As the Yale community dealt with yesterday’s cataclysmic terrorist attacks, the first difficulty for many was coming to believe that the event really had happened.
But Yale scholars already have begun the difficult task of envisioning what might come next and discussing how the nation should respond to the most deadly act of terrorism in U. S. history.
Professor David Cameron chose to postpone his planned lecture about terrorist attacks yesterday morning.
“This is beyond terror. This is an act of war,” said Cameron, who had planned to talk about the origins of World War I in his New Europe class.
“I saw the shock on their faces,” Cameron said of his students. “That is what they saw on my face too.”
Despite reports last night that intelligence officials had little doubt that Saudi exile and terrorist Osama bin Laden was responsible for the horrific acts, Yale world affairs experts stressed that above all Americans must remain calm and react cautiously.
“The first thing to do I think is just keep our cool,” history professor John Gaddis said. “Retaliation breeds retaliation, so we need to think things through.”
Law professor Harold Koh, who was assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor from 1998 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton, said the terrorism presents new difficulties.
“Here is the problem: this is Pearl Harbor and we don’t have a bad guy,” Koh said. “The media has to be careful about not turning this into a massive blame game.”
But President George W. Bush told Americans in a national address that the nation would not differentiate between the terrorist organization responsible for the attacks and the nation that harbors the organization. Charles Hill, a visiting fellow and accomplished statesman, expressed support for these sentiments hours before Bush’s speech.
“It has to be treated as an act of war,” Hill said. “It seems highly unlikely that it could have been brought off without the help of a foreign regime.”
Brooke Shearer, who is the executive director of the World Fellows Program at the Yale Center for Globalization, said the incident exemplified the new realities of a borderless world.
“We live in a world where borders exist technically,” Shearer said. “[But] there are no borders.”
After yesterday’s attack, many Americans suddenly awoke to the dangers of Shearer’s borderless world, and Gaddis explained that Americans will have to accept terrorism as a part of life.
“It’s not just Americans, but everyone is going to be vulnerable to this kind of terrorism,” Gaddis said. “I’m afraid that this is the kind of world [this] generation is going to confront.”
Nayan Chanda, director of publications for the globalization center, said Americans face a considerable threat.
“People who are unafraid to die for a cause have tremendous power,” Chanda said.
Professors also began to speculate about possible responses.
“What makes this a uniquely difficult object is that this is a non-state actor,” Law School professor Ruth Wedgwood said. “It’s hard to find points of leverage. … The hope everybody has is that this is the electric shock therapy that will show the traditional terrorist organizations that this is not a productive way to gain support. The problem is that bin Laden seems to be beyond that — he seems to have a general rejection of modernity.”
No matter how the country responds, Americans will wake up today to a new and harsh reality that would have been unimaginable when New Yorkers started their morning commute yesterday.
“Can you imagine someone saying they believed this is going to happen?” Shearer asked. “You should shut down all commercial airlines, all routes to New York? I mean, they’d have you in the loony bin.”
–Staff Reporter Sahm Adrangi contributed to this report.