The terrorist actions on September 11, 2001 changed the United States and the world.  Across the world’s universites, and across all academic disciplines, there have been few courses focusing entirely on the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath.   The American Studies Center of the University of Warsaw only offered it once.  This internet book is based on that course.

We should note from the outset that the term 9/11 is shorthand for the event.  This is American-centric, as Europe usually puts the day first, and then the month (11.9.01).  The 9/11 name has become more than the date.  It now signifies other concepts, too; 9/11 signifies the totality of the experience on the United States and the world, something larger than even the attacks themselves, and perhaps larger than the attackers had anticipated. It is also a cultural moniker for any large event containing political violence/terrorism, such as when some wondered whether the attacks in Mumbai in 2008 was India’s “9/11.”  Or when some argued when the next “9/11” will come, or whether America needs another 9/11 for further radical social change.

Why take – or teach – a lecture or course on a singular terrorist event?  9/11 had a profound impact on almost all aspects of American society.  It has thus far, and it may continue to in the future.  For how long, I don’t know.  I know they still talk about Pearl Harbor.

Academically, 9/11 had an impact on the social sciences and history, among others.  Sociologists and political scientists ask of 9/11, was this an event that created social change?  If so, what changed?  Can we point to the even of 9/11 and say, this is the point from which all social and political change has come?

Historians will wonder, is 9/11 a dividing point for historical periods?  A nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 and the Nuclear Age was born.  9/11 was the most profound terrorist event on American soil.  There was a pre-9/11 society and now there is a post 9/11 society.  (What is post 9/11 society?  I don’t know.  Everyone says we live in it.  How long will it last?  I’m not sure what pre-9/11 society was, other than 9/11 did not happen yet.)

As we will see, the idea that “all social and political change” resulted from 9/11 is not accurate, and is potentially misleading.  It is true, in the words of Cofer Black, the former Head of the CIA counter-terrorism center, “There was a before 9/11, and there is an after 9/11.”  It is also true, in the words of Condoleeza Rice, former National Security Advisor to President Bush from 2001 to 2004, “The world has changed so much that it is hard to remember what our lives were like before that day” (9/11 Commission Testimony).  Even if no major public official has said it directly, the shorthand for this sentiment has become that “everything changed” after 9/11.

The main idea I want to leave you with is this:  9/11 had, and continues to have, a profound influence on how Americans, and many around the world, think and act; its impact has been felt in almost every area of human social life, and the origins of many thoughts and actions are traceable to 9/11; yet, the impact of 9/11 must not be overstated: for many thoughts and actions, ranging from confidence in political and economic institutions, to voting, to political party affiliation, to religiosity, and others, 9/11 had but a brief and not long lasting impact.  In short, those engaged in 9/11 research need to ask three questions:  What changed?  How radical are these changes?  and how long have these changes lasted? 

How to teach a course on 9/11?  There’s a lot to cover.  If we go too deep into the social science literature, how deep do we go?  Do we spend time trying to find which of the hundreds of social science theories is the right one to explain some of the phenomena?  No.  We’d get too deep into these disciplines and be too shallow in the history we need to read. 

What history and how far back do we go?  Do we give a chronology of the events, or do we concentrate on the social and political contexts of those events?  And how much international relations (IR)?  Surely IR plays a big part: U.S. relations with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the former USSR is critical to the genesis of the event and to understanding current US policy in the Middle East, Africa, Russia, Europe and elsewhere.  Ultimately, the focus of this course is on the various effects of 9/11 on American society.  Always, we ask, how did this affect American Society?  We focus on the social and political aspects, with some attention to its economic impact. 

In choosing what to talk about, we should strike a balance.  Just like Philippe Petit, the French wire-walker who tight-rope-walked between New York City’s World Trade Center “Twin Towers” in 1974, we go only so far in one direction and don’t tempt fate. 

Appendix:  Other courses on 9/11

Rebecca Maniglia, University of Illinois – Chicago
This course has two primary aspirations. First, I hope to present the fundamental concepts, theories, and background information pertaining to the topic of terrorism in general so that students are able to understand the events of September 11, 2001, in the larger context of world terrorism. Secondly, as this is a criminal justice course, it will address the specific implications of terrorism for students studying law, law enforcement, criminology, and related fields.

HIST219C TERRORISM in the 20th and 21st Centuries Spring 2009
CORE Social or Political History (SH) Course.
Course Description: This course will examine the background and implications of the
September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and other terrorist acts against the United States and her allies. We will also seek a better understanding of the scope of radical Islam’s war with the West, and the reasons for and use of terrorism throughout the 20th century.

Spring 2002
Course Description: An exploration of the antecedents, meaning, and possible future repercussions of what happened on
September 11, 2001, through the perspectives of politics, history, literature, the arts, religion, regional studies, and other disciplines. The course will be a combination of lectures and discussions, with guest speakers from both the Brandeis faculty and outside the University.


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