Watson Institute for International Studies

Observing 9/11

September 8, 2011

The Watson Institute has approached the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with works reflective, analytical, and forward-looking.

As Institute Professor James Der Derian has written for the September 9 issue of Tagespiegel, “Ten years on, there is much to remember about 9/11, of the loss of innocent lives, the sacrifice of the first responders, the coming together of communities – from the local to the global level – against the terrorist attack on the US.  But there also moments we might wish to forget, forged in fear, trauma, and vulnerability, of a disastrous, unnecessary war in Iraq, indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, illegal wiretaps, surveillance and suspension of civil liberties in the US, an abiding suspicion of the non-American, and a search for justice that became indistinguishable from a desire for revenge.”

A fundamental motivation of the Institute-based Costs of War research project has been to resist this urge to forget – to “turn the page” on a decade of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. This summer’s release of the project’s extensive findings on (now updated) over 260,000 lives and $4 trillion in US spending has since resonated throughout the media around the world, informing commentary and individual engagement in understanding a level of human, economic, and social cost that has heretofore gone unacknowledged. 

Even teenagers with no memory of 9/11 are coming to new terms with the attacks and their US response. The Watson-affiliated Choices Program has put four specific instructional resources into high school teachers’ hands to help stimulate classroom deliberation nationwide. These are new curriculum units on US Invasion of Iraq and US in Afghanistan; a revised unit on Responding to Terrorism; and an online lesson, Oral History and September 11. As one teacher said in the press, “The kids create their own foreign policy based on what they have researched. It creates a student who is not only able to talk about what they have learned, but form an opinion about how to interpret it.”

Looking ahead, a second media-rich website, engagingafghanistan.org, features a recent exploration of Afghanistan at Watson with particular attention to the war-torn country’s democratic possibilities. Looking perhaps even further ahead, an Institute-led conference this summer on The Art of Peace in a Time of War began to answer the question: “How do we make an art of peace that rivals the arts of war and terror?”

These new initiatives build on a body of work that reaches back to one of the first international exhibitions on the attacks, 9/11+1, and a documentary, After 9/11. The years since have produced much related analysis on subjects from Cultural Awareness in the Military to US Military Bases and Global Response to The Politics of Policing Illicit Flows, and it advances with an October conference on strengthening targeted sanctions to counter terrorism and with ongoing screenings of the documentary Human Terrain this fall in Europe, where Der Derian will also give three talks on the significance of 9/11 as the Bosch Public Policy Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

With another milestone in view, the 10th anniversary of the US in Afghanistan, the Institute’s Costs of War project and editors of the Brown Journal of World Affairs are planning a roundtable discussion on October 7. And coming at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 from the Global Media Project, in collaboration with filmmaker Phil Gara '08, is a new documentary, Project Z: The Final Global Event.