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Faculty Voices

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the news media called on several Stanford faculty members to share their expertise. Below are some of their observations.

Steven Block, a professor of applied physics and biological sciences and an expert in national security and terrorism, discussed biological weapons, civil liberties and the explosive force of airplanes-turned-bombs with reporters from across the country. “I think it would be a tragic irony if [in the name of security] we gave up the very freedoms we are trying to protect as a nation,” he told Newsweek.

“Donkeys, seeds, water, money, books and ideas may prove more effective than cruise missiles, Special Forces and new banking laws in preventing the cancer of terrorism from spreading further,” wrote associate professor of political science Michael McFaul, ’86, MA ’86, and Linda McGinnis, ’84, former chief of mission for the World Bank, in the September 30 San Francisco Chronicle. The writers also suggested working to “strengthen the voice” of moderate Muslims.

In an essay in the September 23 San Francisco Chronicle, history professor Jack Rakove praised the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania: “The passengers deliberated, and then voted, as democratic citizens are supposed to do, and apparently decided to storm the cabin. The resulting crash was presumably the result of that decision.”

“It may be that language can’t do justice to the horror of experience,” wrote consulting professor of linguistics Geoffrey Nunberg in the September 16 Los Angeles Times, “but it’s the only game in town.” Nunberg characterized many of the terms used to describe the attack—including “despicable,” “nefarious,” “craven,” “infamous,” “dastardly” and “cowardly”—as anachronistic and in some cases “primly Victorian.” The United States, he said, needed “language that would reassert control of a world that had gotten terrifyingly out of hand. A high Victorian indignation serves that purpose well.”

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