COMMENTARY | Most of us remember where we were on 9/11 in 2001. We can remember people we watched the tragic events with, who we prayed with, and what we did in our community in the aftermath.
But it’s different for today’s college students. Most were between the ages of seven and 10. How can we connect such an important milestone in American history to them, especially when some college tells us that students just don’t get such events that were before “their time?”
So I had my students did a research project in my international politics class. A dozen undergraduates gathered data on all terror attacks against Americans from the 1920s to the present, at home or abroad. They researched articles and books to look at what others found. And they looked at the statistics for themselves.
We tested several “myths” about terrorism: (1) Are suicide attacks “the ultimate smart bomb?” (2) Do we have to fight them over there to avoid fighting them here? (3) Did 9/11 “change everything?”
We discovered that why suicide attacks are far fewer in number than the media leads us to believe, they are far deadlier, even when taking the tragic events of 9/11/01 out of the picture. We also learned that while such attacks have thankfully declined against America in places like North and South America, as well as Europe and Africa since 2001, they have increased in places like the Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia.
But how much did 9/11 change everything? Suicide attacks and attempts have gone up, even more than the post-Beirut suicide blasts against our embassy and U.S. Marine Corps barracks in the early 1980s. So have all terror attacks and attempts overall. Thankfully, U.S. deaths from attacks have declined, especially when taking 9/11 out as an outlier case. Yet overall deaths from attacks targeting Americans have gone up.
How do we resolve this explanation? Some of it is that the United States has become more adept at stopping terror attacks against its own people before someone gets hurt. But a lot of it is that the dynamic of terror attacks have changed. The new trend is to kill a lot of people from another country while trying to take out a couple of Americans. An example of this occurred at our embassy in Yemen, where many were killed waiting outside our embassy, while few Americans died. It’s an attempt to drive a wedge between Americans and Yemenis, as well as Americans and a lot of other countries.
By researching the cases, counting the casualties, and seeing the staggering numbers, I think the students got to see the importance of such research on terrorism as much as anyone witnessing 9/11 could. And that makes what’s being called “Patriot’s Day” a little more real to someone who was so young 11 years ago.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.