When there’s a traumatic event that shakes a nation such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, people will remember where they were, what they were doing and who they were with in what psychologists call a “flashbulb memory,” said Daniel Miller, psychology professor and department chairman at Texas Woman’s University.
“I think it’s one of the anniversaries that everybody, if they’re of a certain age, they’ll think about where they were at that moment and it brings back a flood of emotions,” he said. “I still remember the weeks after of no airplanes, how quiet the sky was and it was so surreal with no planes in the sky.”
While memories of the terrorist attacks may flood back to many today, the attitude of the nation toward terrorism seems to have settled toward complacency, Miller said. In the months following Sept. 11, Americans experienced complex emotions, including extreme anger, a sense of loss and a strong sense of nationalism and pride, he said.
“We’ve certainly lost our sense of unity in our country — we are a divided nation in terms of politics and that’s a shame,” he said. “I still think there is a pride in terms of how people responded to [Sept. 11], in terms of first responders and social service agencies that acted and how people helped each other.”
This growing complacency is the result of two costly wars that the President George W. Bush administration linked to terrorism, said University of North Texas professor Geoffrey Wawro, who wrote Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East.
Though not correlated to the actual terrorist attacks in 2001, this complacency has carried over into current foreign affairs, Wawro said. Currently, there is a large agreement between conservatives and liberals that military action against Syria for use of chemical weapons will not be supported by the American people, he said.
“There seems to be zero interest in Syria — even knowing they are a sponsor of terrorism, where as one can imagine back in the day of the George W. Bush administration’s first term, they would have definitely struck Syria over this,” he said. “It’s shocking the lack of appetite for this adventure, and the only explanation is that they are just fatigued by 10 years of war and then nation-building in the Middle East.”
Since 9/11, there have been considerable gains in fighting terrorism, Wawro said, because of intelligence and drones outside of the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan — proving that the United States can make considerable gains in counterterrorism operations without troops on the ground.
“I think we’ve made great progress and I think the money spent on counterterror operations are far better spent than conventional attacks and the inevitable nation rebuilding that follows,” he said.
Miller agreed, pointing out that Americans’ conflicting views on Syria relate more to the events in Iraq and Afghanistan than to what happened on home soil in 2001.
“We have a very war-weary nation right now, and people are hesitant about getting in a conflict,” Miller said.
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.