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‘Focus on the lived lives of the victims’

Northwestern University experts available on 9/11 trauma, lessons

EVANSTON, Ill. --- As the U.S. observes the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, Northwestern University experts assess the legacy of the precipitating “War on Terror,” address collective trauma and explain how we memorialize those who died.

Northwestern professors from the fields of history, political science, education and social policy are available to discuss a variety of 9/11 topics ranging from technological warfare, domestic terrorism, racial profiling, soldier morale and how teachers and parents can educate children about atrocities.

Education and Social Policy experts:

Danny M. Cohen is a learning scientist in the School of Education and Social Policy. Concerned with collective memories of atrocity, he focuses his teaching and research on the design of community programming for social justice, memorialization and museum design, and how to educate about violence. Cohen is the founder of Unsilence Project, a series of educational experiences for teenagers and the public that bring to light marginalized narratives of the Holocaust, genocide and human rights. He can be reached by contacting Erin Karter at erin.karter@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Cohen
“After 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, my mind first goes to the children of those who were murdered. How have the children's traumatic memories affected their lives? And for those who became parents themselves, how are they telling the story of that day to their own children? In the atrocity education field, we're always concerned with how teachers talk about such events.

“We have to help educators make responsible choices to minimize vicarious trauma in young learners by focusing on the lived lives of the victims and the resilience of survivors, rather than violent images and videos and the horrific details of the attack. Of course, we can't ignore the violence or the heartbreaking testimonies, but if we only focus on the moments of death, then we not only dishonor the dead -- I also worry that our children could become fixated on violence and vengeance.” 

History experts:

Michael Allen is an associate professor of history. His research interests are U.S. political and diplomatic history. He is the author of “Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War.” His current work-in-progress, “New Politics: The Imperial Presidency, The Pragmatic Left, and the Problem of Democratic Power, 1933-1981,” focuses on evolving left-liberal relations to presidential power in the postwar era. He can be reached by contacting Stephanie Kulke in media relations at stephanie.kulke@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Allen
“The Bush Administration’s response to the September 11 terror attacks, defined by a highly visible, hyper-militarized ‘global war on terror,’ is now universally regarded as a failure, and those who promoted it are mostly discredited in the United States and around the world. Yet despite this withering public judgment, core aspects of that response live on, just as the Iraq and Afghan wars continued long after their originating goals were either accomplished or discarded. The War on Terror endures in the form of drone warfare, stand-off ‘surgical strikes’ like those President Donald Trump employed against Iran and Syria, and a military budget that grew dramatically over the last four years, reaching heights not seen since Bush left office. Meanwhile, the grave challenges of COVID, climate change, gun violence, and domestic terrorism, which pose the most direct threat to American lives, go largely unaddressed by the U.S. Congress.”

Political Science experts: 

Ian Hurd is professor of political science and director of the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern. His research on international law and politics combines contemporary global affairs with attention to the conceptual frames that serve to make sense of the world. He can be reached by contacting Mohamed Abdelfattah at mohamed@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Hurd: 
“The term ‘9/11’ can refer to both the events of September 11th and the actions and choices of the U.S. government in response. Looking back, many of those choices were obvious mistakes, and they have made things worse than they needed to be. These include the long, fruitless occupation of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, and an enthusiastic investment in the secret security branches of the government. With better choices, the U.S. could have responded to 9/11 as a crime that needed global coordination to resolve rather than as a pretext for war. The post-post-9/11 period will be devoted to undoing their mistakes, and to continuing to pay their costs.”

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is a professor of political science and religious studies and holds the Crown Chair in Middle East Studies. She also co-directs the Global Religion and Politics Research Group at Northwestern. She can be reached by contacting Mohamed Abdelfattah at mohamed@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Hurd 
“Today we can see that a permanently militarized post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy has come home to roost. The violent logic of the War on Terror is being visited on American citizens, including but not limited to American Muslims. When U.S. soldiers formerly deployed in the Middle East are hired to police American cities upon their return it extends the logic of the global War on Terror and its politics of race and religion to the home front. 

“It is not only tactics and strategy that are coming home but also surplus weapons that are being used to police American cities. NPR reported in the wake of George Floyd's murder that at least 10 police departments in the Minneapolis and St. Paul suburbs have obtained either all or nearly all of their Department of Defense military-grade equipment — ranging from $13.56 cartridge magazines to hulking personnel carriers with original price tags surpassing $700,000 — during the first three and a half years of the Trump administration.” 

William Reno is a professor and chair of Northwestern’s department of political science. A specialist in foreign military training, he made several trips to Afghanistan during the 20-year war, and currently is a contractor to the U.S. Air Force. The author of three books on the politics of violence and state collapse in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, his current research focuses on the politics of foreign assistance to security forces in states with weak institutional capacities. He can be reached at reno@northwestern.edu or by contacting Stephanie Kulke in media relations at stephanie.kulke@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Reno
“Afghanistan has been a big part of my life for 20 years. Withdrawal was the right thing, even if its execution was absolutely horrible at the end.Our soldiers reflect the country they serve in that many recognized that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan had lost its purpose and that one more year, two more years or whatever would not solve that fundamental problem. It is a terrible situation when political leaders call upon soldiers to fight in pursuit of policies that these leaders know will fail. But war isn't just about political aims. It is about shared purpose among those in battle. Many Afghans fought valiantly and with purpose alongside their American partners. Many ordinary Afghans believed American promises and worked tirelessly to build a new country. Soldiers and anyone else with experience in that country sees this dimension of the situation. This is how many can support the withdrawal at the same time that they hate it.”