The goal of our project is to determine if the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 psychologically affected Americans differently than people from other countries. In the days after the bombing, there was little else about which people could think. The tragedy filled our minds at the same time we were deciding on a project. Our preoccupation with this terrible event led us to our decision to involve it in our project. We are very aware of our initial reactions and the impact the tragedy had on our lives, and we are wondering if our social identification as Americans effects the way in which we were impacted. In order to find this, we must study and compare the reactions of a group of Americans and those of a group of foreigners.
The research may lead to some interesting insight into our nation’s collective personality as it relates to the individual. We have seen ourselves for years as an invincible entity, untouchable by the terrorism, tragedies and evils with which the rest of the world must cope. If the individual’s security and confidence in the vast and sacred sheltering force called “America” is shaken, we may come to view our position within the world as different. This event may have increased our sensitivity to our vulnerability as shown through our reactions. Those who have not had this same feeling may not have been effected in the same ways that we were. We hope to discover if the individual’s feelings of security were shaken in regards to the nation or to the world in general.
We believe that the attacks will have a larger affect on Americans and their sense of safety than those who are originally from other countries. We’re hypothesizing that Americans will be more affected than foreigners because of many reasons. We have built America up as invincible because extreme terrorism events, like this one, are not as common in America as in many other countries. Consequently, if a person lives in a country where terrorism is common, they will be less deeply affected by this recent terrorist attack. Also, we identify more with the victims because they are part of the complex psychological group of the “nation” that we’ve formed in our minds. They are our “brothers and sisters” because we are all Americans and therefore we hypothesize that the tragedy will touch Americans more deeply than those from other countries.
The question at the base of our investigation is: “Does one associate himself more with the larger group of ‘humankind’ or with the group of his ‘nation?’” Coming from the standpoint that Americans identify with other Americans more than foreigners, and vise- versa, tragedies of such magnitude as the September 11 terrorist attacks may psychologically affect those who identify themselves as Americans more than those who don’t. But the point could also be argued that the terrorist acts were not only a breach in national security and a destroying of a national security building, they were also an attack on human life which clamed thousands of victims. Foreigners may be just as equally effected as Americans because of their identification as a whole with humankind. To discover this we must find out if Americans were more strongly effected by the attacks and make our inferences from there.
One must first look at the reasons the individual is so strongly connected to his nation. Among them are the nation as a factor of identity through psychological proprietorship and social identity through the nation grouping. From kindergarten on we Americans are taught pride and ownership of the vast and awe-inspiring collective force called “America.” We sing the national anthem and pledge allegiance to the symbol of our grand country, the flag. We assign our nation with such good things as “liberty” and “justice” (of which we know nothing except that we are living them and they are worth dying for). Because we have been taught that we are part of a greater whole, we list “American” as one of our identifying traits. A study by Rentsch and Heffner in 1994 confirmed this distinction in asking more than two hundred college students the question “Who are you?” Among the many answers given, the students identified themselves with a country.1 When the shelter and powerful protection afforded by the nation was attacked symbolically through the destruction of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the individual American may have begun to feel insecure in his country’s position as a dominating and undefeatable world power, and subsequently his own. An attack on the country may be felt as an attack on the individual because nationality is so much a part of one’s individual self-concept and how one defines himself. The individual will take the attack personally and his perception of the invincibility of the great, sheltering and powerful nation will be shattered.
The insecurity caused by terrorism could create major psychological trauma and psychiatric problems. Feelings of helplessness, depression, demoralization, and hopelessness are frequently found in terrorist attack survivors. Many survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse problems.2 This same depression and demoralization may be seen throughout the country in American individuals because of how strongly they may identify with the American victims even though they do not know them.
The attack may not just be viewed as one on the sacred “bigness” of America, but on the social group one identifies himself with. How does the individual assign such emotional identification to people so radically different except for the fact that they are “Americans?” In setting oneself apart from humankind as a whole (aka: socially differentiating oneself1), one identifies with a certain group and assigns value to the other members of the group. Despite the differences within the group, each individual is included because his “sameness” (whether perceived or actual) overrides his differences.3 In saying that one is an American, he identifies himself with all other Americans and therefore may be touched more by disasters happening to his fellow Americans than by people of different countries. For example, a person living in San Diego, about 50 miles from the Mexican border and 3000 miles from New York or Washington, may not feel as deeply effected by a similar acts of terrorism in Mexico as in the US.
“Psychological ownership”4 of the country also plays a part in identification with the victims. When one “owns” an item, piece of land, person, or concept, he imbues it with heightened value because it becomes part of his self. This psychological ownership makes the country an intrical part of the individual:
“In principle the life of an individuated actor is celebrated through creativity, which is the imposition of one’s choices on the physical and social world, and in proprietorship, which is the establishment of permanent bonds between self and the products resulting from creative activity.
Nationalism is an ideology….called possessive individualism.”5
Sharing the country with the others living in it is essentially sharing a part of oneself. The individual may, therefore, subconsciously assign his social group, his fellow Americans or etc., with more value. (i.e. “This is my glorious country and the members of it are my brothers.”) An attack on this group of many unknown, yet dear, individuals could cause emotional trauma to the individual.
The sudden spike in patriotism since the attack, as shown through the sale of flags and the voluntary censorship of tv shows, comedy routines, and radio stations, could also indicate the innate value and identification one gives to one’s country and fellow citizens. Wal-Mart sold 450,000 flags in the period of September 11-13 when in that same period in the previous year they only sold 26,000.5 By displaying the flag people show support for the victims, support for their country as a whole and also their outrage against the terrorist act. As Anne Collins Smith says, “Any traumatic event tends to be treated as sacred and, consequently, not usable as fodder for humorous comment.” 6 The general attitude of society does not tolerate the lack of patriotism in times such as these. Even such shocker comedians as Howard Stern become patriotic, joking at the expense of the Arabs and glorifying the cops and firefighters. Patriotism is “the desire to raise the prestige and power of one's own nation state relative to rivals in the international system”7 After attacks the individuals within this perceived social group, the nation, band together against a common enemy, furthering their social identification as supporters/citizens of the country.
While Americans may be psychologically, deeply effected by the massacre because they identify socially with the victims, people of different countries may also be just as effected. While the terrorists were symbolically attacking the economic and defense power of America by crashing the planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, they, in the process, ended many innocent human lives. The effects in relation to the magnitude of deaths and way in which the victims died, may come about because of a basic human identification we all posses so that foreigners may feel it just as strongly as Americans. Also, it should be noted here that the victims of the attacks came from more than 65 nations. There has been an outpour of grief and condolences from almost all countries of the world. The president of Ghana issued a statement on September 12 saying: “We consider the attacks as a strike against humanity and civilization all over the world.”8 Other such statements come from countries such as Ethiopia: “the criminal and cowardly acts of terror that have struck America have created a deep sense of grief and sorrow here in Ethiopia."8 France also reacted with conviction. Chirac, the president of France, said “I am very, very moved today as have been over the last week. All the French people have been terribly shocked and traumatized by what happened here, such a drama which nobody could have imagined.” The president acknowledged the violence and tragedies of the past in France but said that this event exceeded them all. He commented on the 96% of the French population that “feels at one with the United States.” National agreement of this magnitude does not occur often.9
However, despite this outpour of grief from most countries of the world, the people of Iraq seem to have a differing and interesting opinion on the tragedy. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz “criticized the United States and Arab rulers who ‘rushed to condemn the event’ of Tuesday’s terror attacks on New York and Washington.” He said, “What happened on September 11, 2001 should be compared to what their government and their armies are doing in the world.”10 In this case he is not relating to the victims as humans and therefore similar and valuable as himself, but rather as part of a force that has been oppressing and controlling people (specifically his) around the world for years.
1 Baron, R. A. & Byrne, D. (200). Aspects of social identity: Self and gender. In R. A. Baron and
D. Byrne Social psychology (9th ed.). Boston, Ma: Allyn and Bacon.
3 Handler, Richard. Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec. New Directions in
Antropoligical Writing: History, Poetics, Cultural Criticism, ed. George E.; Clifford Marcus, James. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988, pp. 6-8.
4 Brown, Jonathon D. The Self. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 1998. pp. 21.
6 Andy Seiler. Humor crosses certain lines when fear, pressure increase. USA TODAY October 4th 2001
7 Hechter, Michael. Containing Nationalism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press,
2000. See pages 15-17.
8 http://usinfo.state.gove/topical/pol/terror/01092007.htm Africans Condemn September 11 Terrorist
Attacks on the United States
9 http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01091916.htm Chirac Brings Condolences to People of New
10 http://www.cnn.com. Ben Wedeman Bagdad, Iraqu. October 1, 2001
A group of 30 individuals of other countries.
A group of 30 American individuals (our classmates and others).
A survey used to collect the reactions to the September 11th attacks.
For our experiment, we are going to survey a group of college students from countries other than the United States. We will also give the same survey to a group of students who are from the United States (our NS class) and compare the results. The subjects will not be required to answer any of the questions that offend them, but they are encouraged to answer all of them. We may not be able to use the surveys that are incomplete; therefore, we may not end up with 30 sets of results for each group. If we throw out a survey from one group, we will, at random throw out one from the other.
One concern we have with the surveys is the ways in which the questions may be interpreted by the participants. We attempted to make the questions as specific as possible to avoid confusion, yet we did not ask for free responses. The participants are asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 1-5 or answer with “Yes” or “No.”
We will ask to class to participate in the survey and then will give them the results of their surveys as compared to those of the foreign students. We will then draw conclusions as a class based on the information.
Our results will be the comparisons of the foreign students to the American students. Because of the numerical nature of the data, it would be best interpreted in graph form. We will group our data into several bar graphs. In one we will have the data for the American students, in another the combined data from all the foreign students; in a subgroup the foreign data divided into specific countries. We will then compare each of the graphs in regards to the American data and the data from all other graphs in its subgroup. From this division and analysis of data we will be able to determine the effects of the tragedy on American students versus the effects on foreign students, and subsequently, the effects of the tragedy on Americans verses the effects on foreigners by region and in general. We will be careful to take into account their exposure to terrorist attacks and their specific relation to any of the victims in judging their reactions.
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