September 12, 2002

Faculty, Students Commemorate Sept. 11

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On the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the U.S., faculty members and students engaged in a panel discussion entitled, “Reflections on 9/11” yesterday in David L. Call Auditorium in Kennedy Hall.


President Hunter R. Rawlings III moderated the panel, which included Michele Moody-Adams, the Hutchinson Professor of Philosophy and director of the program in Ethics and Public Life, Prof. Shawkat Toorawa, Near Eastern studies and Walter LaFeber, the Marie Underwood Noll Professor of American History.

“[Sept. 11, 2001] has been said to have changed everything and changed nothing. Our core values were tested and proved stronger than anyone expected,” Rawlings said.

Rather than rehashing the events of Sept. 11, the panelists discussed the political and moral issues that have become salient in the year following the terrorist attacks.

Moody-Adams addressed how society and individuals should honor those who lost their lives on Sept. 11.


“The most fitting tribute is for all Americans to play a role in the national debate on how to combat terrorism in a world left behind by those we have lost,” she said.

Rituals and memory also play an important role in honoring those who died, according to Moody-Adams.

“Rituals express sorrow, anger and fear,” Moody-Adams said. “[But] they also transform sorrow into hope to enrich us with the sense of possibility of human life. An important aspect of memory is its power to resurrect the dead.”

She reflected on the prevailing message of The New York Times’ “Portraits of Grief,” a collection of about 2,000 short biographies of people lost on Sept. 11.

“[The biographies suggest] that what will prove important about our lives is how we lived in the world and if we affected the lives of others for the better.”

Moody-Adams also criticized the mass media’s, “incessant and unreflective replay of images of the collapse of the Twin Towers,” suggesting that it diminishes the suffering of those who died in the terrorist attacks.

LaFeber discussed how American foreign and military policies and civil liberties have changed significantly following Sept. 11.

After Sept. 11, the U.S. Military established a strong presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia, which LaFeber likened to an, “American empire.”

“The imperial situation we find ourselves in might be the greatest effect of 9/11,” LaFeber said.

He warned that this new position is risky because the U.S. has not been adept at nation-building in the past.

When the U.S. has tried to act unilaterally, such as in Vietnam, the situation has turned out badly, according to LaFeber.

“In this case, the U.S. should be careful about its unilateral commitment and make sure we have allies,” he said.

“Americans understand this new commitment as necessary to fight terrorist groups in those countries and nearby Afghanistan,” LaFeber said. “Terrorist groups in Central Asia have diminished and the war in Afghanistan is accelerating but rebuilding has come to a halt.”

The U.S. Military must continue to concentrate on Afghanistan, according to LaFeber.

“Most of [Afghanistan] is out of control, which makes it clear that there have been mistakes made,” he said. “The war on terrorism in Central Asia is not over. Al-Qaeda is still in Central Asia and Pakistan. Our friends are telling us we haven’t removed basic cells of al-Qaeda.”

LaFeber also discussed how Americans’ desire for security has threatened civil liberties during the past year, citing the Justice Department’s detainment of Middle Easterners in the U.S. as an example of this trend.

“These procedures put every one of us at risk,” he said.

Prof. Eric Wang, applied economics and management, questioned LaFeber’s position on the necessary protection of civil liberties during insecure times.

“If there is a real concern that a nuke may explode in the middle of New York City, maybe a wire tap would solve that problem. Where do we draw the line” between protecting civil liberties and maintaining security? he said.

Toorawa emphasized the importance of governmental transparency and accountability concerning civil liberties.

“I would hope that Americans could go about their lives with the knowledge that they would not be randomly and secretly detained,” he said.

Toorawa discussed Americans’ responsibility to reflect on the events and aftermath of Sept. 11 responsibly.

“So many people have responded with teach-ins, rallies and memorials, in this country and abroad,” he said.

Toorawa criticized, however, response without responsibility.

“I can understand response without responsibility but I condemn it,” he said. “To respond without responsibility is revenge, not justice. [It] leads to ultimate self-destruction.”

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin