Robert R. Basow(美)
Every generation has its defining moment, an event so extraordinary that people will forever remember exactly what they were doing at the moment it happened. For American college students, the morning of September 11, 2001 was such a moment.
It was a bright, clear Tuesday morning in Lawrence, early in the fall semester at the school where I teach, the University of Kansas. My journalism students came to their 8:30 classes clutching radios for news about the airliner that had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Some at first thought it might be a hoax played by a morning radio personality - like Orson Welles' notorious 1938 broadcast describing the invasion of New Jersey by Martians. But hearing the same news independently reported on each station convinced everyone that it was real.
When the second airliner struck the second tower, concern turned to terror. Next came the Pentagon crash in Washington, DC, then another plane crash in Pennsylvania. Even though Kansas is in the central United States, many university students have family members and friends in New York and Washington. "Are they safe?" was the first question: as the towers crumbled, it became clear that thousands had died. Suddenly no one felt safe.
Kansas students immediately thought of the Oklahoma City bombing, when a terrorist attack toppled a federal building in our neighboring state, killing almost 200 people. Students remembered that the terrorists were first presumed to be foreigners. This assumption proved false when police captured one of the extremists involved in the attack, an American. But the possibility that foreign students (especially Middle Easterners and South Asians) might be endangered caused concern, especially in light of certain events that followed.
Our daughter Lucy, a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, called to say that some people in Florida were celebrating the attack! "Why would anyone do that?" she asked. "How could anyone be that crazy, stupid or insensitive?" No one had answers on September 11, only questions, shock and grief.
American universities quickly organized a support network for their foreign students. At the University of Kansas any student who felt unsafe or threatened could stay in the home of a Lawrence resident. Our commu-nity, like thousands of towns across America, held a multidenominational service, conducted by local reli-gious leaders of several faiths, including Christians, Jews and Muslims. Terrorists could topple American buildings, the implication was, but they could not shake the American spirit of tolerance, mutual respect and neighborliness.
In the days that followed, college students did not wait to ask "What can we do?" -- they just did it. Many helped organize fund drives. Some gave blood, in fact so much that the blood banks were temporarily oversupplied. Several drove to New York City to help where they could. Everyone pulled together to help our nation get through the ordeal.
The morning of September 11 will live in students' memories as "9-11" (incidentally, this is not the usual way of formulating such dates in English; no one refers to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as "12-7", for instance.). The reality had dawned that life can end suddenly on a beautiful day. But Americans live in hope, not in fear. The lesson students drew from these events was not how dangerous the world is, but how peaceful nations of the world join together to help each other in times of need.
As a Fulbright lecturer planning to teach in China starting in February, I wondered whether these plans would have to change. The other Fulbright professors already in China said that their students were deeply concerned about 9-11 and shared their sadness. The Fulbrighters I visited with said that this is a very important time for Americans to move ahead, especially with our friends in China.
The 9-11 tragedy will forever be this generation's defining moment. American students now understand that terrorist attacks can take place anytime, anywhere. But just as tragedy can happen, so can peace, hope and kindness, whether shared by good people or by great nations.