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Election Year 2004:
Reaction to 2001

Natalia J. Garland

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We all had emotional reactions to the attack on our nation on September 11, 2001. Recent televised images of 9/11 in Bush's presidential campaign proved that, two and a half years later, we still have strong reactions. Are these reactions related to the increasing cultural divide between America's political left and political right? Or are there underlying psychodynamics that are only coincidently related to the cultural divide?

Nobody has an emotional monopoly on 9/11. Everyone was affected by the collapse of the World Trade Center. Some people were directly devastated or traumatized. Some who lost loved ones have an understandable negative reaction to the advertised 9/11 images (and to the way in which lower Manhattan will be rebuilt). Even among those directly affected, however, there are different reactions to these issues. The same is true of people who were indirectly affected. The peculiar thing is that it does not seem to matter whether you were in New York City on September 11, 2001. People still have strong feelings when presented with the reality.

New perceptions of the world seem to have evolved. There are those who view 9/11 as fundamental to all political decision-making and to how we live our daily lives. Then, there are those who view 9/11 as belonging to the past, another chapter for the history books, and that we currently live in what one reporter referred to as a new universe. Since we still live in the aftermath of 9/11, probably neither view is totally objective.

Our nation is still in pain. Some people have been less able than others to cope. It is not uncommon for people to use defense mechanisms when they feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. Specifically, some people seem to be using denial and repression of memories. Sending 9/11 to the history books could be a form of denial: it's over, it wasn't really terrorism, it was a plot from our own government. Likewise, the objection to using images of 9/11 in political advertising (regardless of whether this was appropriate) is possibly an objection to reality confronting the repressed memory of a horrific day. Resistance to reality actually began on 9/11 itself when people quickly coined it as a tragedy rather than calling it an attack.

This psychological condition becomes more complicated as it weaves itself into the issues of the 2004 presidential election year. People in denial seem to gravitate toward the political left where some leaders have expressed blame and possibly displaced their anger. Blaming can defocus from the problem and from personal responsibility, and anger can give a false feeling of power. These defense mechanisms are obstacles to productive thought and communication.

People who gravitate toward the political right are more difficult to describe. They view 9/11 as a declaration of war, but then so do some people in the political left. The contrast seems to be that those in the political right have strong moral convictions that are intimately tied to their democratic values. In response to America's vulnerability to terrorism, they became interventionists regarding Iraq. The political right seems to be troubled within itself, however, over whether the Iraq war was the right war for the right reasons or the right war for both wrong and right reasons.

Whatever the justification for the Iraq war, the leaders of the political right seem to have underestimated the potential difficulties and the amount of resources that would be needed. Most people agree that the fall of Baghdad and the removal of Saddam was a good thing. But, with recent lawlessness in Iraq, there is tension over whether the democratization of Iraq is really essential to America's safety from terrorism. The political right could be facing a predicament of morals and principles versus national priorities.

There are some people in the political left who were wary of the possibility of Iraqi democratization from the beginning. Their view has always been that Muslim culture is not conducive to democracy, especially when the democratic impetus comes from America which is mostly Christian. The anti-democratic view is certainly true of radical Muslims whose terrorism would not be tolerated in a democracy. This view, however, may or may not be true of the everyday Muslims in Iraq.

This is our first presidential election since September 11th. Intentionally or unintentionally, some political leaders seem to have built election platforms based on 9/11 terrorization. The 2004 election year has become symptomatic of unresolved impact and primal needs. Gone are the days of united we stand and the civilized world against terrorism. Now it is left against right, and right against left. This is not politics as usual during an election year. This is a fragmentation of the American psyche.

People in recovery from alcohol and drugs know that the attitude is gratitude. We need to feel grateful that America has not been attacked in two and a half years, that the military has absorbed the hatred and violence for us. We need to explore together, as rationally and objectively as possible, ways to rid the world of terrorism. If we disagree, the disagreements should be based on intelligent good-faith arguments, and not on obligatory platform opposition. We need to be mobilized by, not divided by, September 11th. It really happened. It was horrible. It is not over yet. Let us stand united again.

[NOTE: This essay is neither a political statement nor a complete analysis of post-9/11 reactions. This essay simply discusses two types of human conditions that I have noticed: the denialists and the interventionists. My hope is that by sharing these thoughts, others might gain clarification or perhaps stimulation for their own conclusions.] (Written 04/12/04: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2004 Natalia J. Garland