By Aubrey Hastings
Student Life Editor
Since that fateful September day, each of our lives has been filled with questions and fears. Students at Washington College today were only children on Sept. 11, 2001. As the tenth anniversary makes its way into history, WC remembers and reverences the day that changed America.
The Richard Harwood Program in American Journalism sponsored the 9/11 Now Panel, held in Decker Theatre. Crowds of faculty, students, and community members who all remember vividly the images of that day were in attendance. Decker Theatre was packed to capacity from the balcony to the floor and some resorted to viewing the panel through a monitor in the Tawes Theatre.
The distinguished panel of leading counterterrorism experts, among them WC President Reiss himself, was enough to attract the community. Above all, people came for answers about the battle that has encompassed lives.
“It’s hard to recapture the feelings everyone had on September 11, 2001,” said Admiral Dennis Blair.
Having spent 34 years as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command and 16 months as Director of National Intelligence, Blair recounted the moment he heard of the attacks and the responsibility to make urgent decisions following.
“We were ignorant about this group [Al Qaeda] for the most part —that was part of the horror of it all. We are safer today in terms of understanding what we are up against,” said Blair.
WC President Reiss moderated the panel by reading questions submitted by students and community members weeks prior. His input was relevant considering his credentials as a leading expert on American Foreign Policy.
The panel volleyed back and forth based on their own experiences over the last decade as admirals, CIA Intelligence experts, and national security scholars.
“The 9/11 story has a very important nugget in how we responded as a country,” said Sarah Sewall, a professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
“The way this story will be written decades from now will be concerning how these countries [Iraq, Afghanistan] turn out. Our hope ought to be to engage these moderate Arab governments and remain hopeful and tolerant in these transitions,” said Sewall.
One of the final questions proposed seems to be one asked by many; “Will we still be fighting Al Qaeda ten years from now?”
The word Al Qaeda became adopted as normalcy in American conversation after Sept. 11, and, according to panelists, is here to stay.
“Terrorism is with us to stay. Al Qaeda at its core can be defeated, but the idea of Al Qaeda and all linked to it, that is a different story,” said author Dr. Audrey Cronin.
It was spoken as common ground by the panelists that America is following the right path in all of this; the country just needs to persevere in unity and work towards fixing cracks in the system.
“In war, you must know who your enemy is. The time has come to develop a really comprehensive plan. We are headed in the right direction… we just need to do it at a sustainable rate,” said foremost expert Ambassador Cofer Black.
Admiral Dennis Blair left the WC community with a warning for perseverance and preservation.
“We cannot expect national intelligence to carry the weight of this thing. We must all do our part with structured systems and alert citizens. Terrorist attacks are a possibility in this world we live in. We must be most careful,” said Blair.
Sept. 11 awoke the senses to what is most important in life and put into question the very future of every American. Each of the panelists voiced their optimism for the futures, but in no way hid the inevitability of challenges ahead. The panel no doubt held the attention of everyone in the theatre.
“WC was fortunate to have such a stellar panel reflect on the impact of 9/11 a decade later. Many of my students told me that the event really made them re-think their attitudes about 9/11’s legacy. I was thrilled to see such a good turnout,” said Dr. Deckman, chair and associate professor of political science.