Students attend 9/11 panel discussion

By Alyssa Creamer

Daily Collegian – Sept. 9, 2011 | Daily Collegian – Sept. 12, 2001

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Yesterday, students, faculty and members of the Amherst community attended a panel discussion composed of University of Massachusetts faculty members and a member of media-giant NPR to look back at the social, political and economic effects on America and the world since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

According to College of Social and Behavorial Sciences Dean Robert Feldman – whose college sponsored the event – the two-hour discussion, which was called “After the Towers Fell: A September 11th Retrospective,” sought to “reflect on how our lives have changed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

“I’ve talked about 9/11 to a lot of people,” said Steve Fox, a lecturer in the UMass journalism program and moderator of the event, in a phone interview prior to the event. “Everyone’s got a different perspective. There remains to be lessons learned. Ten years can seem as a long time to some people, and 10 years can be seen as a short time to others.”

“Much has occurred in the decade since the 9/11 attacks: two wars, military actions, war in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Fox in his opening remarks at the discussion. “Obama was elected president, the U.S. political system is going along a dangerous divide, newspapers are shells of their former selves … advances in technology will allow anyone with a smart phone to cover news events … the list goes on. There is no doubt the world has changed.”

According to Fox, those involved with the formation of the panel, including Fox himself, wanted to create “a multi-layered perspective” by inviting experts in the fields of psychology, economics, political science and journalism.

The panel consisted of MJ Peterson, a professor of political science; David Kotz, a professor of economics; Linda Tropp, a professor of psychology; and Mark Stencel, the managing editor for digital news at NPR.  

The four panel members were allotted 10 to 12 minute-presentation slots before the floor was opened for questions to the approximately 50 attendees, most of whom were students.

Peterson’s presentation, titled “9-11 Ten Years Later: On Global Reactions to U.S. Actions,” diagrammed an analysis of the Bush administration’s reaction to the national tragedy.

“Now Americans know what it is like to feel vulnerable,” said Peterson of United States’ government’s and citizens’ thought process immediately after the attacks. “The USA is a great power and great powers don’t just roll over – they react.”

“But how the United States was going to react [had] two possibilities,” she continued.

Peterson explained that the administration identified the Sept. 11 attackers as “terrorists, defined terrorists,” giving two options for how to see these terrorists: as either “criminals or fighting forces.”

According to Peterson, because the government of Afghanistan refused to “arrest and hand over” the “masterminds of 9/11” and the terrorists had “claimed political reasons” for the attacks, Afghanistan found its government “co-responsible” for the attacks. Peterson also said this circumstance gave legitimacy to the war in Afghanistan during that time.

Her lecture went on to include information about the differences in political circumstances surrounding the decision to invade Iraq.

Peterson said the decision to invade Iraq rested in the idea of Iraq being a “prospective but not immediate danger.”

“This got back into old debates of whether preventative war is acceptable, which most [communities] say is not acceptable,” she continued.

Her slides also presented credible polling data on nations’ negative or positive opinions on one another. The data, which gave a trajectory of U.S.’s popularity since 2005, was used to demonstrate that “great powers are constantly being evaluated” and “memories of 9/11 are not what is [entirely] driving [international] attitudes” about the U.S.

“We are back to international relations as usual,” she said about how perspectives on the U.S. ebb and flow. However, her data demonstrated that the U.S.’s popularity within the Islamic world was less-than-stellar, and Peterson left the audience with a final slide displaying a URL to CNN’s blog post by Steven Kull called “Why Muslims Are Still Mad At America.”

Kotz, who has been teaching since 1974, focused his presentation on the economic effects of the Sept. 11 attacks. He broke down the “direct costs” of both the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq war arriving at a number totaling to $1.245 trillion.

Kotz’ presentation also provided figures for the amount of military spending per person in the U.S., which according to Kotz, is $2,625.64.

According to Kotz, the total U.S. debt, “minus the debt the U.S. owes itself,” is approximately $10 trillion. Of this amount, Kotz said 80 percent of the total accumulated U.S. debt is seen in military costs.

Throughout his presentation, Kotz also talked about how the “political atmosphere” of “launching a War on Terror contributed to the war on Iraq,” and he explained that a variety of reasons – some seemingly proven to be false, such as the discovery of no weapons of mass destruction – were provided to the American public to launch a war on Iraq under the umbrella of the War on Terror.  

During the question-and-answer session, former U.S. Marine and communications graduate student Tyler Boudreau said he did not agree that the war in Iraq did not logically fall into the War on Terror, saying that rhetorically their narratives are connected inseparably. Boudreau is a published author, whose work includes writings about the experiences he had while overseas at war in Iraq.

Koz’s lecture concluded with a fact many students in the audience said they were “amazed” or “interested” in. He explained that he used official U.S. government figures to calculate out that 23.9 million full scholarships (in-state tuition and fees calculated as cost of attending UMass) could be given out with the $302 billion spent in 2010 as an increase to the annual pentagon budget. Currently, Kotz said, the total number of American college students is at 19 million.

Tropp lectured on the “basic processes in intergroup relations.” She explained that individuals who feel they are in uncertain times tend to want to identify with groups and seek to protect these groups when threatened by protecting a group’s access to resources, power and way of life, which often casts conflict towards other groups.

She said this could be seen in Americans tendency to be “favorably biased” toward themselves while lumping together other groups, such as those of the Arab world or Muslim faith. Additionally, Tropp talked about an idea that this bias creates questions of authenticity in which Americans will ask ‘Who is a real American?,’ which “narrow[s] our scope to suggest that some people are more American than others,” she said.
She also spoke about how our heightened security measures in the post-Sept. 11 era reflect our nation’s priorities. She used New Zealand as a stark contrast example, describing how the nation scans suitcases not for bombs or weapons, but for food and plants to ensure it preserves its country’s biodiversity.

Stencel presented last with a slideshow titled “The 9/11 Convergence: How Events and Technology Transformed the Press.” Stencel called the coverage of the attacks a “classic television story.” Several of the students in the audience remembered getting their information about the attacks entirely from television broadcasts on Sept. 11.

He also spoke of how technology has shaped the media today.

“We are more a lot of things,” he said. “Are we more accurate? Plenty of people would say ‘no.’”

He also talked about NPR’s Twitter error involving the shootings in Tuscon, Ariz. this year.

“I think we’ve seen …the ability to tap into all these voices throughout the world to see how all these social media tools have been used to work around the restrictions of governments,” said Stencel. ” … I think it has added to global discussions, I don’t think it will change opinions necessarily, but it has increased access to a variety of different sources.”

“One of the most striking images were the photocopied fliers that wallpapered so much of New York with messages looking for missing loved ones or circulating messages to missing loved ones,” he continued. “Can you imagine such an event of magnitude again?”

Stencel also touched upon the challenges surrounding approaching anniversaries of tragedies such as the Sept. 11 attacks.

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected]