Light from darkness: How U.S. has grown from 9/11

How the U.S. changed 15 years after 9/11

AUSTIN - Our ability to forge something positive from our darkest hours is what makes America great, and the nightmare of 9/11 is no exception.

Jeremi Suri was a 29-year old professor in his second week at the University of Wisconsin, where he was teaching the school's only course on the history of U.S. foreign policy on the morning the world changed.

"Many of my students signed up to join the military," recalled Suri, "I also remember the fear -- the fear that hasn't been lost."

Dr. Suri is now a renowned historian at the University of Texas at Austin, and believes the scars are still with us. Speaking with KVUE at his home office, he explained, "That sense of fear has pervaded our politics ever since -- fear of foreign terrorists, fear of immigrants, fear of violence within our own society."

Yet some wounds have healed back tougher.

Suri identifies three key areas in which the nation has salvaged something positive from the terrifying ordeal. For starters: No longer complacent in U.S. superiority in a post-Cold War environment, American leaders focused on conventional enemies started taking smaller threats seriously.

"There's a value in knowing that even if you're at the top of the hill, there's still a lot you have to pay attention to," said Suri. "There's a disciplining effect. So that's one positive thing. Second, our society has become more internationalized and more globalized."

After the 2000 presidential election perfunctorily addressed foreign policy, it's a central issue today -- and more young people are paying attention. While Americans have always been affected by international affairs, they're much more aware of that fact in the post-9/11 era.

"Texas is a great example of this," said Suri. "Before 9/11, Texas was not as international a state as it has become. That reflects the immigration to Texas, but it also reflects an international consciousness that if you are a major figure in the business community or in the academic community or in the technology community, you have to be aware of the world. You have to understand risk and understand cultures, and I think that's had a positive effect upon us."

Third, said Suri, "It's forced us to ask hard questions about government. What is the role of government in terms of providing security? What do we mean by security?"

Americans have also renewed support for the military, following a period of antagonism during the Vietnam era and apathy toward the turn of the century. Altogether, it's strength forged from bitter loss. The healing, learning and improving is part of a process of paramount importance.

"The generation that lived through World War II, they had the tragedy of the Depression and World War I that was their learning environment," explained Suri. "They had all lived through that and studied it. The generation of Persian Gulf War I had lived through the Vietnam War."

"We need to study our September 11, our tragedy moment, to understand how we can be better prepared to make use of the next moment, to deal with the tragedy, to deal with the suffering, and to convert that into positive value for our society," said Suri.

(© 2016 KVUE)


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