Readers' Forum

Responses to a Montana Professor poll on 9/11 held on the Montana Tech and Montana State University-Bozeman campuses.

Item 1

My husband, Gary, and I were in Munich, Germany, during the attack. I was giving a paper at the annual conference for the International Association of Hydrogeologists. After the attack, everything was quite de-stabilized. We registered with the U.S. Embassy so they would know where to send the Marines if all hell brokaye loose. The Germans were incredibly supportive and solicitous towards us. But uncertainty was the word of the week. Aside from deep and abiding grief, Gary and I began to become aware of threatening behaviors from the sizable Arab population in Munich. Most of these behaviors were targeted at Gary. I wish we had been imagining them but we were not. One of these incidents even occurred at the conference as a result of an Iranian scientist trying to intimidate Gary. Delta airlines ditched us; we had to buy completely new tickets and flew as far as Calgary.

Regarding Arabs in Germany, the evidence of their presence and activity is irrefutable. Like France and Canada, Germany's laws apparently make it easy for terrorists to hide there. My understanding is that since WWII Germany has not had an FBI-equivalent type of agency; they have only an agency for constitutional protection, and they are allowed only to collect data; they are not allowed to arrest people. As it turns out, the Germans only have authority to track terrorists at the state level, not at the federal level. And they have been focusing their attention on so called "home-grown" terrorists like the Nazis, and are largely unable to deal with international terrorists. The arrests made by the German police in Hamburg the day after the attack were the result of U.S. intelligence, not Germany's foreknowledge. I suspect that Germany's relative incapacity in this regard is mostly because the Allies made a conscious effort to hamstring the Germans after WWII.

I must say that my survival instincts kicked in. We could not rely on the German government for protection; just like we could not rely on our airline. I also figured that it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure that Americans were prime targets of terror and our being in a German jail for physically defending ourselves against an anti-American antagonist was the best we could hope for. Even Gary didn't initially understand my alarm nor did he at first agree with my plan to buy our way out of the country at any cost, until I spokaye to the US Embassy, and until he started to have some bad experiences. Have you seen on the news about all of the countries where Osama has issued an order to kidnap all Americans? This is precisely what I was afraid of. To be honest, if I had listened to the pooh poohing of those around me, diminishing the seriousness of these attacks, well, we may never know what that outcome could have been.

I say, send the pooh poohers to Germany in American clothes all by themselves, and let them ride the subway and the buses with the Arabs who ride 3 and 4 to a group and who watch and listen carefully in order to identify Americans. Let them be the subject of intimidation and physically threatening behavior from individuals who normally would control their behavior, but now because of the attack, are a bit thrilled and bold, no longer isolated from their brethren. Just think of the coup that a lonely Arab could count if he managed to kidnap Americans, and consequently add to the psychological terror and distract U.S. resources to deal with a kidnapping out of a so-called allied nation. Any American who is abroad and who is not on red alert is asleep, foolish, or stupid.

Some of the things that I have learned are:

  1. The old allies stick together. In times of trouble Brits, Australians, and Canadians come lookaying for you to help you out.

  2. As of September 11th, if one is among fellow Americans, one is not in the company of strangers. To be American is sufficient to establish loyalty and friendship, and to solicit aid in any form. At the conference that I was attending, all of the 20 or so Americans were shocked into brotherhood.

  3. Don't listen to advice from individuals or governments who are removed from the situation. Listen only to your instincts; act thoughtfully but do not act halfway, and do not be timid.

  4. People are the same everywhere. Most people are kind and sensitive and mourn senseless death, even when they are oceans away from it. Most people see people as people, not as faceless enemies. Religious fanatics are the same everywhere; some have more effective leadership than others. It seems to me that the hungrier and the more desperate the culture, the more likely are their resultant fanatics to resort to violence against civilians. So far I support U.S. policies, namely that we are bringing criminals to justice, not going to war.

Kate Miller, Montana Tech

Item 2

I do not support the war. I am angered by our will to move the machinery of our military, by the eagerness to which our armed voices engage themselves. A call in answer on NPR to the question of what our choices of response could be, during the first several weeks following the 9/11 attacks, was much more eloquent than I can be, but it spokaye to diplomacy, and it spokaye to creating a forum to listen to the demands of the Middle East, and to a process of American foreign policy self-effacement. Daniel Shore's answer to that was, "Oh that would never work, military action is the only answer!" I say to that, in what century? Who is to say that we cannot change and reshape the world with peace? What other meaningful mark could we place on the new millennium if not to leave our paths of violence behind and finally take wisdom from Ghandi, from Martin Luther King, and forge a new path of peace?

I cannot even imagine the horror of that day, the fear that filled many human hearts as they fled or attempted to flee from the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. In so many ways, these were innocent lives lost, but how innocent are any of us? Our desire to lead a consumer life, and to stay politically uninvolved, because, after all, it is so nasty to really think and feel what we do to other nations around the world, makes us all somewhat guilty, somewhat a player in what our government does. I think about our drug war and the innocent people whose crops and bodies are dusted by Monsanto; how many innocent lives are lost just to that? How about the migrant workers in California that are paid minimally and work in direct contact with chemicals that are known carcinogens? What of those innocent lives lost? Can anyone count the number of "innocent" lives lost at the hands of our country, done in the name of money, greed, and power? How does that number compare to the number of "innocent" lives lost on 9/11?

Camela Carstarphen, Montana Tech

Item 3

The 9/11 attackers are true barbarians and are motivated by hatred. Their higher-ups (or the lower-downs might be a more appropriate term) hate western civilization and hate the influence it has on their twisted brand of Islam (the Wahabi sect). The whole Israel thing is a red herring. They would hate us if there was no Israel. They would hate Christians and Westerners if there were no Jews.

I support the war 100%. If our former President hadn't been so busy taking bribes from the Chinese government and alienating the Russians, he might have taken on the Taliban earlier and saved many lives. It is a toss-up whether the Taliban are a tool of Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda a tool of the Taliban. It doesn't matter. The two organizations go hand in glove. The Taliban government had a chance to turn over the Al-Qaeda people and refused. We therefore have to remove both Al-Qaeda and its protectors. The people of Afghanistan will be better off with that bunch of misogynistic murderers gone.

In the future, however, we will have to be much more careful whom we let into our country. Student visas cannot be allowed to be a backdoor immigration pathway. In the recent past, American companies (who want cheap labor), and colleges (which want tuition money), have worked with foreign students to get them immigrant visas. This contributes to the brain drain in 3rd World countries and hurts American workers, too. When a foreign student gets a degree, or after 5 years (whichever comes first), he should be required to return home and re-apply for any other visa he desires. This business of spending 10-15 years in the US on a student visa is ridiculous. (Yes, there are many such cases: four or five years to get a B.S., another three for an M.S., four more for a Ph.D., and then a couple of years as a post-doc.) In addition, there is no good reason to let foreigners in to attend flight schools, Berlitz language classes, or any other short-term training. None of the arguments about spreading American culture through college education apply to these "students."

Finally, we should be reluctant to admit ANY students from countries known to support or condone terrorism. (Definition: attacks on civilians and non-military targets with the purpose of disrupting society and spreading fear. Guerrilla war is not necessarily terrorism.) Those countries include Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. We need to work with the governments of those countries that are victims of terrorism, such as the United Kingdom, Spain, the Philippines, and Israel, to eradicate the terrorist organizations. That has to include arresting and prosecuting their supporters in this country, whether they be Irish-Americans, Arab-Americans, Basque-Americans, or any other ethnic group giving money or weapons to groups like the IRA, Hamas, or ETA.

James M. Castro, Montana Tech

Item 4

I think the motives behind the attack were to be heard, to impact our economy, to kill Americans, and to hope it somehow changes our foreign policy. I don't support the U.S. war, since war only causes untold suffering and leads to more hate, which will cause more terrorist attacks. A better American response would have been freezing assets, using intelligence to find where the terrorists are, sending humanitarian aid, and reevaluating our foreign policy, such as troops in Saudi Arabia, $3 billion in military aid to Israel, and sanctions in Iraq which are harming the children and people of Iraq and not the government. Since 9/11, I've seen among Americans more visual patriotism, less feeling of security and optimism, and more sadness. We're all affected. Personally, I have felt depressed, pessimistic about our ability to be at peace, but also renewed as an activist.

Clain Jones, MSU-Bozeman

Item 5

I believe you should ask these questions of a broader cross-section of individuals other than professors. You should ask people from the military or, perhaps, a cross section of blue collar workers. The *suits* aren't the ones who fight the wars. In most instances, it is the "common man." Intellectualizing this war, I believe, may not be an asset to what we need to accomplish. You are not dealing with folks who will sit down and negotiate. They believe that if they die while carrying out Islamic Jihad, they get to and speak with him. How can we compete with that?

Gale Gough, MSU-Bozeman

Item 6

I got to spend the week of Thanksgiving in New York City, so my thoughts about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings have become very personal. We did make the pilgrimage to Ground Zero, where we witnessed a wide variety of reactions from people passing. To some it has become a reality of their everyday lunch hour--passing by to go to the deli. Some people stop and just lookay at the area--tears leaving tracks on their cheeks. We don't think they even were aware that they were crying. Others stop and lookay with bewildered expressions--did this really happen? My husband and I were among those who lookayed and seemed not to believe that the attacks had happened. Yes, we saw the pictures on television, and we could see the work progressing, but the sheer devastation makes it hard to fathom that this was a deliberate act. A woman across the street was overcome and screamed her pain. Passersby stopped to comfort her. Yes, total strangers were rushing to her side, knowing we all share this experience.

For all of the disbelief, Ground Zero was a place of affirmation for me. It is not only seeing the Fire Department of New York ambulance wind its way through the street and hearing "Amazing Grace" being played, but it is the scene of a rebirth. Pedestrians shyly giving a guard or a policeman a handshake, a salute, or a hug; sympathy and thank you notes pinned on the walls; flags decorated by school children from across America hanging from street signs; and flowers laid in tribute to those who died and those who are working there. Ground Zero is the site of the rebirth of commitment to the United States, a wake-up call for us to remember what our country stands for, and a reminder that this still is a country where all faiths are allowed. The buildings may be gone but the spirit lives in each one of us. We will rebuild in individual ways. We won't agree on how to do this, but that is allowed here, too.

Christin Seifert, MSU-Bozeman

Item 7

I began my day on September 11, 2001, as any other, scurrying to get my two toddlers to daycare in time so that I might begin my MTA 104 ("Understanding Theatre") course on time at 9 a.m. On the drive in to school, I learned of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC. After stopping the car so I didn't crash it, as I believed upwards of 100,000 people could be dead, thoughts as to what I should do next rushed through my head. My first response was to go pick up my kids at daycare. Then, I realized what an irrational and indeed immoral response this would be. First of all, we live in Montana, not a likely target for mass human casualties. Then, I thought about how horrible it must be for my friends in New York City to be trying to keep their children safe. And, finally, the most important insight I had was that this sort of thing is what Palestinian and Israeli parents go through everyday. The moral response was clear, to go into my classroom and do what I was trained to do, talk about difficult subjects with historical and theoretical precision.

We were scheduled to talk about William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" that day. I began my class with a tearful announcement about the events as I understood them. Then, I offered to let anyone go who needed to try to contact loved ones. About 15 out of my 130 students left, but the rest remained. In retrospect, I realize that these students were far more prepared to talk than any other adults I encountered in the next few days. For the students did not understand what had happened, and wanted some framework for beginning to approach what seemed relatively unthinkable. And so, I talked a little bit about the Western treatment of the Arab world, in particular the story of the CIA's meddling in Iran in the 1950s, since this topic was of importance to me when I was a 13-year-old child during the 1980 hostage crisis.

After trying to explain why Arab terrorists would care at all about the United States, I proceeded to reflect some on the likely American response to such events. I was particularly concerned, since so many of my students are of an age to be called into active military service. I began talking about Hamlet, and how his response to his uncle's immoral act is to try to use reason to work out what is morally justifiable. I made an impassioned plea for restraint, indicating that the lesson of Hamlet might just be that a violent response to violence leads to the dissolution of the social order. When Hamlet finally does decide to act against Claudius, it results in the death of anyone of importance at Elsinore, and the rise to power of Fortinbras, a guy already established as having sent thousands of his own soldiers off to die over a worthless piece of land in Poland.

If I had had hours to prepare my remarks, I couldn't have invented a more appropriate, yet futile, argument. For I went home that night and was subjected to a string of warmongers, whose bellicose rhetoric went completely unchecked by the mindless newscasters of CNN. After George Bush's call to arms, one of the clearest moments of crystallization of my life occurred. A former CIA agent was interviewed, warning that we shouldn't be caught in a "Hamlet Syndrome." In the course of 10 seconds, my interpretation of "Hamlet" as an engagement with reason had been unraveled, and replaced with a vision of Hamlet as a weak-willed sissy-boy, a masculinist horrorshow of the worst ilk. In this moment of clarity, I felt myself completely out-of-phase with the culture which subtends me. Months later, as the bombs funded by my tax dollars continue to kill Afghani people who already live in a previous century, partly due to a misguided American foreign policy which funded Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians, that feeling of alienation from my fellow citizens continues unabated.

Walter Metz, MSU-Bozeman

Item 8

The attack was spectacular. I laughed. I cried. Being a supporter of efforts by Third Worldgroups to get out from under their oppressive masters, my first thought was, "You poor bastards. You have really done it to yourselves now." And I was right. At least in the short run. I still have hope that it will occur to us that the best way to deal with oppressed groups who strike back is not to oppress a little harder.

The terrorists were motivated by self-righteousness. I am sure they feel they had excellent reasons to do what they did. But if they had not had those reasons, they could have thought of others. If they had had a non-violent outlet for their self-righteousness, it would have been much better for everyone, but we have been pretty effective in cutting these kinds of people off from any hope of being effective without killing people to get attention.

The intended targets were symbols in front of video cameras. In Taliban country, every Afghan killed is an individual. But 4000 Americans killed is a score. In America, the guy who fell four flights and survived is a lovable human being, but Afghans are targets. This is the great curse of the human race. If I can think of you as a member of the evil group instead of as the father of a nice little boy, I can kill you with a smile.

I don't support the war but that has nothing to do with the U.S., the Taliban regime, or the Al-Qaeda. I am opposed to violence in general. Self-defense is okay, but only immediate self-defense. It would be okay to shoot down the plane heading for the building. It is not okay to shoot the guy who sent the plane when you find him a year later. And it is very much not okay to shoot a farmer who happens to be too close to some people who are in some way allied with the guy who sent the plane.

If I backed the war, I would feel they were doing a peachy job. Except that now George is feeling the manly rush that comes after a victory and it is going to his head. He may spread the conflict throughout the Middle East, and possibly to North Korea, Columbia, and California. This raises the possibility of one of those "millions dead" situations which is the primary reason we non-violent people are non-violent.

I would have preferred a reasoned, thoughtful leader who tookay this opportunity to make the point that it is possible to respond to violence with something which is effective without being violent, perhaps an international legal system. The first massively violent event of the new millennium would have been an excellent time to do it. Of course, this would have taken a leader who was both wise and, to avoid being torn apart by the enraged mob, beloved. George is neither. You can't always have a Ghandi when you need one.

It is possible that what George did was the very best he was capable of. But think what might have happened if the leader of the world's one real superpower had used the amazing media we have today to deliver the message to all mankind at a moment when they would all have paid attention that this millennium would not be like all those which came before it. That on this day the human race would choose to break the bloody chain of vengeance. Nope. I can't picture George saying that.

Bill Freese, MSU-Bozeman

Item 9

I think this was an intelligently crafted, bravely executed attack on our confidence. Given the creative nature of the plan, it is naive to say that somehow the perpetrators expected to topple America--they could not logically have expected even to topple the towers! Typically, we find that people who feel powerless to change society or to affect it for good seem to settle for affecting it for evil: Charles Whitman (the Texas Tower sniper), some gang violence, the Columbine killers, the Irish Troubles, Palestine; all are similar in the sense of doing something--anything--to have lived.

It goes against the grain (after Vietnam, Watergate, Contras, Lewinsky) to trust our government. However, given the general consensus that the responsibility for 9/11 lies (after the dead hijackers) with bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, and the history of rogue nations like Libya and Iraq (and Taliban Afghanistan before the attack on them) in assisting long-term evasion of justice, it seems unlikely that we could have done anything other than using military force to bring Al-Qaeda and the Taliban either to justice or death. What 100 million people want isn't necessarily right, but it is the American way. The analogy I have used is, "If you sneak up behind a bear and shoot him in the ass with a BB gun, you can't be too surprised if he uses his big sharp claws on you." Our administration reacted, but nothing suggests yet that the reaction was inappropriate.

The loss of 3400 (including foreigners) out of 200 million is like losing 400 out of 25 million Afghanis. I really wonder if our "collateral damage" cost Afghanistan a higher proportion of innocent civilians than the original attacks cost us. I hope that military personnel will be appropriately disciplined for each and every miss by supposedly precision munitions--but I doubt it. I was heartened by the disclosure last week that opportunities to kill Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership had been deferred because of the risk to innocents; in the end, they will pay individually. All in all, not a great war, but a good war.

Typically, America has over-reacted to the attack. The fascination with weapons is predictable but illogical; before 9/11 you could have hijacked a plane with a sharp pencil pressed to a child's throat. The major change since 9/11 is policy; before then, pilots were taught that they could best protect their craft and cargo by acceding to terrorists' demands. Since then, they have been taught the opposite. Passenger screening, cockpit doors and weapons notwithstanding, the will to resist is the major change in policy. There will be future attempts, but they will likely be bloody and ultimately unsuccessful.

The creativeness of the attack is disconcerting. The next one (if beheading terrorist groups is not successful) may well be aimed at a space launch, major dam, city water supply, or power or communications nexus. Can our safety and security people thwart them all? Unlikely. Montana is insulated from such attacks by the fact that we, of all America, have a society which most closely resembles the paternalistic agrarian economies that seem to spawn the Luddite terrorists. We aren't better than other Americans; we just offer fewer attractive targets!

America (and especially the media) have to get a life. Certainly, preparation for anthrax, smallpox, or some other biological agent is a reasonable measure of vigilance to take. But considering the number of deaths in the past two months from AIDS, bee stings, skateboards, etc., the paranoia seems a bit overdone.

Unfortunately, if responses to natural disasters like fires, floods, and earthquakes are any judge, in a couple of years most Montanans and Americans will have forgotten any lessons learned from 9/11.

I was shaken for about a week, with flashbacks of the second impact at unusual times, but I think I have come to grips with (or buried) it by now. Every journal, magazine, and newsletter I have received since 9/11 lists members of my larger community killed on 9/11. Yet I have had far closer brushes with cancer, auto accident, and the like. I travel little, and in fact can say that in virtually all respects my life is unchanged.

Bill Locke, MSU-Bozeman

Item 10

I suppose that to some degree we are all victims of our individual experiences. It therefore should come as no surprise that many members of the professorate, who have spent their professional lives among rational people, should view the world, and even the tragic event of 11 September, through that filter. As a result, many voices in the professoriate have been raised in behalf of "conflict resolution" and negotiation, and compromise in our national policies and objectives. That approach presupposes that our opponents--those who disagree with what we do or represent as a nation--are rational people. My life experiences, however, lead me to the conclusion that the world, and most particularly those who vehemently oppose our country and its way of life, are not always rational.

Whatever arguments may be made that our national actions and policies have hurt third-world nations, it is difficult to argue that there was ever any intent to achieve some chauvinistic national gain at the sacrifice of others. Misdirected as some policies and objectives no doubt are, there was never an intent to do harm. A rational response, therefore, might be to discuss, to protest, to boycott, but not to cause death and mayhem to be visited on some 4,000 uninvolved citizens of our country. Whatever our national sins may be, the acts of 11 September are out of all proportion to those sins; out of all proportion, in fact, to what any rational person might conjure up in his or her wildest moments.

There are, however, irrational folks out there in the world who believe that our very way of life and philosophy, as opposed to our occasional misdirected policies and objectives, threaten them. Their minds cannot be changed by reasoning or argumentation, and they do not understand compromise or negotiation. They laugh when we dignify them by treating them as though they were susceptible to reason. It is, to them, a kind of weakness. They have take Machiavellianism to a new extreme: any act that might advance their cause, no matter how horrendous, is justified.

They do, however, understand strength, and controlled violence judiciously applied is the projection of that strength that can deter and disorganize their irrational acts of terror. Such a projection encourages any faction, no matter how irrational, to consider the consequences of their acts, even if it is based entirely on self-interest. If our nation's policies are to blame in any way for what occurred on 11 September, it is that in recent years we did not signal our willingness to project our strength to deter irrational acts of terror or aggression.

Rather, we have acted out a fantasy that the end of the Cold War gave birth to a kinder and gentler world, one in which we could eliminate evil and terrorism through world opinion rather than through a projection of our strength. In pursuing that fantasy, we have restricted the resources of our intelligence agencies and our defense establishment, enjoying what was once called the "peace dividend" when in fact there never was peace. We deluded ourselves that we could enjoy that "peace dividend" because negotiation--conflict resolution--would work in the post-Cold War. That fairy-tale approach ended in the tragedy of 11 September.

And now that reality has set in, there are still other voices among the professoriate who claim that the violence that inevitably accompanies the projection of strength is somehow antithetical to our kind of democracy. They claim that it will undermine that which we believe we are defending. Those voices seem to ignore our own history. Our particular brand of democracy was born out of violence, and it has several times been defended and expanded through violence over the last 200 years. Even the Cold War, which many in the professoriate chose to think of as a simple disagreement over ideology, was brought to an end as much by the threat of violence as by the discrediting of an ideology. And, a visit to the Berlin Wall memorials to those who were killed trying to flee an "ideology" clearly demonstrated an irrationality across that wall that could not be talked away.

One of the enduring incidents of that era, which should have a particular resonance here in Montana, concerns the early years of the wall that divided all of Germany. Understanding how hard any harvest is for the agricultural community, given the vagaries of weather and soil, think of the added obstacle of East German border guards shooting at the farmers trying to harvest their beet crop in the fields that adjoined that wall on the west side. Our solution to that irrational behavior was to move tanks to the field edges. The shooting stopped because the implication of shooting at our tanks was very clear to the folks on the east side of that wall.

I believe that our nation is responding correctly to the situation that it faces, and I believe it is the only appropriate response. I also understand that there have always been supporters of alternatives to the use of force: the Santa Barbara, California, city council passed a resolution shortly after Pearl Harbor encouraging our government to sit down with the Japanese to negotiate rather than respond by going to war. Such differences of opinion are part of our way of life, and it is certainly the role of the professoriate to dispute almost anything. I would, however, encourage us to remember George Orwell's words: "We sleep safe in our beds [and disputes can take place among the professoriate] because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."

Michael D. Mahler, MSU-Bozeman

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