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My Country Tis of Thee. Brittany Woodward, 2001.

[Detail] My Country Tis of Thee. Brittany Woodward, 2001.

Responding to the Terrorists

While the nation seemed to be experiencing a strong feeling of unity, interviewees differed in their views on how the nation should respond to the attacks. Many interviewees said that they did not have the expertise to recommend a specific course of action, but expressed support for President Bush. Other individuals had very specific ideas, including Cary Hewitt of Long Beach California, who urged obliterating Afghanistan. Others such as Keith Brown of Orlando, Florida, called for restraint and dialogue. Matthew Singletary of Alma, Michigan, voiced opposition to a grand war on terrorism and recommended instead swift covert action to kill Osama Bin Laden and his confederates; he also expressed the need for people to be informed and discuss issues related to the attacks.

Beliefs about how the United States should respond to the attacks reflected not only different philosophies but also different views on the reasons behind the attacks. In a written narrative, Niloofar Mina, an Iranian exile, likened the victims of the World Trade Center to the victims of violence in the Middle East.

… I felt for the WTC victims the same way I feel for the continuing plight of the Palestinian people, the people of Iraq, and for the over 2 million Iranian and Iraqi people who were killed in a war that was used by the U.S. to destabilize and devastate the Gulf region and fund terrorist groups in Central America. A war that took the lives of many of my friends. This is precisely the reason why the current talks of revenge and war, and the patriotic sentiments forced on the American people scare me. Clearly, violence diminishes us.

Excerpted from “Narrative from Niloofar Mina”

Rev. John Mack, pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., reflected a different perspective in a narrative written on September 30, 2001.

The people who tell me that I am responsible, or that the country is because of its foreign policy, or that we're just getting a taste of what everyone lives with are frankly driving me a little crazy. …Because we give $20 billion dollars to Israel each year, does that mean we should have expected this, or that we are responsible? I don't really believe that the people who planned this evil knew what they were doing. Even as they indoctrinated the young men who did it, I don't believe they grasped the enormity of the evil that had hold of them. They kept themselves at too great a distance to appreciate the evil killing of the innocents, of their own brothers and sisters and children.

Excerpted from “Sermon by Pastor John Mack”

Keith Baker, a high school social studies teacher, concluded that one of the root causes of September 11 was an attack on our culture and freedom, stating that the terrorists “consider our culture anathema to what they believe in.” Others, however, took issue with that belief. Adeel Mirza, an attorney from Madison, Wisconsin, claimed that the terrorists acted in response to American foreign policy.

Interviewees also expressed differing opinions on the legitimacy of abridging civil liberties as a result of the terrorist attack and the resulting War on Terror. For example, Lorraine Scott of Anaheim, California, expressed the belief that the government should do whatever is necessary even if it infringes on civil rights. On the other hand, David Wasson, a high school student in Belleville, Illinois, remarked that if Americans give up their civil rights because of the attack, then the terrorists win.

  • Make a chart with three columns as shown below
  • In the first column, list three areas of disagreement among Americans following September 11. In the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project collection, find at least three different views on each area of disagreement identified. For each view, select a quote from an interview that represents that view and place it in the third column. What does this exercise tell you about Americans? Is this insight important? Why or why not?
  • Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, some of the people interviewed for the “man-on-the-street” interviews collected by the American Folklife Center were asked to address their remarks to President Roosevelt. Pick two interviewees who disagreed in one of the areas you identified above. Reframe their remarks as if they were directed to President Bush.
  • In his interview, high school teacher Carl Day of Alton, Illinois, said “Freedom of speech has to be protected, especially in a national crisis . . . Hostility against a difference of opinion is not a good thing. We need differences of opinion if only to determine how right we are or in some cases exactly how wrong we are. So I think freedom of speech is to be protected at all levels and at all costs, especially in times of emergency where people are prone to give up certain freedoms in exchange for security and safety.” Do you agree with Day’s opinion? Use what you have learned about Americans’ views on responding to the attacks of September 11 to support your position.