adaptive responses on the part of a population, because large-scale disasters are so rare.

Discrete acts of terrorism, if not soon repeated, should be expected to show the same tendency toward routinization. Indeed, we received messages from government and public leaders exhorting us to return to normal activities in the wake of the September 11 attacks, while at the same time stressing the need for vigilance and even warning of potential impending attacks.

Because terrorist attacks tend to be sudden, surprising, and of short duration, they are usually regarded as discrete events. In reality, however, they build upon one another, and any new attack is read, variably by different groups, in the context of the past history of such events.4 One of the interpretative frames for reacting to the airborne attack on the World Trade Center, for example, was the memory of the unsuccessful effort to destroy it in 1993 by bomb planting. Reactions to anthrax episodes were strongly conditioned—and exaggerated—by their occurrence so soon after September 11.

Recommendation 9.8 (Research): Historical research on the interrelated sequencing of reactions, interpretations, and memories of terrorist events should be undertaken to deepen our theoretical and empirical understanding of those phenomena. Conceptual models such as path dependency (employed in economics and other fields) and the logic of value-added would guide the framing and conduct of this kind of research.

One final comment on the cultural uniqueness of the September 11 attacks should be ventured. Because those attacks were so dramatic and such a profound wound to the nation, they qualify as what social scientists and humanists recently have been calling a cultural trauma. Within a matter of days after the assault, it was appreciated in all quarters that these events would embed themselves deeply in the nation’s memory and endure indefinitely. Unlike some other cultural traumas that are mainly negative—assassinations of national leaders or episodes of ethnic cleansing—September 11 already emerges not only as a deep scar on the nation’s body but also as a moment of extreme heroism and pride. In the wake of the events, the nation has simultaneously experienced both deep mourning and a not-altogether-expected season of celebration.

A cultural trauma of this type can be expected to manifest a number of known characteristics:

  • Indelibility, not only not forgotten but also incapable of being forgotten;

  • Sacredness of the event, not in any specific religious sense but as a monumental instant in the history of the nation;


The issue of repeated attacks and their consequences for behavioral reactions has been mentioned—less extreme reactions, greater possibilities of scapegoating and political protest, and a certain hardening of public attitudes.

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