By Jake Schild
A group of Saint Mary’s University faculty and staff gathered in the Toner Student Center Sept. 8 to discuss how the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks affected them personally and how they felt the U.S. military handled the situation after the attacks.
Dr. Rose Beal, a professor of theology at SMU, was working in Washington on the day of the fatal attacks. She explained how shocked everyone was after the attacks.
“For many it was the first time people actually felt they had a human enemy,” Beal said. “We’ve never had to suffer that kind of territorial attack. It was unfathomable.”
She also conveyed how difficult it was for Americans not to immediately turn their fear into anger.
“People really had to wrestle with the tension of, ‘How do I forgive this enemy? How do I pray not only for the people in the World Trade Center, but also for those involved in the mission?’” said Beal.
Dr. Wes Miller, a professor of sociology at SMU, had a brother-in-law living in New York at the time, and Dean of Campus Ministry Dennis Gallagher was teaching at a Catholic high school in New York.
Miller, who was teaching a global issues class at the time, said he felt a need to change the class curriculum after the incident and bring up more multicultural ideals.
“It was a seriousness in that class amongst students and myself,” he said.
Miller also felt as though he saw little “heroics” all throughout the day, explaining that there was a sense of community on campus that came out of the attacks. Beal also mentioned this, noting that “we were there to support each other, to pray for those who suffered losses.”
In terms of U.S. military action after the attacks, almost all of the forum participants were doubtful that exactly the right methods were used.
“One of the issues we continue to deal with is strategic planning,” said Beal. “We perceive war as a solution, yet we are still intentionally naïve about the costs of war.
“You think it’s going to be like a Bruce Willis movie, and it’s not. It never has been. Until we come to terms with that, we will continue to contribute to the problem.”
Both Gallagher and Dr. Jim Rodgers, a professor of history at SMU, said that the U.S. might have been too confident in their subsequent attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Before 9/11 there was a patriotic feeling that we were the most powerful nation in the world and peacekeepers,” Gallagher said. “We were used to quick actions. We thought we could just solve things because of our power, our money, and our might."
“We’re used to ‘American exceptionalism,’” said Rodgers. “We’re finding out the hard way that maybe we’re not as exceptional as we thought. Maybe all the military hardware is not a solution to these problems. We have to take a much longer-termed view. We’re not used to that. We’re used to short fixes: getting it over with and withdrawing. That’s not really the way the world works.”
Rodgers also said that capturing one terrorist leader is much different than bringing total democracy to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We can accomplish killing [Saddam] Hussein, but it’s much harder to make a free and democratic Iraq. We need to quit running these objectives together. We need long-term nation building. We’re not very good at that.”
Jim Bedtke, vice president for the College, and Dr. Jeff Walter, an SMU counselor, thought also that our invasions on both Iraq and Afghanistan could’ve been executed differently.
“We’re becoming a breeding ground for some of that same behavior we so despised, suffered on 9/11. How do we deal with that?” asked Bedtke.
Said Walter, “Punishment doesn’t work well to shape behaviors.”