Six months have passed since the American psyche was scarred by the worst terrorist attacks in United States history.
The tragedies in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Western Pennsylvania need no explanation, a sad testament to the lasting impression of Sept. 11.
Events have moved at a dizzying pace since that day, with a new war in Afghanistan to questions concerning the legality of special tribunals to try accused terrorists.
Temple University attempted to add some perspective to the last six months by offering the expertise of several professors from diverse academic backgrounds.
History professor Jim Hilty said that Sept. 11 transformed the Bush presidency.
“As the country’s sense of urgency abates, President Bush’s arrogation of war-making powers, combined with his administration’s persistent resort to executive privilege and extraordinary reliance on secrecy, may provoke lasting historical controversy,” Hilty said.
The ability of Americans to evaluate current events is greatly influenced by the mass media — and this concept could not have been made clearer than on Sept. 11.
Journalism Professor Andrew Mendelson spoke on an issue labeled “press coverage vs. direct experience.” He said that when visiting Ground Zero recently, what impressed him the most was the sense of scale and the vast amount of debris still floating through the air.
“Even from four blocks away, I was amazed at the enormity of the destruction,” Mendelson said. “I was astonished by how large the remains of the buildings were, several months after the attack. That difference between mediated and direct experience may explain the need for masses of people visiting to see the site for themselves.”
Richard Beardsley, adjunct professor and executive producer of Temple’s broadcast news magazine Temple Update said, “[Broadcast News] has totally changed. Before 9-11 no one was watching television news; now people can’t get enough.”
He added that people are more informed and interested in a broader means of coverage.
“Everyday folks wouldn’t treat the sixth-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks as a major point of reflection if it wasn’t given attention in the media. Americans really are getting back to their lives,” said Frank Farley, professor of educational psychology.
An example of Bush’s work in planning to prevent future terrorist attacks was the USA Patriot Act, which he signed on Oct. 26.
It presented a new definition of “domestic terrorism,” to now include acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of criminal laws. The law increased government surveillance powers and allowed law enforcement officials to share intelligence that could help them prevent future attacks.
Many civil liberties groups have attacked the act, and the media’s lack of scrutiny with regard to it.
“The USA Patriot Act gives law enforcement agencies nationwide extraordinary powers unchecked by meaningful judicial review,” Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office said.
Mendelson said that the media was, for a time, lax in its questioning of anti-terrorism legislation, but that more of the tough questions are now being asked.
“I think the media, especially coming off the gulf war, is so nervous [to be conceived as] anti-American. But I think they need to do a better job of telling the people and themselves that it’s their patriotic duty to ask the questions everyone else would ask,” he said.
Dr. Denise Walton, of Temple University Counseling Services, gave advice to Americans still coping with the aftermath of such trauma. She said that people do have control over their approach and attitude of how they deal with coping with a troubled world, and their own personal lives.
“Healing is a process that happens over time,” Walton said.
Michael Kresge, a sophomore music theory major at Temple, said he observed something quite different in people whom he doesn’t feel are politically involved.
“I think they’ve sort of forgotten about [Sept. 11], except for the fact that they still have flags on their cars,” Kresge said. “It seems like there’s not action toward ‘let’s reform’ or ‘let’s improve’. It’s more like, ‘let’s talk about how great we are as a nation, and how everyone’s inferior’.”
Amy Jennifer Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org