized electorate where people are - have not been in fact brought together by 9/11 but have in fact been split further more and more deeply along ideological and partisan lines than ever before.

I mean a lot of the pieces in our collection, you know, do point out that whether - that even if you believe that we would still be in a war on terror and even if you believe that we would still be talking about a lot of the same trivialities that we were talking about before and that New York City hasn't changed very much, one place in which 9/11 had a huge effect was obviously in terms of the national political discourse.

And if you look at 2004 election, it is pretty clear that we were going to have a recession in - regardless of 9/11, the recession had started. The stock market had crashed, and we would have likely have had a very - an election in 2004 in which the economy would have been at the center of the conversation in the absence of 9/11. And that would have been a very different kind of election for George Bush than one that was driven by national security...

CONAN: And for the Democrats as well.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Indeed. And one where, you know, as everyone now can - it gets hard to remember given the swift boating of John Kerry - but a large part of the reason why the Democrats chose him was because of his ostensible credibility on matters of national security because of his war-hero record. You could very easily have had a campaign that was driven primarily by matters of the economy with George Bush facing off against Dick Gephardt or against maybe even Al Gore for a second time.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's talk now with Dahlia Lithwick. She's Slate senior editor and legal correspondent, as well as a legal analyst for NPR's DAY TO DAY. She joins us today from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. DAHLIA LITHWICK (Senior Editor, Slate Magazine): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: One of the things you do is cover the Supreme Court, which has - of course has been obsessed over the past five years with questions of the limits of executive power, particularly in times of war. And I wonder, would - you write that in a way a lot of those same questions would still be coming up.

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, I think, you know, it partly presumes what I think Ron Suskind was just saying, which is that we would have been in a war. In other words, I think you have to make that second leap, which I'm willing to make I think as well, that, you know, 9/11 plus Iraq is the reason we're having these conversations now, not just 9/11 in a vacuum.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LITHWICK: But I do think that - and the point I wanted to make is that the lawyers in the Bush administration long before 9/11 happened sort of had in their minds that it was done deal that they were going to sort of recalibrate some of the legal regimes that had evolved post-Watergate. They were going to try to re-empower the president. They were going to try to cut away congressional power and some judicial oversight.

And I think, you know, in many of the collections in the New York magazine collection say this. But I think that it was inevitable, with or without 9/11, with or without even the war, that we were going to see some of the changes that happened anyway in the law. Because it seems to me at least that this was an administration that came in saying that, you know, post-Nixon, post-Watergate, the executive branch had really sort of become sort of laboring behind a too-strong Congress and a too-strong Court and that needed to change, with or without 9/11, with or without the war.

CONAN: And interestingly you suggest that some of the president's nominations to the Supreme Court might have been a little different, too.

Ms. LITHWICK: I believe that's so, absolutely, Neal. I really do feel that a lot of the conversations we had during the Alito, the Roberts, and even the Harriet Miers nominations about abortion and privacy and stare decisis and Griswold versus Connecticut were just red herrings, that the president nominated all three of those people for one reason only and that was he needed people who had his view, who shared his view of executive authority, particularly in wartime.

I think if there had not been a war and if there had not been these attacks, he might have been much more inclined to sort of focus on the culture wars, focus on abortion, focus on gay marriage. Those were the sorts of issues I think he cared about a lot until the issue that he cared about more came along and that was, as I said, having this very, very strong, almost unaccountable executive branch in order to pursue the war.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. One of the things you write about is - you conclude by saying Chief Justice Roy Moore could have by now torn down the Supreme Court cafeteria to house the 7,000-pound rotating crystal monument he'd built to the Ten Commandments. Of course, Judge Moore in Alabama, the Ten Commandments judge. Do you seriously think that President Bush would have appointed Roy Moore?

Ms. LITHWICK: No. That was a little...

CONAN: Oh.

Ms. LITHWICK: ...11th hour snarkiness(ph).

CONAN: Okay.

Ms. LITHWICK: But I do think - I mean I am willing to stand behind the notion that I think he would have appointed people who were probably much more clearly on the record on these sort of culture-war issues. I think he really shied away from some of the very, very sort of combative and extremely political nominees he may have had to put on the Court. I think instead he went with people, as I said, who simply agreed, who had a background in the executive and who simply agreed with this vision of - you'll remember the words - unitary executive, this vision of...

CONAN: I'm afraid I do, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LITHWICK: Yeah, well, in this vision of, you know, the new paradigm, as its called, this all-powerful executive branch that simply does not have to answer to the other two branches of government. And I think because that really was the driving force in these nominations, we saw very different nominees.

CONAN: Dahlia Lithwick, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Ms. LITHWICK: My pleasure.

CONAN: Dahlia Lithwick is Slate senior editor and legal correspondent and legal analyst for NPR's DAY TO DAY, and she joined us today from the studios of the University of Virginia's Foundation for the Humanities.

Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Scheherazade(ph) or Scherezod(ph). Am I pronouncing - did I get it wrong?

SCHEHERAZADE (Caller): No, that's fine. Scheherazade's fine.

CONAN: Okay, calling from Dayton, Ohio. That I can do.

SCHEHERAZADE: Okay. Well, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

SCHEHERAZADE: My comment is really more as a - the American reaction to 9/11.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SCHEHERAZADE: And from a personal point of view, I'm a Muslim. I moved to this country from the Middle East in 2001, in March of 2001, and the result really for me and I think for moderate Muslims like myself is we've become quite jaded with the American process and with the attitude of the American people. I think what it has done is it has served to alienate a good number of, you know, basically moderate Muslims. I personally have become very, very cynical.

I think - well, before I moved here I had more idealistic impressions of, you know, the United States Constitution, the way the laws work. I always thought that, you know - I always argued with my friends and said, you know, well, at least there I will be treated fairly, equally. And, you know, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, it's all been, you know - it's just been a terrible whitewash. It's been very, very disheartening to observe. And, you know, I haven't been at the receiving end of any of that, but just as a casual observer it has been very, very disheartening.

CONAN: John Heilemann, I'm not sure any of your writers directly addressed the idea of our sense of ourselves.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Yeah, no, I don't think they did. And I think that the caller makes a great point because clearly there have been as a - kind of the cue ball hitting the various billiard balls down the table, we've, you know, ended up in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and behaving in ways that have clearly diminished the vision of what America is in the eyes of the rest of the world. And that is clearly something that our standing in the world might be much higher at this moment had it not been for 9/11.

I did also want to - as the caller was talking, I was - my mind was going back to Oklahoma City...

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. HEILEMANN: ...and thinking about the way - whether the question - whether 9/11 had in fact increased some kind of reflexive suspicion that Americans have about the Muslim world and terrorism. And of course you'll remember, you know, after - immediately after Oklahoma City the immediate assumption was of course that it had been some kind of Muslim terrorism that had taken place there. And of course we only learned later that it was Timothy McVeigh and it was a domestic homegrown kind of terrorism.

So I think some of the reaction that - some of the suspicion that does exist around who the source of terrorism is and where the danger comes to America, some of that suspicion has been there for a long time and 9/11 brought it to the surface but didn't create it.

CONAN: Scheherazade, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

SCHEHERAZADE: Thank you.

CONAN: Joining us now is Andrew Sullivan, a senior editor at the New Republic and a leading conservative blogger. His book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back, will be published in the fall of 2006. And he joins us today by phone from Provincetown in Massachusetts. Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. ANDREW SULLIVAN (Author, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And you blog from an alternate future, beginning in September 2006. What does your counterfactual history presume?

Mr. SULLIVAN: Well, it presumes that what happened on 9/11 was not some kind of fluke. That in fact there was a terrorist base in Afghanistan hosted by the Taliban. That Bush did not create that; that he inherited it. For the first nine months of his term he knew very little about it, and in fact the bulk of what we knew about the early months of the Bush administration shows that it was not that concerned about Islamic terrorism. It was much more concerned about China as a geopolitical rival.

And so what I do is imagine what might have happened if al-Qaida had been a little smarter and waited a little longer and had really developed much more serious ties to regimes with weapons of mass destructions, such as Iran, and waited until later to strike with much more ferocity and deadliness than actually was the case.

CONAN: Of course there had been any - a long series of attacks against the United States, U.S. interests, by al-Qaida and its allies leading up to this. Somehow there would have been a five years hiatus, London, Madrid, Bali wouldn't have happened?

Mr. SULLIVAN: Well, I mean I think that the exponentially increased (unintelligible) scale of the attacks that they had been engaged in with 9/11. No, maybe London and Madrid would have happened, but it would have built up slowly to something much more dramatic. I mean the main issue we have here is not terrorism as such, which we've lived with for, you know, many decades now. It is terrorism with a possibility of massive technological power, in other words, with chemical, biological, and nuclear weaponry.

And 9/ll didn't show that to be the case, but it showed the potential for that. And what I was trying to spin out is what would have happened if they had succeeded. If in fact they had waited and gotten their hands on WMDs that we always feared they might. And would we actually be now fighting a much more deadly and scary war than we actually are?

CONAN: To recap - to quote from Andrew Sullivan's blog, counterfactual blog -to recap we now have reports of up to 30 separate gas attacks in subway systems in New York, Washington, Moscow, London, and a shower of chemical tipped rockets directly into Tel Aviv from somewhere in the Syrian controlled part of Lebanon, tens of thousands killed.

Mr. SULLIVAN: Yes, that's - obviously I'm creating a fictional account. I think - when I was asked by New York to think about what would have happened if 9/11 hadn't happened, my first instinct was to think, well, you know, that's wishful thinking. The threat was always there, continued to be there, was going to manifest itself; there was no way out of this, that we have this long term problem. As you point out, al-Qaida had been attacking us.

But also a long-term problem of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan and Iran, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, growing, brewing, threatening us. And in some ways I think their hideous attack on 9/11 was a little premature, that if they'd waited a little longer they might have been able to be much more devastating than they actually were.

I think we need to get around the idea that somehow this event could have been avoided, was a fluke, means nothing beyond itself. It does. It's simply a symptom of a much deeper crisis that we are currently dealing with and will continue to deal with, especially now I think centered on Iran and its potential threat to destroy our way of life.

CONAN: Andrew Sullivan, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

Mr. SULLIVAN: You're very welcome.

CONAN: Andrew Sullivan on the phone with us from Provincetown in Massachusetts, a senior editor at the New Republic. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Cindy. Cindy's calling us from West Olive in Michigan.

CINDY (CALLER): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

CINDY: I'm military parent. My son joined the Marines well in advance of 9/11. And before I had, you know, I was pretty comfortable with him being in the military. And since 9/11 - and thankfully my son has not been deployed to the Middle East yet - I have had kind of like a floating anxiety and constant fear. And one of the things that I've noticed is that I have like a negative fear of the future or negative feeling about the future and what kind of world our children and grandchildren are going to live in.

And it's like instead of looking forward to what's coming up, I kind of dread what's coming up. And I think a lot of military parents live with that anxiety. But I think a lot of people in the country may feel like, what's the world going to be like 10, 20, you know, 50 years from now?

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Cindy, first of all we wish your son the best of luck.

CINDY: Thank you. I've been very happy so far, but I know that in the near future it's not going to happen.

CONAN: But, John Heilemann, that sort of, you know, change in the way we look at our future - there is at least it seems to me in some of your contributors (unintelligible) that captures a bit of that sense.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, yeah, Neal. I think, you know, (unintelligible) being harsh about the caller's reaction. One would say well, you know, this is just an illustration of the fact that ignorance is bliss and that for a period of time that we were somewhat deluded about the degree of safety that we had. That America seemed untouchable and didn't seem as though it was prone to the kind of attacks that 9/11 showed us were possible.

And if you turn the point of view around a bit, it's certainly clear that there are people who are more - who look on the future with a greater degree of -perhaps not as hopefully, but also perhaps more realistically. And, you know, it's funny. I was just at a press conference earlier today with - that Mayor Bloomberg was doing around the World Trade Center, some World Trade Center issues.

And he was asked by one of the reporters in the room what he thought had changed in the city, and his answer, boiled down, was that the city in fact is now a lot safer than it was. And I mean safer against terrorism, which isn't to say it's 100 percent safe. And he was very careful to say, well, yes of course there's always going to be some vulnerabilities.

But clearly 9/11 at a very high cost - and no one would ever want to diminish the cost - but at that cost, it did show us ways in which the city was vulnerable. And it's clear that now a huge amount of resource and a huge amount of smart thinking has been put into trying to make the city safer. And I don't think there's anyone in the city who doesn't feel a little bit safer now than they did three or four years ago.

CONAN: John Heilemann, thanks very much for joining us today.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Thank you.

CONAN: John Heilemann writes The Power Grid column for New York magazine and edited this collection, What if 9/11 Never Happened? A Counterhistory. And he joined us from our bureau in New York.

When we come back from a short break, she made us Sleepless in Seattle, gave us Heartburn, and told us all about how Harry met Sally. Nora Ephron joins us next. Plus it's Tuesday, well read from your letters. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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