In speaking of the war on terrorism, President Bush has said that we have defined our mission and our moment. Do you think these are defining or galvanizing events for your generation?
Chris Paul: If this question had been whether or not this has been the defining moment of George Bush's presidency, I don't think there is any doubt. As far as it being the defining moment of our generation, I hope not. I hope this doesn't escalate into a world war. But there's no doubt that September 11 will remain in our minds throughout our lives.
Neil Gupta: I do think it reflects the new reality of globalization, of an increased ease in communication and of populations moving back and forth across borders.
Chris Paul: I really like Neil's point that we're seeing the problems of globalization along with its good side--the international collaboration, the sharing of information among those who are trying to fight terrorism. I think this could be a turning point where globalization is put to work for the better.
Luke Bergmann: If as a country we want to view this in some way as an attack on who we are--and I'm not sure about the case for that--the very least we owe to ourselves is not to destroy those very values that we claim for ourselves.
Martin Barna: If this wasn't an attack on who we are, then what was this an attack on? This was an attack on America and on Americans. What struck me was the solidarity with America from the rest of the world, the outpouring of sympathy toward America and disgust and anger with the terrorists who did this to America. The terrorists targeted an American symbol and they chose to make a statement. And I think we need to make a statement in return.
Luke Bergmann: I would say it was a heinous, hateful, murderous, entirely reprehensible act. But recognizing that doesn't help us understand how we came to this point and where we can go in the future to avoid other consequences.
Mark Freeman: When Tom Brokaw talks about the "Greatest Generation," he's referring to a World War II generation that actively participated in a worldwide conflict. In this case, actions are being taken at the level of the government. But we're told that the best thing Americans can do is just go about their daily lives as if nothing happened, and maybe to spend money to boost the economy. I don't really sense involvement at the level of the individual.
To what extent has September 11 and the aftermath affected your personal sense of safety and security?
Christine Varnado: The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were motivated by a desire to get at the very echelon of society from which most Duke students come. I spent the summer in New York, and in that sense it feels personal. I was talking with a friend the day of the attacks, and we said to ourselves, there's probably not a person on this campus who doesn't know someone in New York or Washington.
Lala Qadir: As an American citizen, I felt a sense of invasion and an attack on my ideals. This summer, I interned for the State Department, and I strongly identified with the U.S. government because of its ability to do good domestically and internationally. As a Muslim, the repercussions of these events were another facet that was quite terrifying. All across the country there are a lot of Muslims who have been harassed and physically beaten, and there was a CNN poll that said that 31 percent of Americans would like to see Arab-Americans in detention camps. So there's a cascade of events from the original atrocious acts that are affecting innocent lives.
Dana Vachon: One of my favorite things that I've held on to is a September 11 copy of The New York Times--a time capsule from when the world was normal. And the front page of that issue announces that it's Fashion Week in New York. When I look at that, I always think, what a luxury. Maybe it's interesting to examine our compulsions. Now I read that Times over and over. I remember sitting in the Duke Gardens the Sunday after the attacks, when they had grounded all the airplanes, and something was flying over the gardens. It was red--a color you wouldn't normally see on a plane. And I said, "Oh my God, is that a crop sprayer?" I was genuinely concerned. Feelings that once would have probably caused you to seek counseling now make sense in this odd world that we've been handed.
Christine Varnado: Seeing those publications now is so spooky. They're from a different planet from the one we now inhabit.
Luke Bergmann: We've been reborn. But it's not as if we weren't already living in a violent world. We just didn't realize it until September 11.
Allison Brim: The threat to my physical well-being hadn't really registered until I learned of the attack by the U.S. on Afghanistan. It just made it clear that there could be further attacks on our soil.
Julie Norman: When I first heard about the attacks I was definitely shaken up. I don't think I feared for my own safety here at Duke. But I have family members in New York and Washington, D.C., and it all hit so close to home.
Dylan Ashbrook: It was sort of surreal watching those planes just cut through those buildings. Every time I've driven to Duke from home, that's what I've looked at--the view of the New York skyline from the New Jersey turnpike. It's almost hard to connect those images to my everyday life because they were so incredibly horrific.
Neil Gupta: I don't feel a personal fear from what's happened. But what it's really highlighted is what people around the world live with on a daily basis; they have to put up with social oppression and with acts of terrorism. Because of what America has now experienced, we can better speak to the world on issues of oppression and terror.
How have the attacks influenced your thinking about your own future?
Dana Vachon: I spent the summer in New York and will probably go back there next year. Right after the attacks, I caught myself in this sort of heuristic, where I was trying to figure out if I could avoid New York while still achieving my goals. Before the process was over, I said, no, I can't do that. But when my father saw the Trade Center get hit, the first thing he thought was, "I work next to Grand Central Station."
Christine Varnado: These are particularly painful events for people of our age, who are just getting to the point where the world awaits us. I'm having a lot of anxiety about where I'll be traveling or working next year. I'd always planned to go to the Caribbean or West Africa; I always saw myself as unrestrained in terms of where I could go and what I could do. I believe in the ideals of a global community. But I'm having a lot of problems working out these issues right now. To me it would be a tragic thing if our world were to shrink to places that we can drive to from our hometowns, or places that are far from major population centers, because we're worried about terrorism.
Luke Bergmann: This has made me think much more seriously about going directly to graduate school; that seems to be the safest, most stable place I can think of.
Patty Chen: My plans haven't changed at all. I'm still planning on taking a year off and working, hopefully in a Pacific Islander community, perhaps with a Vietnamese refugee community. There are still people living in poverty after September 11, and since those needs haven't changed, my plans haven't changed.
Chris Paul: I'm personally interested in humanitarian issues. I think that field won't change; in fact, more importance will be placed on it. And hopefully these events will cause people of the United States to think about what it means for us to be so economically dominant in the world.
What are your reactions to the upsurge of patriotism and to the prominent display, including on campus, of the American flag?
Chris Paul: National mourning is very important, and in part the flag is a symbol of that. I'm hoping that these events will produce an international unity and not just a national unity. I'd like to see an emphasis on the positive values of the flag and the things we want it to stand for, like freedom. And I'd like to see us remember that freedom should not be exclusive for Americans.
Neil Gupta: Flying the American flag does have different connotations; one connotation is that you're either with us or you're against us. If people are flying the flag to represent the ideals of America, why hasn't it always been flown? Why does it take catastrophic events like these to make us realize, or present, those values that we hold so close to us?
Luke Bergmann: I think any person who doesn't want to fly a flag doesn't act with a conscious disrespect for those who have died. I think those people probably felt that they didn't want to see more Americans dying, that a way to honor our ideals was not to go forward into a war.
Allison Brim: As part of a community that is for peace and very much against war, I consider myself patriotic. I would almost hesitate to display the American flag for fear that somebody would think that it's just a symbol of togetherness in war. But I certainly would like to see the country being brought together.
Julie Norman: When I see the flags flying on campus, I'm not as moved as I am when I see the flag flying in the neighborhoods of Durham. That's not a belligerent use of the flag; people are thinking of the flag in terms of what they see America standing for--freedom and democracy.
Martin Barna: I don't see the flag as a symbol of war at all. I see it as a symbol of solidarity in this very tough time. To me, the flag is a symbol of freedom, and I don't think there is a more appropriate time to fly it than now.
Dana Vachon: I think the flag is sacred. There are a lot of people who have given their lives for that flag. The only moment I thought was excessive was when I looked at a cover of People magazine and it said something like, "Hollywood Shows Its Support," and Goldie Hawn was wearing a flag bustier. The market is too frothy and people have probably stopped considering the flag for what it is.
Luke Bergmann: With respect to solidarity, what I don't understand is what the word means to us. Does it mean that we should not disagree with one another? Does it mean that we shouldn't debate? Does it mean that we should fall in line? There is, in my mind, nothing scarier in a democracy than to have dissent pushed aside, because then it's no longer a democracy. There are few issues in life that are so black-and-white that you don't want to subject them, in good conscience, to democratic debate.
Martin Barna: To me, this is a very black-and-white case; we need to respond to these attacks, and we need to respond by using force. I don't think there's any question about that. And I haven't seen anywhere in this country where dissent really has been stifled. No one is talking about Sedition Acts.
Christine Varnado: The issue for me, as a patriotic American, is reclaiming the flag to represent the ideals that each one of us believes in as Americans. And for me, that's pluralism.
In the midst of a national crisis, there's talk of broader permission for wiretaps and for detention of suspects. And whether you're entering an airport or a football stadium, you're being subjected to more aggressive security searches. How accepting are you of constraints on your personal liberties in the interest of security?
Dana Vachon: Is it Tennyson who said, "Better a rotten borough or two than a city of flames"? I sort of feel that way. Better to sacrifice a little bit to help the state temporarily than to have a city in flames. I don't want to build detainment camps, but if you want to search me and to tap my phone, I'm willing to give up those privacies.
Martin Barna: After September 11, we should realize that Big Brother isn't watching much at all. Big Brother didn't see those two planes coming into the World Trade Center. I've never really had that fear that government is going to be on our backs and looking at our communications all the time. And I still don't. The ones who should have a fear of being monitored are those who are involved with terrorist acts.
Luke Bergmann: That's the logic that has led to every oppressive and authoritarian regime. The people who in the end will suffer most are those in social movements that have had a long, well-documented history of being targeted by our own government. We write our history books now, and we say that they, and not the government, were in the right at the time. There's the implication that terrorists are the people who have the most to fear from new government authority. But if you were to apply that logic to history, then you'd have to label Martin Luther King a terrorist.
Martin Barna: Not at all. What are the specific laws that the Attorney General has proposed? He's mentioned having it so that if you've got a wiretap on one person's phone line, that authority can be extended nationally on other lines used by that person. You still have to have evidence to obtain that initial wiretap.
Patty Chen: One thing we have to recognize is that when we talk about limitations on civil liberties, it often starts with a certain ethnic minority. When people say "American," the notion that comes to mind is the white, privileged American. The Japanese internment during World War II--that was all about "protecting Americans."
Dana Vachon: When I hear the CIA's George Tenet say that the agency cannot conduct effective intelligence while still wearing white gloves, that we need to do business with dirty people to catch dirty people, I say hurrah, great. The only rule of the international system is anarchy. And I think we need to re-evaluate the space that we live in here in America, because America has become, to some degree, an international battlefield. War has been declared upon us, and we are, for the first time, fighting a war on our own soil.
Lala Qadir: No one here disagrees that some action should be taken to monitor suspected terrorists. The question is, how are we going to stop ourselves from marginalizing a certain segment of the American population? Maybe you can take the premise that international politics is a realm of anarchy. But we have to work toward making sure that domestically we don't go toward a state of political and legal anarchy.
Mark Freeman: I was talking to my grandparents the other day. They were saying that there are going to have to be sacrifices made in this way as there have been in every war. In the past Americans have had to sacrifice their living standards or even the lives of their loved ones in war. But I don't think our rights and liberties have ever come up on the chopping block.
Chris Paul: Well, there certainly were a lot of losses of liberties during the world wars, including restrictions on free speech.
Dylan Ashbrook: It's important to remember that the enemy we're fighting is the product of a society that's restrictive of the civil liberties of its people. And we have to watch the small restraints that the government says are being done for patriotic reasons. We should be very sure that no one is perverting our freedoms by arguing that for our own safety, we need to sacrifice them.
Americans are registering a lot of trust in government: According to one survey, it's at the highest level since the 1960s. Do you find yourselves more trusting of the government during this tense time?
Chris Paul: My simple answer is, no. Certainly there's a national-security interest in keeping military operations secret. But as a citizen, I'm concerned that some of the choices we make may have bad consequences in the long run. I hope that if mistakes are made, we'll find out about them and be able to analyze them in order to make better choices in the future.
Mark Freeman: I do trust the administration and how they're handling the current situation. I also think the public can't be told everything for the sake of protecting military operations. At a certain level, we have to trust that the government is operating in the interests of its citizens.
Neil Gupta: Is this faith in the government a result of the actions that the administration is taking, or is it more of a desire to back whatever the government is doing in these circumstances?
Mark Freeman: I specifically trust this administration. I think the government is taking the right steps. It was right for George Bush to go before Congress and the American people and say we are going to be fighting terrorism over a long-term period. And his actions since that time have been very measured and calculated.
Allison Brim: One of the things that disturbed me most was in Bush's address to the nation after the attacks. He made the comment that this was going to be a different kind of war; this was going to be a war that we might not know everything about, there might be battles that the American public would never find out about. That scares me.
Martin Barna: The New York Times did a fantastic editorial where they talked about why Americans probably shouldn't see and the media probably shouldn't report all of the evidence in the case against bin Laden. If you're going to wage a war against terrorists, it's like any other war throughout history: You can't pass out the battle plans to CNN before you're going to attack. It's nice to sit down in the corners of academia and prattle for days about what a utopia looks like. But the rest of us have to live in the real world. You have to govern and you have to lead and you have to make tough choices, and you have to do things that don't necessarily fit with a perfect ethical framework.
Christine Varnado: Right after the attacks, a grassroots peace movement began forming in New York made up of some of the families of the people who died in the World Trade Center. And the only place you'll read about it is in The Village Voice. That's a perfect example of the viewpoints that you haven't seen represented.
Allison Brim: Hasn't the media already been silenced to some degree? I was at the peace protest in Washington, D.C., and there were about 15,000 people there, and none of the major media covered it.
Martin Barna: It was on the front page of The Washington Post the next day.
Christine Varnado: It wasn't on CNN's nightly news.
Martin Barna: Well, there are so many other things going on that you shouldn't have expected to see it everywhere. They had Susan Sontag on Nightline saying things that made this gentleman from the Heritage Foundation almost keel over. It was great to see her making those statements, and I don't think the national media is silencing other viewpoints.
Luke Bergmann: And Susan Sontag was receiving death threats.
Martin Barna: It's tough if you have a minority viewpoint when 80 percent of the population has a different viewpoint, and in this case is supporting President Bush. Who would have thought that 80 percent of this country, which was so divided last November, would be backing President Bush and agreeing with him on a course of action?
Allison Brim: It's difficult for the media to show the dissenting viewpoints when 80 percent of the American population is behind Bush. But I believe that the mainstream media very much played a role in that 80 percent by not showing the range of viewpoints from the beginning.
Martin Barna: We had lots of viewpoints. We had the plane coming from this angle, from that angle, and first one building collapsed and then the next.
Christine Varnado: That's precisely what we're talking about.
Martin Barna: Precisely 5,000 people were killed. And a lot of Americans felt that it was time to do something about that.
There's another survey on a much different theme. A couple of days after the attack, nearly four out of five people said they were more likely to be drawn to prayer or to be attending religious services. Has your religious faith comforted you during this uncertain period?
Luke Bergmann: One thing I've noticed is that a number of people who turned to their faith have found a lot of conflicts with it. They feel as religious believers different from how they feel as Americans. There are competing subjectivities: People will say my religion tells me one thing, but as an American I can't help but to feel differently.
Allison Brim: To build on that theme of conflicts, I find it interesting that everything from religious figures I've heard focuses on a non-violent reaction to terrorism. And the overwhelming majority of Americans, though they're attached to some faith, seem to be for some kind of military effort.
Can you see sacrificing yourself or compromising your style of living for the sake of something bigger than yourselves--say, some great national cause?
Christine Varnado: I've had some amazing discussions in my classes about these events; I've never felt more fortunate to be a part of the university than I do right now. I haven't encountered a single member of this community who would dispute the assessment that the slaughter of thousands of innocent people is wrong. That said, the discussions I've had have expanded my perspective. We've deconstructed The New York Times coverage, and we've looked at how even the physical organization of the paper--how the photographs are used--reflects an ideology. We've been talking about the decline of the nation-state and the postmodern shape of war, a war that's not being fought over land and where the enemy is not even a nation.
Coping With A Changed World
Experts have had--and will continue to have--a lot to say about the events of September 11 and their aftermath. Informed perspective and complete context are important. But it also seems important to listen to fresh voices. The events will impinge profoundly on the younger generation, a generation that grew up in peace, expected to inherit prosperity, felt little threat to personal safety, and found self-expression partly through ironic detachment. Just as the United States was preparing its first strikes against Afghanistan, Duke Magazine convened two discussion groups among students. The exchanges are presented here in merged and edited form.
November 30, 2001