Crystal Eastman, "Lecture: Professor Sicilia Discusses September 11th"


As far as criticism of the government during time of war, a valuable lesson from Vietnam is the fate of representatives who protested early on against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, said Sicilia. History has shown they were correct, but at the time they were accused of being unpatriotic.

Sicilia made several points about the role of government in war time. He succinctly summarized how war "expands federal government," "narrows political discourse" and "reorders national priorities." He named a few priorities of President George W. Bush that might be affected in the aftermath of the September 11. The terrorism might reinforce Bush's plan for developing a reduced welfare state, the Star Wars II plan, a tax reduction proposal, and a domestic energy supply-- in order to not be as dependent on the Middle East for oil. Sicilia gave a cautionary reminder that tax reduction has proven to be a risky scheme, as evidenced by high inflation rates during the Vietnam War.

Thus, the lecture drove home a few main points about the nature of the conflict and how media and government have reacted-- or might react. The solidification of tensions between countries that are anti-terrorist and those that refuse to actively fight against terrorists (in this case, Afghanistan), is comparable to a Cold War perspective on international relations. Sicilia had more to say on this during the interview on Friday.

At the beginning of the informal interview (more of a discussion than a question and answer session), Profesor Sicilia and I discussed the speech President Bush gave before Congress on Thursday, September 20. Sicilia mentioned that the speech's content offered even more parallels between the Cold War and the post-September 11 political climate. The non-negotiable position of the U.S. government-either a state is with the U.S. in it anti-terror campaign, or it is with the terrorists-is similar to the U.S. position on communism.

In addition, Dr. Sicilia commented on the rhetoric being used and how this might inflame the tension. He said, "without downplaying the tragedy, attention needs to be paid to inflammatory remarks," such as the use of the words "crusade" or claims that God is on our side. However, he said that many people have reacted very well to the attacks. He mentioned that the public has responded particularly well: concerns about racism are being heard, people are volunteering in record amounts, people are coming together, and workers are going back to work. The public discussion has been decent as well; there has not been just a "go get 'em" attitude, something that has changed since Vietnam War.

Discussing the change in foreign policy since the attacks of September 11, Sicilia said the U.S. started from a bad position. Until the attack, the Bush government was pursuing a more isolationist position in global affairs. Now, the administration is putting a "straight jacket" of pressure on allies around the world to rally to the U.S. task of ridding the world of terrorism. Furthermore, the U.S. has declared this an international war on terrorism, but there has been no international consensus on the definition of terrorism or what international cooperation would entail.

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