The Response of People to Terrorism
The purpose of terrorism, of course, is to terrorize. And terror is, above all, a response on the part of people. This definitional truth, however, is only partial. The effects of terrorist activities, like the individual and collective motives for such activities, can be multiple—political, economic, military, and symbolic.
This report emphasizes throughout that it is exceedingly difficult to foresee and plan to cope with any specific terrorist act. The nation must make efforts to deter such acts and, when that is not possible, to counter and minimize terrorists’ actions. For example, since good intelligence is extremely difficult to acquire, it may be useful for the academic community to study terrorist recruitment techniques, organizational modes, and methods of operations (such as choice of targets and weapons). This is only one of the areas to which social science research can make a useful contribution. Given that terrorists may arise from many cultures and be motivated by a range of attitudes, studying the phenomenon of terrorism from a social and behavioral perspective could help to interpret fragments of intelligence information, to broaden understanding of terrorists’ modes of actions,1 and perhaps ultimately tell us how to curtail such actions. In this report, however, the committee constrains itself to discussing people as the primary target of terrorists. This chapter shows how the behavioral and social sciences can provide knowledge of and insights into the responses of individuals and organizations to the threat of terrorism and to terrorist events.
Chapter 10 discusses the importance of modeling terrorist decision making as an input for understanding vulnerabilities of critical infrastructures and systems and the effectiveness of proposed ways to mitigate those vulnerabilities.
HUMAN POPULATIONS AS TARGETS OF TERRORISM
Vulnerability of People
Some possible terrorist agendas involve more-or-less direct assaults on human life as a primary objective. These include the following:
Bombing of human assemblies at sporting events and other mass gatherings;
Attacks on large cities using nuclear weapons;
Assaults on toxic/explosive storage and production sites;
Assaults on water systems;
Bombing of mass-transit systems, particularly at rush hour;
Bombing of hospitals and day-care centers; and
Biological, chemical, and radiological contamination.
Attacks such as these blend into attacks that involve the possibility of human deaths but whose primary objective is to disrupt institutional functions and social processes. Examples of the latter type of attack include the following:
Destruction of reservoirs;
Disruption of transportation and distribution systems; and
Disruption of energy systems.
Still other types of assault do not involve expectations of physical casualties but may inflict incidental harm on humans:
Disruption of financial and market institutions;
Disruption of communication, data, and identification systems; and
Assaults on symbolic targets such as the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Monument.
Institutional, Group, and Political Vulnerability
Understandably, our initial impulse in thinking about the human consequences of terrorist attacks is to envision casualties—the numbers of people killed or wounded, as well as the emotional wounds to their families and loved ones. But there are several other dimensions of societal vulnerability as well, springing from the fact that not only is society made up of people but that people are organized in relation to one another in complex ways.
Throughout this report the committee recognizes that the targets of potential attack—transportation, communication, and energy systems, for example—are systemically related, and that an attack on one spreads to and perhaps cripples others. This principle of “systemness” applies to the organization of human life as well. It has been recognized for more than two centuries—notably in the work of Adam Smith (1937 (1776)), Herbert Spencer (1897), and Émile Durkheim (1949 (1891))—that as commercial, technological, and industrial development proceeds, social activities become progressively more differentiated and at the same time more mutually dependent. This is readily recognizable in the case of economic specialization, wherein the sites of production (firms, service agencies) come to be organized separately from the sites of consumption (households and organizations). This principle applies to other institutional spheres as well. In premodern times the family assumed responsibility for educational, medical, and welfare functions that have since become structurally separated and now reside in schools, hospitals, and government agencies.
Differentiation and mutual dependency constitute sources of vulnerability. The crippling of an industry responsible for vital products (such as food) or of the financial, medical, or legal system can injure (through deprivation) all those who are dependent on it and cannot readily perform its activities themselves. The effects can be even more serious if the damage is widespread, when repairing, rebuilding, or replacing lost functions may become long-term matters.
The Group Dimension
The growth of a complex industrial and service-based society not only leads to differentiation of social roles and of the institutions that directly affect individuals, but it also makes for a more complex group life. A panoply of groups based on economic interest—such as business groups, professional associations, and labor unions—sometimes cooperate with other groups and sometimes come into conflict with them. Modernized societies also evolve a system of social classes that crosscut associational life. Historically, the class dimension has not been a prominent feature of American society (as it was in many European societies), but during periods of labor disturbance such as the Great Depression, class interests have become more salient. Finally, the United States is characterized by many groups based on religious, ethnic, and racial identity, deriving historically from the heritage of slavery and waves of immigration that continue up to the present. These groups constitute bases for community association as well as social and political identity. Historically, relations among them have been variable as well, encompassing friendliness, accommodation, competition, latent tension, and, occasionally, open conflict and violence.
The point to be made here in connection with major terrorist attacks is that the group divisions in the country constitute fault lines that can become more unstable in periods of attack and recovery. Later the committee will comment on the opposite tendency—to pull together and show solidarity in the event of external attack—but if attacks are widespread or catastrophic they may generate scarcity, feelings of unjust treatment, and social disorder. If this is the case, existing group cleavages, as well as new ones that may arise as a result of attacks, can worsen internal conflict in the society. This is all the more likely if the agencies responsible for maintaining law and order are damaged and disrupted.
The last observation in this section points to one of the most vulnerable institutions—the political apparatus. The committee is aware that top national leaders are being protected: In times of crisis it is imperative for the government, as the centralized body responsible for maintaining the society and coordinating domestic operations and military activities, to be kept intact. The idea of disrupting our system of government is attractive, as the mailings of anthrax to various political leaders illustrated. While these incidents did not actually harm any political leaders, or even disrupt the government process for any significant period of time, they did illuminate the nature and possible consequences of future incidents. The disablement of multiple government operations by whatever means could trigger military, economic, and law enforcement failures.
While the protection of our top leaders and the continuity of our present federal structure is a priority, we must not overlook the importance of regional, state, and local government entities and their preservation. Local responses to attack must be coordinated by multiple levels of government and private sector organizations, and the efforts must all be integrated.
THE UNIVERSALITY OF HUMAN RESPONSES
Despite variations in directness of attack—whether on humans or on human institutions—and despite overlap among types of attack, all attacks generate behavioral, attitudinal, and emotional responses in the populations affected. The committee therefore concludes there is a human dimension to every type of terrorist attack, with each type evoking its own associated responses.
The human response to crisis situations can be influenced by factors such as adequacy of preparedness, effectiveness of warnings, and confidence in agencies designated to deal with crises. However, because it involves attitudes and feelings, it cannot be fully controlled by the state, planning authorities, or other agencies. Nor should it be. In a democratic society, we would not want such total control, for the reason that attempting to apply it would involve unacceptable intrusions on citizens’ freedoms.
Human responses need to be examined at four distinct stages of the attack process: (1) anticipatory attitudes, emotions, and behavior; (2) responses to warnings; (3) immediate responses to the attack itself; and (4) recovery. The remainder of this chapter addresses each of these stages in turn.
ANTICIPATION AND PREPAREDNESS
The possibility of terrorist attacks on the United States has been appreciated for decades, and before September 11 there had in fact been an accumulation of incidents abroad (e.g., bombings of embassies, the attack on the USS Cole) and at home (the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bombing, the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993). However, September 11 brought the nation dramatically into an “age of terrorism,” and it conditioned reactions to all that might follow. Public apprehension is now much greater than before, and reactions to future terrorist events will be strongly affected by the memory of September 11 and its aftermath.
Preparedness for attacks involves two sets of actors—the responsible authorities and the population in general. Government preparation should attempt to be exhaustive and conditional—trying to anticipate every conceivable kind of attack, understanding probable ripple effects, thinking in terms of multiple attacks, preparing proper responses for agents who would give out information in crisis situations, detailing the roles of first-line response agencies such as police and rescue agencies, and developing a range of backup responses to contain damage and minimize future damage. These measures also call for new levels of cooperation among government entities, the media, schools, businesses, hospitals, churches, and other entities large and small, including households. Applied research on all these aspects of preparedness, conducted in advance, would be a wise investment.
In general, each relevant social unit in the country (communities, cities, states) should make an informed effort to establish priorities for preparedness efforts based on its most likely vulnerabilities. And while each unit should prepare well for a range of possible assaults, it should not try to prepare for all conceivable kinds of assaults. To invoke an analogy, it makes sense for California cities to prepare for earthquakes and fires in the dry season, but not for tornadoes and hurricanes; it makes sense for some Southern states to prepare for the latter two but not the former two. Similarly, cities should prepare for a different range of terrorist activities than agricultural regions. Each unit should establish its priorities by devising scenarios for the attacks most likely to affect it. In devising these scenarios, the units should consult widely not only within their ranks but also with units at other levels, both above and below.
It is likely that the following general principles will hold with respect to how the populace anticipates an attack:
The longer the time between an attack and subsequent attacks, the greater will be the human memory-lapse and denial. It is not psychically economical for people to worry about rare events all the time; the reluctance of populations in earthquake-vulnerable areas of the world to organize their daily lives around the possibility of a serious earthquake traces in large part to the infrequency of such events. (It also might pay to recall the high-profile, sometimes-hysterical movement in the 1950s and 1960s to protect against fallout in the wake of a nuclear attack. Despite encouragement both by government and media, only one in every 100,000 people actually built some sort of fallout shelter (New York Times, Week in Review, December 23, 2001, p. 12)). This slippage of public apprehension works its way into public opinion, and the resulting complacency may become an obstacle to maintaining readiness. The desired but difficult-to-achieve equilibrium is to keep public consciousness high without whipping up public anxiety.
Making information available about the possibilities of an attack will raise the level of public anxiety.
Making information available about measures taken to prevent or defend against an attack will tend to lower the level of public anxiety.
The more information that is made available about how to behave in the event of different kinds of attacks (including readiness training and drills, for example), the more likely it is that people will have a sense of control over uncertain situations and that they will be less anxious. As much unambiguous information as possible should be disseminated about different kinds of attacks—information that is clear, placed in context, repeated, and authoritative (Mileti, Fitzpatrick, and Farhar, 1990).
The more people are overtrained (with repeated instruction about appropriate behavior in response to many different kinds of attacks or with constant drills), the more likely they will become indifferent, irritable, and critical of the authorities if no such attacks occur.
As discussed in other chapters of this report, technology has the potential to provide a wide variety of measures to defend against or prevent any given type of attack. Some of these measures, such as sensor networks to improve detection of chemical, biological, or nuclear agents or improvements in the electric power grid, will be complicated institutional or national efforts, but other relatively simple measures can be taken by individuals, such as making sure they have backup water supplies and flashlights. For people to be most reassured about the safety and preparedness of the nation, they should be given information about both types of defenses (what the government and others are doing to protect the nation and what they can do to protect themselves).
Warning systems, too, demand a delicate balance. Authorities should strive to make warnings free of ambiguity, directed to all who are at risk (wherever they may be), and available through multiple channels—public warning devices such as sirens, radio, television, and the Internet (Working Group on Natural Disaster Information Systems, 2000). False alarms and misdirection of warnings to people not at risk, however, generate the same negative consequences as overtraining.
Warnings may take the form of public statements that, based on intelligence information, an attack is possible or even likely on a given date or within a given span of time. Alternatively, the warning may state unequivocally that an attack is about to happen immediately or is under way. In either case, the following principles may be expected to hold:
The better prepared and “programmed” people are about how to respond to an attack, the less likely will be extreme behavioral reactions such as terror, random flight, and panic (Liu et al., 1996).
Warnings about impending attacks that do not occur could cause a cry-wolf syndrome, especially if the warnings occur repeatedly. Similarly, people who are warned but are not at risk will ignore or become blasé about warnings; some may even try to disable warning devices (Working Group on Natural Disaster Information Systems, 2000, p. 18).
Under some conditions of warning (e.g., to evacuate a city), people will not follow instructions immediately but will move first to make contact with or join family and loved ones (Killian, 1951).
Recommendation 9.1: Warning systems should be carefully designed with respect to who issues the warning, optimal lead time of warning, unambiguous language, and moderated emotional tone.
When feasible, warnings should also include specific instruction about what kind of behavior is appropriate under the circumstances (stay at home, go to designated locations, evacuate the city using designated routes, or use only bottled water, for example).
Recommendation 9.2 (Research): Comparative empirical studies of past disaster and terrorism situations should be undertaken to gather information that increases understanding of what past actions resulted in (1) effective warnings; (2) failures to warn; (3) false alarms; and (4) overwarning.
Data gathered from past events could also be used to develop models that might help predict the effects of different types of interventions in the future.
THE OCCURRENCE OF ATTACK
Immediate behavioral and emotional responses to attack are difficult to predict, in part because there are so many types of attack. It is possible, however, to specify some dimensions of attacks, each of which conditions the nature of the response:
The suddenness of the attack: from immediate and unanticipated (e.g., bombings) to slowly unfolding (the spread of infectious viruses).
The scope of the attack: highly localized (e.g., the bombing of one building) to broadly destructive (such as the successful disruption of much of the nation’s electric power system or the explosion of a nuclear device over or in a metropolitan center).
Whether the attack is a one-time event or there are multiple attacks.
If attacks are multiple, whether spacings are regular, irregular, or random.
Whether the attack is local (e.g., the isolated attack on a fuel pipeline) or general (release of an infectious virus or toxification of mail or currency).
The level of knowledge about the agent of attack: known, suspected, unknown, unknowable.
The degree to which a target is symbolically neutral (e.g., the blowing up of a railroad track) or symbolically charged (bombing of the White House or the U.S. Congress).
The degree to which an attack appears to be grossly inhumane (e.g., attacks on innocent urban populations, attacks on children).
Because of this variability, the principles involved have to be advanced with a sense of contingency, not certainty, and in an other-things-being-equal spirit. That caution ventured, the following principles, based on best-available behavioral and social science knowledge, can be enunciated:
Outright “behavioral” panic will be rare. It is most likely to occur under special conditions when escape routes are clogged or believed to be closing, and if people learn (or it is rumored or imagined) that there is only limited time to escape (Quarantelli, 1977). Some scenarios for panic would be attempting to escape entrapment in a building, trying to evacuate a metropolitan area under crisis conditions, and fleeing from an assault on a mass gathering in a stadium or arena.
Psychological panic (fear, hysteria, terror) is more likely, and its intensity will vary according to the level of uncertainty about the scope of the attack, its duration, the degree to which it is to believed to be general, and the agent of attack.
The more multiple or random the attacks, the greater the level of public terror.
The more certain the knowledge about the agent of attack, the more likely it is that outrage and a call for retaliation will stand out from other behavioral and emotional reactions.
The more the attack is seen as inhumane, the more likely it is that the public will feel sadness, depression, and rage.
The greater the clarity of information communicated about the nature of the attack—along all of the dimensions above—the weaker will be any fear and terror reactions.
The better the fit between that information and the previously established preparedness procedures and routines, the less likely there will be extreme emotional responses and disorganized behavior and the more orderly the withdrawal, help-seeking, rescue, and other coping behaviors.
The greater the degree to which the target is symbolically laden (e.g., sacred), the greater the shock and anger in relation to other emotional responses.
Information and the Media
All these principles apply to the social-psychological perceptions of an attack that result from the adequacy or inadequacy of knowledge about the situation. These perceptions derive from interpersonal communication of information, the spread of rumors, and above all the immediate reporting and interpretations of the event by the mass media.
The media play an important role in defining the nature, scope, and level of threat in critical situations, in disseminating both reliable and unreliable information, and in calming the population or generating extreme reactions such as anxiety and terror. This truth has become even more evident as technology now permits instant worldwide dissemination of news and opinion. A special responsibility for reporting and dissemination seems to attach to events that are immediate, threatening, and easily generalizable.
The role of the media is double-edged. On the one hand they can displace informal and uncontrolled flows of information with accurate, timely, and authoritative reporting. On the other hand they can be conduits—and multipliers—of misinformation if they report soft “facts” and unconfirmed rumors, often in the rush of trying to scoop competitors. Indeed, the media can inadvertently change the basic dimensions of an attack. The widespread reporting of the anthrax contamination in the weeks after September 11 served to expand those events from several localized incidents into a potential generalized threat. All this underscores the crucial roles of both the mass media and authoritative sources such as the police and political leaders in giving definition (psychological reality) to an attack. It also underscores the great need for responsibility and prudence on the part of these entities in moments of crisis.
Recommendation 9.3: Representatives of the major media should consider developing—voluntarily—a code of norms that they would observe in reporting events related to terrorism.
Such efforts are not without precedent. For example, most newspapers and other media exercise great care in protecting the privacy of child crime victims. The media usually refrain from identifying the victim or giving away personal particulars. A similar code could be developed for terrorism-related incidents that while only slightly restricting the amount of information being reported, would not compromise the investigation of the incident or oversensationalize it. For the media to address these issues voluntarily would keep them from government control and recognize the special responsibilities that they bear.
While the media have an obligation to the public and to the government to try to disseminate information as efficiently and accurately as possible, the government has the responsibility to provide such information to the media and the public as efficiently and accurately as possible. In the same ways that federal agencies are preparing technological responses to possible attacks (e.g., stockpiling vaccines), the government must also be preparing the informational response. Who will be able to speak with authority when a terrorist attack occurs, i.e., who will be a trusted spokesperson for the public? The answer of course depends on what sort of attack takes place and the type of information to be communicated. For example, in a radiological event (a dirty bomb), the Surgeon General might be the right person to speak on how to minimize radiation exposure,2 while in a biological attack, someone from the Centers for Disease Control or perhaps the Surgeon General might be the right person to describe steps people can take for self-protection (e.g., the use of simple breathing masks to filter the air, whether to stay inside).3 In many types of attack, someone from FEMA might be the right person to announce evacuation plans and routes if necessary. In all cases, identification and training of these potential spokespeople should occur before an attack takes place, so the government can respond not only by providing emergency services but also by providing important, accurate, and trustworthy information clearly, quickly, and authoritatively.
First-Line Responders to Attacks
The differentiation and mutual dependence, or “systemness,” in contemporary society, mentioned earlier in this chapter, apply as well to the numerous agencies responsible for maintaining law and order, protecting the society from
The need for a trusted spokesperson is especially important for events relating to nuclear and radioactive materials; see discussion in Chapter 2.
One factor that must be considered is the perception of political motivation: Will the spokesperson be distrusted because he is perceived as having political authority rather than technical expertise?
attack, responding to attack, and recovering from attack. The actions of these multiple agencies must be integrated and coordinated if they are not to be fragmented and ineffective. Nowhere is this truer than in the initial responses to attack, when quick decisions and direct actions are required. The accumulated body of research on natural disasters reveals all too many instances of scarce information, deficient communication, poor coordination, and jurisdictional conflict among nominally coordinating organizations (Kreps and Bosworth, 1993; Tierney, Lindell, and Perry, 2001).
Coordination is complicated because it involves agencies at different levels, from federal to local, and different types of government and private agencies. It is also complicated because once a disaster occurs, informal new groups come into being—often under conditions of extreme confusion—and must be taken into account by those officially designated as responders (Drabek, 1986). In his first press conference after assuming federal responsibility for homeland security, Governor Tom Ridge properly called attention to the seriousness of the issues of overlap and coordination among government agencies. The committee knows of no more important and pressing concern with respect to effectiveness of response.
For all stages of the attack circumstance—preparedness, warning, attack, and recovery—agencies responsible for aspects of any of them should coordinate their assignments as closely as possible. This means knowing how to act when different kinds of attacks occur, how to cooperate, and how to communicate. It also means continuously reviewing each agency’s jurisdiction relative to that of others and refining responses in the light of as many hypothesized scenarios as can be developed. It also means planning for rigorously monitoring and correcting the coordination process in midcourse, as required by the specifics of the crisis. The need for such coordination and backup is especially critical in attacks when some response agencies are themselves disabled.
Recommendation 9.4: Agencies designated as responsible for the preparedness, warning, attack, and recovery phases of the government’s counterterrorism activities should coordinate their responsibilities as closely as possible.
Recommendation 9.5 (Research): There should be a deepening of research—basic, comparative, and applied—on the structure of agencies responsible for dealing with attacks and other disasters, on the optimal patterns of information dissemination and communication among them, and on the most effective strategies of coordination—and self-correcting of coordination—under extreme conditions. Research should also focus on the origins and consequences of organizational failure, miscommunication, lack of coordination, and jurisdictional conflict and on the impact on public confidence when organizations fail to act.
Many factors, including overlapping and unclearly defined missions for existing agencies and complex regulations prescribing the scope of agency activities, affect agencies’ ability to carry out key functions such as hiring personnel with appropriate expertise and training them and coordinating with other agencies or other levels of government. A number of fields—including political science, sociology, and organizational management—have important contributions to make to research in this area.
Reactions to Extraordinarily Catastrophic Attacks
The focus of this report is catastrophic terrorism, as defined in Chapter 1, and the principles outlined above describe people’s reactions to such terrorist events or the threat of them. However, in the case of extraordinarily catastrophic attacks—such as serial nuclear bombings of cities, destruction of an entire region, poisoning of a large segment of the population, prolonged paralysis of the nation’s energy system, or any event in which there are hundreds of thousands (or millions) of casualties—these principles become shakier. The nation has never experienced catastrophes of such severe proportions, so knowledge of the human effects is correspondingly weak. Three general points, however, can be noted:
Certainly we can expect magnified reactions of shock, despair, helplessness, and paralysis. The greater the destruction, the greater the likelihood of socially disorganized behavior and the less the likelihood of effective mobilization of people and social agencies.
The greater the magnitude of the attack, the more likely that governmental agencies and law-and-order agencies (military, police, fire control) are themselves rendered ineffective or altogether destroyed. Some terrorist attacks—for example, assassinations and the bombing of strategic government buildings—would attempt specifically to confuse and disrupt governmental processes. Others would specifically target response agencies. Extraordinarily catastrophic attacks could wipe out whole systems for response to disaster and disrupt government functioning. Needless to say, without these capacities and without effective backup systems, the seriousness of the attack is multiplied.
Research on natural disasters reveals that many of them result in an ensuing period of social solidarity (to be described in several of its aspects below) characterized by mutual help, certain kinds of self-denial, and some reduction in looting and other antisocial behavior (Barton, 1969; Lindell and Perry, 1992). The generalizability of such findings is uncertain, however, and under extreme conditions they may not hold; serious breakdowns of law and order must at least be anticipated. The main reasons for this would be the potentially high degree of resulting social disorganization, together with the disruption of law-and-order agencies. Some research has shown that when local police authorities vacillate or are absent from the scene, urban riots and related behavior such as looting are
likely to spread. Other historical research indicates that one ingredient of successful revolutionary overthrow is the inactivity, complicity, or defection—i.e., the essential absence—of the police and military (Smelser, 1962). Widespread breakdowns of social order also heighten the probability that mutually hostile class, ethnic, and racial groups (the fault lines mentioned earlier) will come into open conflict, especially if different groups perceive that they have been treated unfairly in relation to others. To say all this is not to predict that extreme terrorist attacks will inevitably bring social and political chaos or that recovery will not happen, but given the enormous magnitudes of human reactions and immediate coping efforts in the attacks’ aftermath, such possibilities must be considered.
Recovery-related processes can be discussed under the headings of shorter-term and longer-term recovery to terrorist attack, without attempting to say how many weeks or months either would last.
Short-Term Recovery Processes
Short-term recovery processes can be expected to resemble known developments in other kinds of disaster situations:
There will be a period of mourning, longer and more difficult if casualties are great, the attack inhumane, or the target a sacred one. This mourning process will become less intense if attacks are repeated and become a way of life.
A period of collective solidarity—a pulling together of the community affected and, to a lesser degree, of other communities and the nation—will occur. As with mourning, these responses will be weaker if attacks are multiple and repeated.
There will be a more or less immediate mobilization to clean up the rubble, restore impaired functions as quickly as possible, and generate the requisite economic resources. These activities will become less effective as the number and scope of attacks increase and as greater pressure is put on the resources available.
People will keep away from areas of vulnerability made evident by an attack. The avoidance of airline travel in the wake of September 11 is an obvious example. If a nuclear power installation is attacked, there will no doubt be heavy public pressure to close others down, even at the cost of reducing the nation’s energy supplies.
If a given function or activity is impaired or avoided, people will turn to alternatives—note, for example, the increase of business after September 11 in all forms of ground transportation. A widespread curtailment of electric power will occasion a run on lanterns, flashlights, batteries, and generators. An impairment
of electronic communications will create a crisis of overload for the telephone system.
Every attack—whether successful or thwarted—can be expected to enhance efforts to prevent further attacks of the same kind. A simple but telling example is the instituting of random shoe inspections of airline passengers after the aborted shoe-bomber incident in December 2001.
If the attack is believed to have been avoidable, and the agents responsible for its avoidability are identified or suspected, a season of scapegoating, public investigations of culpability, and calls for punishment will ensue.
If agencies of public order (police, National Guard, military) and rescue agencies (firefighters, Red Cross, volunteer workers) are perceived to have been ineffective or improperly coordinated, scapegoating will be directed toward these agencies as well.
Contrariwise, there will be an identification and adoration of heroes in crises. This effect will also decrease if attacks become repetitive.
Most disasters are both sudden and ephemeral, and immediate responses quickly give way to a wide variety of long-term recovery and rebuilding activities. Therefore research on immediate disaster responses generally relies on hastily assembled journalistic reports and after-the-fact accounts based on participants’ recollections. Both types of sources are subject to selectivity and distortion. Teams of behavioral and social science researchers collecting data on the spot and analyzing it in the context of established knowledge about disaster situations would supplement and likely improve on existing ways of generating information about disaster response. Some universities have a tradition of such fire-brigade research, but efforts should be made to expand and systematize it.
Recommendation 9.6 (Research): Relevant research agencies (universities, think tanks, or government) should establish the capacity to move quickly to the scene of a disaster and study immediate responses while they are occurring.
Analysis of preparedness, warning, and response tends to rest on the assumption of an undifferentiated community or public. Research on disasters, however, has revealed that individuals and groups differ both in readiness and response according to previous disaster experience, ethnic and minority status, knowledge of the local language, level of education, level of economic resources, and gender (Tierney, Lindell, and Perry, 2001). Research on these and other differences should be extended and deepened, and it should be taken into account when designing systems of preparedness, warning, and response to terrorist attacks and other disaster situations.
Recommendation 9.7 (Research): Research on how different individuals and groups prepare for and respond to crises should be extended and deepened.
Long-Term Recovery Processes
Longer-term recovery periods will more explicitly involve political, economic, and cultural considerations.
Political Aspects of Recovery
A postattack period of political solidarity parallels the burst of social solidarity noted above. Citizens express increased trust and support of political leaders, and this condition may endure for a long time if a sense of crisis continues and it is perceived that leaders are dealing with it well. The most dramatic evidence of this effect came from the polling of African-American citizens in late December 2001: Results revealed 75 percent support for President George W. Bush in a segment of the population that had cast only 10 percent of its votes for him one year earlier. Such support does not last indefinitely, however, as demonstrated by the fate of his father, President George H.W. Bush, after the Gulf War.
Political leadership also pulls together in such times of crisis, particularly if the crisis involves an attack on the nation as a whole. This effect is not necessarily seen in other types of crises, such as a severe downturn in the domestic economy or major political scandals, which typically set off both class and party conflicts.
Partisan politics are quick to return, however, even in areas that have some connection with the crisis. It was less than 2 months after September 11, 2001, when Democrats and Republicans split along recognizable lines over the issue of whether airline security personnel should be federal employees or remain as private sector employees. By December, the New York Times, in summarizing the national situation, quipped that “the Democrats and Republicans are fighting about everything but terrorism” (Week in Review, December 23, 2001, p. 1). Apparently this effect is a general one. In 1689, after the semiforced departure of the Catholic King James II and the succession of William of Orange, a Whig political leader observed that “fear of Popery has united [Whigs and Tories]; when that is over, we shall divide again” (O’Gorman, 1997, p. 43).
Four other political possibilities must be mentioned:
Tension between the exigencies of national security and the preservation of civil liberties. This tension is real and perhaps inevitable in times of political crisis. The two sets of considerations pull in opposite directions. Three foci of tension after September 11 were (1) the detention of immigrants; (2) the use of military tribunals for trying apprehended terrorists; and (3) the practice of ethnic profiling in checking and searching for suspects. This tension between vigilance and liberty is of special significance in the context of American democracy, given its long-standing commitment to individual rights.
Discrimination against and scapegoating of related minority groups in
the domestic population, sometimes encouraged or even executed by the government. The actions taken against German-Americans during World War I and the more drastic measures taken against Japanese-Americans during World War II are the obvious cases in point. Since September 11, neither the government nor the populace has turned visibly against Muslim-Americans, except for some local incidents. The crisis has created uneasiness and ambivalence in that sector of the population, however, despite exhortations in government and media circles for tolerance. Though a sense of comfort and pride can be gained from that posture of moderation on the part of government, press, and the public, it should not be assumed that the issue is permanently closed. Successful terrorist attacks in the future, especially major ones, or evidence or suspicion of terrorist activities on the part of Muslim-Americans, could quickly excite a season of pointed, even explosive, group antagonisms.
Confusion of political opposition with lack of patriotism. During national crises of the sort now being experienced, opposition parties and groups manifest unusual solidarity with top national leaders. The engine that drives this trust and cooperation is patriotism—love of nation. Two factors tend to maintain this diminution of partisanship, at least for a while: (1) a temptation on the part of the leaders and the party in power to play their political trump card by claiming or insinuating that the political opposition is not loyal and (2) the tendency for the opposition to drift toward self-imposed muteness out of apprehension that voters in their own districts may also confuse opposition with lack of loyalty.
Extremist political movements. An extension of these three tendencies can produce nationally disruptive political movements that excite accusations of disloyalty during periods of real or exaggerated threats. There is nothing inevitable about the development of such movements, but it is worth recalling two disturbing episodes of stereotyping and group punishment in the 20th century: (1) the Red Scare of the early 1920s, in which government intimidation and actual raids were carried out in the context of a national fear of Bolshevism and (2) McCarthyism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, which arose from a high state of national anxiety over the development of nuclear explosives and weaponry by the Soviet Union and the fall of China to communism. Both movements, while limited in duration, seriously compromised the civil liberties and livelihoods of some citizens and left ugly scars on the body politic.
Raising these four possibilities is in no way meant to predict that any will materialize as the nation struggles with its current situation. But it would also be unwise to put them out of mind altogether.
Economic Aspects of Recovery
Some potential terrorist targets are economic in nature. The disruption of the stock market, the paralysis of credit systems, and the contamination of currency
with toxic or infectious agents come to mind. While potentially very damaging in the short run, these types of attacks—except perhaps the last—could reasonably be envisioned to show rapid recovery.
Other direct economic consequences include the costs of rebuilding what has been damaged or destroyed. Depending on the scope and success of attacks, these costs can be very significant. The full cost of replacing the World Trade Center (including compensation for survivors) and the damaged portion of the Pentagon will be enormous, as would be the costs of replacing destroyed dams or severely damaged electric power systems. Once capital resources are raised and put to work, however, reconstruction projects take on the same stimulating significance for the economy that public works projects often do.
Assessment of the indirect economic consequences of terrorist attacks is a more complicated matter, in part because of the great diversity of possible targets. The overall economic losses generated by the September 11 attacks, while evidently severe, are difficult to establish, all the more so because the national economy had already entered a downturn. But in general, economic dislocations from discrete terrorist activities should be expected to obey the laws of routinization—however slowly in some cases—as people in the affected parts of the economy gradually return to their normally preferred lines of activity and expenditure.
Another indirect economic effect of national trauma is the process of capitalizing on public crisis for private gain. The plea on the part of airline companies for relief is not exactly a case in point, because the losses they suffered after September 11 were genuine; nevertheless, the possibilities of turning relief into gain are always present. The need to gird up for all aspects of counterterrorism will inevitably set off a scramble for government contracts in parts of the economy. This pattern was observable in past wartime situations: It persisted throughout the Cold War and it is likely to reappear during the coming years.
Prevention in particular looms as an extremely costly enterprise. Preventive measures may be sought at three points in the terrorist process: (1) at the source—that is, by seeking out and destroying terrorists where they live; (2) at the end of the line, by erecting defenses and hardening all known or conceivable targets; and (3) along the way, between source and event, by controlling movements of people and weapons at national borders and other points of entry.
The at-the-source alternative is attractive because, if successful, it prevents all sorts of terrorism. On the other hand, intelligence and military operations of this sort are very costly and constitute a significant drain on the nation’s resources; it is also impossible to assure that eradication efforts will ever approach anything like completeness, given the secrecy and mobility of terrorists and their networks. In addition, even if eradicated, terrorist activities and organizations can regrow.
The attractiveness of the along-the-way strategy is similar, in that it intercepts persons with a possible diversity of purposes. But in this case as well, both
the cost and the impossibility of completeness are evident, given the vast movements of people and things that global commerce and tourism entail.
The attractiveness of the end-of-the-line strategy is the promise of direct security, but the multiplicity of possible targets (and the adaptive capacity of terrorists to shift them under changing circumstances) also raises the issues of cost and the impossibility of completeness.
Considerations of strategic prudence and the force of public opinion will probably dictate that the country pursue all three lines of prevention, albeit imperfectly, and settle for as much reduction in the probabilities of attack as possible. This will come at great cost to the nation. Prospects for continuing governmental budgetary surpluses over the next several years have all but evaporated, and even if assisted by other nations, the United States will likely bear the greatest part of the economic burden.
Within the United States, the question of who pays will be a continuous one. Even under normal circumstances, U.S. politics is fraught with ambiguities and conflicts over the respective costs to be borne by federal, regional, state, and local authorities. The defense against terrorism promises to make the uncertainties even more salient. Furthermore, while the fight against terrorism is manifestly a public and governmental responsibility, many if not most of the targets of terrorism are in the private sector. Given all these intersections, who prepares and who pays? More rational and less rational solutions to these dilemmas can be designed, but the nation must expect a significant residue of tugging and hauling, jockeying for position, and resentments over perceived off-loading.
Two other sets of derived consequences, also of uncertain dimensions, lie on the horizon. The first is the effect of a continuous, quasi-wartime effort on the balance and strength of the U.S. economy. Such an effort will involve significant reallocation of public expenditures and capital among different industrial sectors (especially those connected with defense), the prospect of governmental budgetary deficits, some impact on the pattern of imports and exports, and perhaps a greater sensitivity to inflation.
The second is the prospect of giving lower priority to some expenditures for programs in education, health, welfare, environmental protection, and other areas in the face of more urgent demands for military and homeland and defense expenditures. War efforts typically slow the progress of social programs (demands for which often follow wars in a flurry). The quasi-wartime exigencies associated with counterterrorist activities promise to be no exception.
Normalization and Cultural Memory
The natural history of recovery from disaster involves a diminution of emotional responses, a denial of the possibility of recurrence, and a return to routine activities, events, rhythms, and conflicts. These are, by and large, reasonable and
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;
Deliberate efforts to remember the event and its heroes collectively, through commemorative ceremonies, public observation of anniversaries, and the erection of monuments; and
Sustained public interest in the remembering process, including, down the line, some contestation among politically interested groups over how the remembering should be done.
Some future attacks may be of such magnitude and drama as to constitute additional cultural traumas for the nation. Even these, however, will be read and remembered in the cultural context established by September 11.
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