Lecture: Professor Sicilia Discusses
September 11th

Crystal Eastman


At 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.

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