It was hard to believe but in the days after September 11 the New York spirit almost seemed defeated. Hard to believe for anyone who visited the city and thought its ebullience irrepressible. After the shock many New Yorkers were to be heard publicly reassessing their commitment to the city, which is a very New York thing to do. But some of them sounded serious. They stopped going out, stayed home and seemed to be making plans to move somewhere less furious, less likely to be a target of the world's crackpots.

It could not last and it did not. It was no more apparent than when, overnight our time, New York threw off any lingering lapse of spirit and began to mark the anniversary of horror with processions from each of the boroughs to ground zero, as they now call the site of the World Trade Centre. By nightfall there will be outdoor concerts all over the city. It promises to be a stylish, glorious poke in the eye for those who imagined they could mortally wound her.

New Yorkers might not realise it, but the attack a year ago has enhanced their city to the world outside. Manhattan has lost the tallest towers on its skyline but in taking aim at them the killers have only reminded the world of something it might not have noticed: New York remains pre-eminent in popular culture today.

It is easy to imagine that New York's glory has faded since the golden age of music hall, mafia and masked heroes in adventure comics. California threatened to become the epicentre of the American imagination in the postwar decades. But today Hollywood productions are as likely as not to have New York themes and settings and American literature remains fixated on the old city. When crazed jihadis looked about for the most potent symbols of American power it was perfectly natural they would notice the towers of Manhattan as well as the Pentagon and probably one or two other targets in Washington. The towers were the sentinels of the financial district, the unchallenged hub of the global economy.

The plotters of September 11 probably never imagined how much they would unite the world in sympathy with the United States and how much the US would be strengthened by the experience, both in its own resolve and the world's recognition of its role. It would be a profound pity if President Bush was to squander some of that sympathy and support in a ham-fisted assault on Iraq with unforeseeable consequences. The US has an enormous reservoir of goodwill at this anniversary and could use it to advantage.

The attack on Manhattan has registered far more strongly on world consciousness than the damage to the Pentagon and perhaps not only because the scale of the destruction was so much greater. The US is respected much more for the cultural and economic influence that New York represents than the military and diplomatic prowess of Washington.

American defence spending exceeds by far the combined spending of all its potential enemies and its force is unrivalled in the world now. But its tactics have somehow let al Qaeda escape when twice cornered in Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies were unable to prevent September 11. In art, finance, literature, business, publishing, broadcasting, theatre, music, scholarship and fun, however, New York inspires the world.

Everybody who has visited the city, enjoying its art museums, shows, deli sandwiches and street patois, who has joined the skaters and ball games in Central Park, wandered around its neighbourhoods and discovered its nightlife, is there in spirit today. New York lives again and even at this distance we can feel the pulse.

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