the University of Maryland on September 19, 2001, Dr. David Sicilia
of the History Department presented a lecture entitled "War, Patriotism,
Race, and Civil Liberties: Historical Perspectives on Our National Crisis."
Professor Sicilia compared and contrasted the terrorist acts of September
11 with other events in history. He also critically analyzed the roles
and reactions of the media and government in the aftermath of the terrorism.
Dr. Sicilia discussed his lecture with Janus in an interview conducted
on Friday, September 21. Parts of the interview are included at the
end of this current event report.
According to Professor Sicilia, the metaphors the media is using to
compare the terrorist acts to prior evetns are inaccurate. Historical
events such as World War II, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Vietnam
War, do not capture the essence of the predicament the United States
is facing in the aftermath of September 11.
Cancer also is not a suitable metaphor because instead of medical research
focusing on completely eradicating cancer, it is concentrated on new
and innovative treatments to help people live better lives with cancer,
not curing it completely. Instead, Sicilia suggests the Cold War and
Persian Gulf War as analogies. According to Sicilia, it is the "early
years of the Cold War" in particular that present" a better historical
analogy." The "escalation of tensions" at the start of the Cold War
and the further "rigidification of relations" between the U.S. and Russia
present a chain of events comparable to the post-September 11 political
milieu. He showed the cover page of the Economist with the title "Can
Islam and Democracy Work?" to illustrate his point.
He included a brief discussion of the increasingly vague concept of
war after World War II. For example, in the post-WWII era the definition
of war has become unclear-- it is not as simple as a WWI scenario where
one country would officially declare war on another, said Sicilia. He
cited the examples of the war in Vietnam and the Cold War.
On a note about the nature of the conflict during this point in history,
Sicilia said that times have changed since the Cold War; the fear is
now on our own soil. However, times have also changed, in that the U.S.
is more diverse and more tolerant; the U.S. would not even consider
anything comparable to the Japanese internment camps in order to keep
terrorists at bay.
He also mentioned several dimensions to the media's reaction to the
events of September 11. He noted the use of "racialized portrayals of
the Islamic world." Sicilia also mentioned the censorship of the press
that occurred during the Gulf War and the conflict in Grenada. The media
was not appraised of the situation in Grenada until after the U.S. had
used military action. Dr. Sicilia referred to the scope of the mainstream
media as "narrow," commenting that even during Vietnam, the press remained
supportive and uncritical of the government and military actions. The
media may have followed the anti-Vietnam protests, but it remained pro-U.S.
military in its opinion about the undeclared war.