The one-year anniversary of the most documented event in history-the Sept. 11 attacks-has engendered a written, spoken and visual maelstrom. Attitudes toward events planned to commemorate the date run the gamut from solemn, patriotic reverence to utter dread of how print and broadcast media may mawkishly exploit the tragedy.
But according to the San Diego-based organization Voices for Women (VOW), learning from and sharing information about the aftermath of 9/11 has only just begun. On Sept. 5, the group sponsored a panel discussion titled “A New Conversation: Global Community and Human Security,” held at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice on the campus of the University of San Diego.
VOW, a group of roughly 12 women active in local business and government, was founded by Jenni Prisk shortly after and in response to the terrorist attacks. The organization asserts its dedication “to raising awareness of international issues and stimulating dialogue on global citizenship.”
Moderated by Prisk, the eclectic panel comprised four individuals: Institute Director Dr. Joyce Neu, an associate professor of communications studies at USD; Dr. Peter Cowhey, director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California San Diego and a UCSD professor of political science; Tony Perry, San Diego bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times; and political scientist, author and lawyer Margo Dockendorf.
Neu-who, with former President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, assisted in negotiating a four-month cease fire in Bosnia in 1994-addressed the issue of international conflict resolution. She argued that since 9/11 the U.S. has experienced “a lack of conversation, a lack of dialogue, a lack of debate” with regard to the terrorist attacks and that “Americans have rallied around the flag... reluctant to challenge government policies, reluctant to appear unpatriotic...
“The U.S. government has single-mindedly pursued the rhetoric of war as if [it] had no other tools at its disposal to resolve and deal with what has happened,” Neu continued. “In the past year, the U.S. has shifted from being a beacon of human rights globally to abridging the human rights of our citizens and of visitors to this country.”
Cowhey, using an approach that had the air of a protracted history lesson, focused on the world order built during from 1946 to 1949, an era he believes holds valuable lessons for those currently participating in molding U.S. policy with regard to dealing with terrorism.
A long-term effort to deal with terrorism and its challenges to the world represents not just questions of military action or the police and intelligence world dealing with terrorism, Cowhey said, “but also the question... of how [to] rebuild the U.S. as a symbol of hope and development in the world.”
Perry's speech, which ultimately focused on the integrity and responsibilities of journalists, predominantly featured anecdotes of his reportage from New York City in the days following the attacks and his subsequent journalistic stint in Afghanistan.
Touching on the theme of the public's difficulties in receiving accurate information, Perry talked about his first night at Camp Rhino in Afghanistan, as he listened in on television reporters trying to meet deadlines.
“We [journalists] didn't know what the hell was going on,” Perry said. As the reporters, literally in a row, each took turns with a satellite phone to call stories in to New York or London, he noted how the descriptions of the situation got progressively more flamboyant-an example of the old cliché that “the truth, through no fault of anyone except our way of doing business, can... be the first casualty of war.”
Overall, however, Perry believes that the news has become more serious since 9/11. Quoting a Robert Samuelson article in the November 2001 issue of Newsweek, Perry noted how the terrorist attacks gave the press, which had been stagnating pre-9/11, a story in which substance matters.
“There'll be a lot of talk in the next couple of weeks as the press dissects itself and everything else,” he said. “I still feel the press has unfinished business: to explain what that part of the world is like, what the grievances are and also to explain who these young men and women are that we're sending over there.”
Perhaps the most colorful presentation was Dockendorf's, which both strongly supported the founding ideals of the U.S. and addressed a belief in a global federation. Liberally sprinkled throughout with quotes from Charles Darwin, George Orwell, William Butler Yeats and Robert Kennedy, it contained visions of an evolved human race, merging ideas with extraterrestrial cultures to form an interplanetary civilization. She also punctuated her argument by likening the United States to a “reincarnation” of ancient Rome.
“I'm also here tonight as one of you,” said Dockendorf, president of the San Diego chapter of the World Federalist Association, “[who] have been impacted by the escalating violence of the world and things that have been happening since Sept. 11 and would like to know what it is you can do to be part of this global community.” She added that “Sept. 11, or something like it, was indeed inevitable, given the course we were on.”
But before any of her higher aspirations for humanity can become possible, “we must engage in creative, political architecture that builds a house in which all of the inhabitants of this planet can live and prosper-not just a select few,” she said. “If we have access to... information but do not avail ourselves of it, if we accept the explanations, justifications, manipulations and excuses of our officials and do not challenge what they say... then we do not deserve to be free.”
Because of time constraints, an actual “conversation” didn't really start until the cameras stopped rolling and audience members were invited to ask questions.
Clarifying some of her views, Dockendorf drew applause after commenting that while the U.S. is a powerful force for good, “the more we continue to be the Wyatt Earp of the world, the more we draw fire. Is there some other way that we can correct the wrongs of the world in a rational way without having to conquer everyone that we disagree with?”
Addressing the question of how the U.S. can help rebuild Afghanistan, Neu said long-term commitment and donors are key. Also, “we need to educate... [and] give grants to women. Even the World Bank and the UN have discovered that providing small grants to women goes to feed the entire community. Providing grants to men feeds men, and not even necessarily their families.”
One well-spoken woman took Cowhey to task for characterizing the rebuilding of Japan and Germany after WWII as “a generous act of benevolence [on the part of the U.S.],” an idea she found “far-fetched” given the political motivations behind that reconstruction. She also lambasted any need for apologies for criticizing the U.S. as well as the “patriotic fervor that is being imposed upon us that it's wrong to criticize our country.”
And how, another asked, do we get responsible journalism?
Perry responded, “It's a marketplace, so buy those newspapers you think are good; watch only [TV] shows you think are good.” After all, he noted, “you get the journalism you deserve.”