The fruit of a collaborative effort between the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and a group of Yale professors was unveiled for the Yale community on Wednesday before a full audience in Luce Hall.
The professors discussed the book that came out of the project, “The Age of Terror: America and the World after Sept. 11,” which attempts to analyze the causes and consequences of the terrorist attacks.
Strobe Talbott ’68, director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and co-editor of the book, opened the panel lecture.
“In a very real sense, this is a kind of homecoming for this project,” Talbott said. “The idea for this book was born in the immediate aftermath [of Sept. 11] on this very campus.”
Five Yale contributors to the book — Paul Kennedy, John Gaddis, Abbas Amanat, Charles Hill and Paul Bracken — gave a brief summary of their contributions to the book and talked about how their thought has evolved since they first submitted the essays for publication.
Gaddis began with the notion of surprise. Terrorism has always worked with surprises, he said, “but sometimes surprises work both ways.” He said the terrorists probably never anticipated the scope and severity of the retaliatory campaign, which came from an international coalition faced with a common threat of terrorism.
“Everybody has buildings over which airplanes fly,” Gaddis said.
Joking lightly with the audience, Gaddis added that few people, and in particular the terrorists, could have anticipated that Sept. 11 would change President George W. Bush from a Prince Hal to Henry V.
Amanat focused less on the immediate response to terrorism and more on the continuing necessity for an open-minded examination of the Islamic world. He said a distinction must be made between the grievances the Islamic world has with the West and the Islamic fundamentalism that inflates and exploits those grievances.
The emergence of certain socioeconomic trends corresponds to growth in extremist movements, Amanat said.
“We see a decline of middle classes and middle class values — [and] political regimes that tend to suppress any healthy, open debate,” Amanat said.
Arising as a response to forced secularization in the region, the politically successful manifestations of Islamic extremism often present a tempting alternative to this social decline, he said.
Amanat did provide some optimism.
“A healthy debate is going to emerge,” Amanat said. “The U.S. has to encourage that kind of open debate, without which it will be difficult for a more moderate Islam to emerge”.
A theme running through the discussion was the necessity for the United States to recognize the burden that its current and future roles carry.
At the same time Kennedy presented startling statistical indicators of the unparalleled scale of American wealth and military might, he also warned the audience of the trouble that accompanies these disparities.
“The more the U.S. looks like a 350-pound gorilla, whom you cannot handle, the more you are likely to think about putting poison in its food,” Kennedy said.
With a military presence in 40 countries around the world, the United States’ appearance of invulnerability forces potential enemies to employ more covert tactics, such as biological or chemical attacks, Kennedy said. What is needed to offset this appearance is a “leadership of remarkable insight and understanding” that will be able to cooperate with international partners in an equitable and charismatic manner, he said.
Continuing the comparison to primates, Gaddis added that the U.S. should be more conscious of how it wields its international power.
“Even if it’s a 250-pound gorilla, if it’s the only gorilla in the ecosystem, it’s going to be an unhealthy, lonely and unhappy gorilla,” Gaddis said.