Was it really only 50 days ago that it happened?

So much has changed, it could have been a lifetime ago.

The destruction of the Manhattan skyline has become a symbol, just as the twin towers were a symbol of the heart of New York.

Those who smashed the hijacked planes into the World Trade Center wanted to tear out that heart. The past 50 days have shown they could not.

They have brought out the best in people. But they have also exposed the worst.

For those who did not live through the Second World War, these have been the most astonishing days of their lives.

The world stands poised on the edge of an abyss.

It could lead to a new order, an astonishing coalition against terrorism which survives the huge tensions which threaten to tear it apart.

Or it could lead to countless millions living in fear, with thousands of terrorists causing untold bloodshed, destruction and mayhem.

None of this even registered on the horizon before September 11. What the events of that dreadful day did was to make everyone realise that no one was safe.

If the twin towers could be hit, so could anyone, anywhere.

The evil of the atrocity has been partly balanced by the good that has flowed from it.

An attempt is being made to understand other nations. The crude fundamentalism that led to the attack on America has helped push people towards dialogue, if not always tolerance and understanding.

And there is a realisation that there is no such thing as a good terrorist. This war is against them all, wherever they come from, whatever their cause.

Yet there are down sides, too.

As The Mirror points out today, the carpet bombing of Afghanistan is shockingly similar to the carpet bombing of Vietnam more than 30 years ago.

The political and human repercussions of that war were terrible.

What concerns us 50 days after September 11 is that we do not know whether history will repeat itself.

Or turn towards a new, peaceful tomorrow.