Teaching About Terrorism
9 November 2004

Inter-group conflicts can become murderous. We whack them; they might whack us back. They whack us; we whack them back. The simplistic symmatry of that truth sometimes leads people to believe that if one side stops the whacking, then the other side will stop, too. Grownups need to understand that things don't always work that way.

The days immediately following 9-11 were not a time for us to become reflective and wonder, "Gosh -- what were they so mad about?" We needed to strike back, which we did, perhaps not as effectively as we might have, but we did strike and inflict serious damage upon those who attacked us. So far, I'm all rah, rah, warmonger.

After the retaliatory phase, then it was time to ask, "What are they so mad about?" We still need to ask that question, even if to ask it is to risk being branded "unpatriotic" by neo-con, imperialist FPMers.

In March of last year we initiated a war against a country that was neither attacking nor threatening us. It was an "us whacking them" situation. It complicates everything. Those with a predisposition to hate us now have more solid reasons for doing so. They have many vivid anecdotes of Yankee barbarism to inject into their recruiting patter.

Even those without predispositions to hate us will hate us now because of what we are doing. When you destroy people's dwellings and mutilate people's bodies, what do you expect in return? Christian love and forgiveness?

We need to be grown up enough to look at the total context of events. Of course what we do to others has something to do with what others do to us. And what others do to us has something to do with what we do to others. America the Perfectly Innocent is just as stupidly simplistic a concept as America the Morally Equivalent. Our sins and virtures, our worthy deeds and our crimes all revolve in a great interplay with the sins, virtues, worthy deeds and crimes of others.

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This morning's edition of FrontPage Magazine.com includes "The ABC's of Anti-Americanism" by Jacob Laksin. Laksin writes about a contest sponsored by Dickenson College in Pennsylvania:

. . . the college invited educators across the country to submit lesson plans proposing creative ways to teach the subject of September 11. The four winning entries -- one each for the elementary school, middle school, high school, and college level -- were expected to . . . help American students confront and make sense of, the horrific events of that day.
Laksin rightly criticizes elementary level winner Bob Peterson, who
. . . urges students to consider the attacks in the broader context of global injustice. To wrap their young minds around terrorism, Peterson contends, they must first untangle the tough questions, such as, "Why do they hate us?"
There is no way anyone can take that approach with elementary school students without being tendentiously manipulative. Kids do need facts. They do not need the pretend sophistication of lesson plans like that of Bob Peterson. Laksin offers similarly just criticism of the winning middle and high school plans.

When it comes to the winning college plan by Professor David Mednicoff of the University of Massachusetts, Laksin is way off base. Laksin seems bothered by statements such as:

What students need is an introduction to Middle Eastern History, politics, a set of questions about what the United States' role in the region has been in the past and whether it's reasonable to make connections between that role and what happened on September 11. (Laksin quoting Mednicoff)
It strikes me as a perfectly reasonable perspective for an instructor in a college classroom. He's not saying that 9-11 was our fault, he's not saying that the perpetrators are not guilty of a horrendous crime. But "connections" do exist, and we must ask questions about them. Those questions are, in my opinion, ones that Laksin and other FPM writers don't want the rest of us thinking about.

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For a short history of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and surrounding areas, read "Abolish the CIA!" by Chalmers Johnson and Tom Engelhardt. This is a review of the book "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to 10 September 2001," by Steve Coll, New York: Penguin, 2004, 695 pp, $29.95.

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Side note: Laksin mentions that Bob Peterson is the "author of a book charging Christopher Columbus with genocide." Based on some reading I've done, I think Columbus really was an evil, murderous individual. This is not something to be dwelt upon in elementary school, but we should eliminate Columbus Day as a national holliday. Grade schools should teach the basic facts about Columbus's voyages, but they shouldn't make a big hero out of him.

 
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