Two Years Later
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JIM LEHRER: How the country itself has changed in the two years since the attacks. We get six perspectives, those of: Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard University and the author of, “Better Together: Restoring the American Community”; Gail Sheehy, the author of a new book looking at the impact of the 9/11 tragedy called, “Middletown, America: One Town’s Passage from Trauma to Hope”; the Reverend Luis Cortes, Jr., the founder and president of Nueva Esperanza, a leading faith-based group running social service programs in Philadelphia; John Ridley, a novelist and screenwriter of movies including, “Three Kings” and “Undercover Brother”; Michael Novak, a scholar in religion, philosophy and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute; and Martin Marty, a professor emeritus of history of modern Christianity at the University of Chicago.
Martin Marty, beginning with you many have said America was changed forever by what happened two years ago today. Do you agree?
MARTIN MARTY: I think America changes in two ways. In one way, an earthquake rocks you and the other the way a glacier moves. We change the way an earthquake hits us in that we’ll never again feel so secure, never protected by two oceans, by a Constitution, by a military because the enemy is of a different character. And we know it and it can happen at the airport or the mall. The glacial movement is the movement of the spirit and that’s what people in my business are trying to record. And that’s much more subtle, much more subtle. We have to watch that carefully to see.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think? What is the early evidence about the spiritual mood?
MARTIN MARTY: On one level, not much as changed. The people who are mad at each other in the name of God remain mad at each other. The churches are torn and fighting over issues, homosexuality and issues of that sort. And they’re going to keep doing that just as they were doing before.
I think there’s a seriousness of purpose among the citizenry and a lot of the religious leadership. People are looking for deeper things. Bu the momentary spike in church attendance didn’t last more than that moment and people have settled back to where they were.
I think there’s a little growth of tolerance among the vast majority of people. They have learned, for example, if they are non-Muslim that they have Muslim neighbors they want to get acquainted with and learn about. The numbers of anti-Muslim incidents have been quite small given the abrasiveness and even the language of a few noted evangelists. Overall I think we’re struggling to make sense of each other and I hope of our ways with God.
JIM LEHRER: Michael Novak, do you agree we’re struggling to make sense with each other?
MICHAEL NOVAK: Yes, and I agree with Marty, too, that there’s a new sense of vulnerability. In that way I think we’re changed forever. We know we can be struck.
JIM LEHRER: We didn’t know that before?
MICHAEL NOVAK: I don’t think — not in this way. I mean, so much so that at least I find when I go to an airport, when I’m an airplane I like to look around and see like members of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania who else on this plane is willing to fight because you might as well fight. That’s different. And when I’m in a tall building, I think I want to know where exits are because you don’t know. And I think a lot of other people must think a little differently. We don’t forget, to pick up the theme of the last segment.
But then I think we also became aware that we’re in a war of worldwide dimensions. I remember I was in Europe when the plane struck. I wasn’t sure when the first plane struck in New York whether it was an accident. But when the second one struck I said oh, my we’re in a war. I think that has become clearer and clearer as we found out more about who was responsible and how it happened and so forth. It’s of worldwide dimensions. It’s not like World War II because it’s not against states per se. It’s against a political movement, not a religion or a civilization, but a political movement based on resentment and envy and a kind of despair because of lack of opportunity and liberty as members of a once great civilization.
JIM LEHRER: You are talking about the people behind the attacks.
MICHAEL NOVAK: Yes. I’m talking about the political movement, which some have referred to as Islamist to distinguish it from Islam, not a religious movement because many of them are very anti-Islam. But they do spring from a civilization which was once proud. There was marble and tile in Damascus and Baghdad when Paris was still a cow town and London still had muddy streets.
And they remember that point of superiority and they lost it. How could that happen? And there’s the search for… not a sense to make things better which is odd of this political movement: No movement for human rights or prosperity but to tear down the others even the Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan.
JIM LEHRER: Luis Cortes when you look to what has happened to us as a people since 9/11 two years ago, what do you see?
REV. LUIS CORTES, JR.: I see that the changes are dramatic and in many cases they are still undefined. Our understanding of public space whether it’s a museum or a federal building is different of issues of the Monument or the Liberty Bell, access to them — Pennsylvania Avenue being closed. People think of safety when they are going to public buildings and that’s different. Our foreign policy is quite different.
JIM LEHRER: In what way?
REV. LUIS CORTES, JR.: Well, we can now attack two nations in the Middle East in a mater of a-year. And that would not have been possible pro 9/11. Our civil liberties and protection issues are different. You have highlighted that already. Those are the areas where we know they are defined. There are undefined areas: Our economic cost to this change. We don’t know what is going to happen in our country regarding our state and federal budgets: Both the war and the security costs and finally there’s a post traumatic stress issue. We don’t know what it’s going do to the American psyche over the long haul of what has happened over 9/11.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think has happened based on your experience and the people you when were in contact with every day in terms of the psyche — the poet traumatic psychic cost?
REV. LUIS CORTES, JR.: Well, my feeling on that is that we as a people are trying to figure out how to deal with it without changing our everyday way of life.
JIM LEHRER: Is it fear we’re trying to do deal with or being accepted as enemies of other people that’s a new thing, what is it?
REV. LUIS CORTES, JR.: I think it’s fear. I believe that we don’t know why we’re being attacked. Many of us don’t know why we were attacked.
JIM LEHRER: Even to this day still don’t know?
REV. LUIS CORTES, JR.: That’s correct because it’s such a different culture; it’s such a different mind set. And we do not live in these people’s situations. So we can’t really understand why someone would do what they have done and why they would kill themselves in an act of aggression.
JIM LEHRER: John Ridley, what do you think — what has happened us to in two years?
JOHN RIDLEY: Well, I think the infrastructure of our lives has changed. When you talk about the security we live under and new laws. Those things have changed but as people, I don’t think our lives have really changed that much. When you fly these days, you look at the sheer number of weapons that they still take off passengers. People have no idea why you can’t carry a knife or a hammer or something like that likes look a hand grenade on an airplane.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, they don’t make the connection between that and 9/11?
JOHN RIDLEY: I don’t think they make the connection. I don’t think they make the connection between what really happened and why our lives have to change. We want our lives to change but not at the cost of inconvenience to ourselves. We don’t like to take off our shoes at the airports. We don’t like to go through the extra security.
We want the sense of security but we don’t want the inconvenience that goes with it. I think part of the reason we’re asking all these questions now about why we’re in Iraq and about the Patriot Act is because after 9/11 we said look, protect us. Do what you have to do but make sure this never happens again. And now we’re like coma victims waking up going, what time is it and where am I.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Well, what would you say, John Ridley, to those who said, oh, my goodness we would never ever be the same people that we were two years ago? Wrong?
JOHN RIDLEY: I think it’s wrong. We go through our lives all the time. Forget about 9/11 — you could be driving down the street — you are almost hit by a car and you say, look, I’m going to go home and I’m going to be a great father or wife or whatever. And you have this moment of great change. But I think that we as people have a settling point. Human nature is a constant. We are going to be more of the people that we always were, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think in some ways it’s a sign of resilience; it’s a sign that we are going to go on and be a terrific nation and go back to dealing with things that we have to deal with as someone was saying before of race, homosexuality and taxes and those kinds of things.
The worst thing that would happen is that if we’re in a permanent state where this is so devastating that it can’t go back to being America for better or worse.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. Gail Sheehy, how would you describe our state of being right now?
GAIL SHEEHY: Well, I think 9/11 was both a shared national trauma and a very unique private tragedy for thousands of families. I followed 50 of those families who lost their loved ones in the Trade Center in Middletown, New Jersey, an American suburb like many others where there really is no middle, where people hadn’t been pulling together or didn’t necessarily know their neighbors because there was no particular need to as long as times were good. Well, they have learned through hardship and need to pull together in many ways. And the resilience and nobility that they discovered in themselves I think is the best antidote to the constant anxieties we have under this threat environment.
JIM LEHRER: Do you, is it your feeling that this is a permanent thing or it’s still, still kind of temporary and still based on the tragedy of two years ago because it’s still relatively fresh?
GAIL SHEEHY: Well, I’ll tell you, the people who lost loved ones are still climbing back from trauma. And they are not going to forget – there is no such thing as closure. And they are struggling, many of them, with their spiritual beliefs. Many are struggling with that nice innocent little container that they carried along from childhood which promised if you are a good person, God will look after you. Even their religious leaders couldn’t answer those questions in the first weeks and only when they crossed denominational lines and got together to give each support and strategies were they able to continue the struggle to redefine faith under these new conditions in this new face of evil.
JIM LEHRER: Did you after your experience of being with these folks as long as you were, and you decided to write a book about, tell their story, did you want to shout from the roof tops as well to the rest of America something? What did you want to shout to them?
GAIL SHEEHY: Oh, yes. Wake up. Stay awake. We have to pull together. Walk across the lawn, walk across the street. Meet that neighbor that you have never spoken to before because the only survival here is to pull together on a community level and a national and multinational level. And the other thing I’d like to shout is don’t succumb to politically inspired fear messages, such as the idea that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. How is it that 75 percent of Americans believe that if there’s no evidence? If we can’t operate on the same foundation of basic truth and facts given to us by the government, then what we need is this 9/11 commission that your Kevin Shaffer is on.
JIM LEHRER: Bob Putnam, do you have anything you would feel like you want to shout to the American people two years later?
ROBERT PUTNAM: Yeah. I think — of course. I would like to build on the things that Gail was saying because of course it was a trauma for the people involved and the country as a whole, and a tragedy. It was also an opportunity because we all learned from that experience the importance of connections with one another. We learned we could count on one another. We learned that we were in a certain sense all in this together. It was not just one class of people or one color of people who were involved in these various – that were victims of these various attacks. And you could see it very clearly in people’s behavior and in we do a lot of surveying about how people feel about their neighbors and so on. There was a huge spike in trust in government, a trust in neighbors; the thing that surprised me most actually was that there was a huge spike in interracial trust. Black people trusted white folks more after than they had before and the Latinos trusted Asians more and so on. That’s the good news.
It was a moment of national solidarity. The bad news is there’s always a spike like that after every local calamity, after a flood or an earthquake or a snowstorm. And we knew that from that peak of a sense of national solidarity there would have to be some kind of slump and there has been. Martin Marty referred to this earlier; there’s a decline away from those peaks but it was the kind of opportunity which was what in the education business we call a teachable moment. We learned something about ourselves.
It was the kind of opportunity for social and civic renewal that comes along to a country once or twice a century. It… but words are not alone — talking about connection is not enough. We have to have embodied that in deeds and action, I mean, both us individually and our national institutions.
JIM LEHRER: Have we done it?
ROBERT PUTNAM: No, I don’t think we have actually. And I think we have talked a pretty good game but we have not done the kinds of things that would have been necessary to make full use of this.
JIM LEHRER: Martin Marty, have we blown the opportunity? Has the moment come and gone?
MARTIN MARTY: I think that on the local level there are a lot of the good signs of the type that Robert just explained. Our real problem I think is national. And I don’t want to make this a political statement so much because I don’t see either of the parties coming forth with the kind of leadership that is rallying people to some more positives. Yes, fighting a war, yes, surviving, yes beating off terrorism are urgent. If we don’t survive, we don’t do anything else either. But what else are we doing?
As I see what happened on 9/11, we joined the rest of the human race in vulnerability, insecurity. Most people in most cultures and most people in the world have not ever known the security we knew until 9/11.
JIM LEHRER: And the prosperity as well. Go ahead, I’m sorry, excuse me.
MARTIN MARTY: In the feudal culture, the feudal lord up on the hill gets to rape the bride on the opening night of marriage, and there’s nothing the peasant can do. People were marched out by knights and crusades against their will. People were enslaved. Most people are still living on very low income, tens and tens and tens of millions, on a dollar or two a day. That’s not security. There’s no Social Security, anything of that sort.
And I say, on the local level I could document many signs of people sensing that about each other. But we haven’t learned how to make that truly a national move and reconnect and take lessons on how people have endured, prevailed, shown hope, shown faith, shown love around the world.
JIM LEHRER: Quickly, let’s run that by everyone else. Michael Novak, what is your feeling about whether we’ve blown the opportunity, we’ve missed it?
MICHAEL NOVAK: No, we haven’t blown it yet. I’ll never forget – really many weeks – maybe months, I didn’t time it exactly -there was a sense of unity in the country and not just unity amongst those of us living, but there was also a connection with who we are as a nation and as a past.
It was shown I think in the facts that some – well over 50 percent of Americans attended a public prayer service in that first week. Some 90 percent prayed for those poor folks caught in the collapsed building and so forth. Those weren’t just private prayers, they were an America tradition.
JIM LEHRER: National prayer?
MICHAEL NOVAK: Yes, that’s what Americans do. I remember the singing of “God Bless America” everywhere. I was overseas, as I said, but it was so touching to hear that echo coming out of from the city -
JIM LEHRER: Luis Cortes, what do you think we have done nationally to seize the moment? Have we done enough?
REV. LUIS CORTES, JR.: Well, I believe we have done quite a bit. First, I think we have a national consciousness of being a people, and though we are disagreeing with each other, I think we’re disagreeing in a way that is a little different. We’re disagreeing on issues that are greater than in the past.
Secondly, I think there’s a spiritual development among our folks and the one of tolerance which we didn’t have. I’m very happy with one outcome of 9/11. We did not scapegoat Muslim people in this country. We were able to separate things that in one sense I thought we wouldn’t do. So overall, I think we have progressed and I believe we’ll progress even more as time… as we move forward.
JIM LEHRER: John Ridley, are you as optimistic?
JOHN RIDLEY: No, I’m not. I think we have blown it, and not just on a national level but a global level. I agree with Martin that we had an opportunity with the world community like never before for people to really understand and sympathize with the United States of America probably not since the Second World War. But I think since the tragedy we have been arrogant and we haven’t been as open to other countries and really trying to involve everyone in this war on terrorism and also just a global unison and coming together. So I think we had a lot of stock that we could have used to really change the world and be a world leader and a superpower beyond just warmongers. I was totally behind the war in Afghanistan. I have so many questions about the war in Iraq right now, and I think the world does.
JIM LEHRER: Gail Sheehy, how do you feel? What is your sense of optimism at this moment? Will people hear your shouts?
GAIL SHEEHY: I hope so, but let me just give you a couple of local examples from Middletown. There’s a mosque in Middletown, and most of the other residents who are non-Muslims had no idea until 9/11. The week after the war in Iraq began, the district attorney in Monmouth County made a pilgrimage to that mosque and took law enforcement officials from every level to reassure the people of Middletown of Muslim faith that if there were any reprisals, they would be right there.
And they encouraged the Muslims to get involved and send their children to the public schools so people would become educated about their way of praying and their way of being. That was positive. Another positive one was the community. We talk about it so loosely, it’s lost its meaning. I’ve learned that community doesn’t have to be sharing geography. The people of Oklahoma City who endured the first terrorist bombing on our soil have banded together with the caregivers and officials of Middletown, and they now have a bond. They call each other up and they protect each other. People from Oklahoma — caregivers came to Middletown to help prepare them for getting through the second remembrance because it’s the toughest one.
JIM LEHRER: Robert Putnam, is there such a thing as a national community?
ROBERT PUTNAM: There is in some moments. I have to say I agree with what some people have said about there being interesting new experiments and shoots of new community growing in places all over the country. In this new book of ours, “Better Together,” we look at 12 different cases in which people are at the grassroots level making connections and making a difference.
My concern was that there was also a national opportunity here to create a new greatest generation, a chance to create a new culture of service. We talked about that, but in fact… and to turn a specific example that I’m talking about, what the Congress is now doing with respect to funding Americorps, the program that provides support for people to be involved in their communities, to create a new generation; it’s obscene that they are defunding this program because it’s absolutely totally inconsistent with what we say we want to do and what we’re now actually doing. — “we” now meaning the national authorities.
JIM LEHRER: I hear you. I hear all six of you, and thank you very much for being with us.