Pre- and Post-9/11 Perspectives: Understanding and Teaching about Differences in Perspectives Affecting Governance and Public Administration Post-9/11

by Paula D. Gordon

Being Published in Two Parts in Ethics Today, Volume 11 Number 1 and 2, Spring and Summer 2009

(Copyright by Author 2009)

At a conference on homeland security education in March 2009, a presenter who happened to be an appointed government official, spoke of a paradigm shift that she had observed since the November 2008 elections. The more she talked, the more apparent it became that she was unfamiliar with the distinction that many have made concerning differences in pre- and post-9/11 mentalities or perspectives, differences that numerous observers and commentators have noted. These have also been referred to as “9/10” and “9/12” mentalities or perspectives. I discussed this oversight with her during the Q & A and after the session and confirmed that she was unaware of such distinctions. Later, I “googled” “9/10 mentality,” “9/11 mentality” (as in “pre- or post- 9/11 mentality”) and “9/12 mentality” and came up with over 5000 hits.

How might one characterize the differences between a “9/10” perspective and a “9/11” or “9/12” perspective? One might say that the differences between those who have a “9/10” perspective and those who have a “9/11” or “9/12” perspective is that their perspectives reflect different views concerning the significance of what happened on 9/11. These different views reflect different sets of values, assumptions, and ethical concerns. They can also reflect different notions concerning actions that the Federal government needs to take in light of the events of 9/11.

Just as many in many in the general public may be unaware of such distinctions concerning pre- and post-9/11 perspectives, many in roles of public responsibility may also be unaware of such distinctions. One might find this absence of awareness of individuals in roles of public responsibility surprising at first. But when one considers that those who have assumed roles in government may be relatively new to government and may in fact be new to the field of homeland security, it becomes less of a mystery.

In addition, this absence of awareness can be found among those in academia. For academicians in the fields of public administration and political science who are aware of the distinctions, the following question arises: How might these perspectives be productively discussed in a classroom situation in an institution of higher learning? Indeed, how might they be productively discussed with individuals serving in roles of public responsibility? The following anecdote provides one illustration of an attempt to discuss the differences in these perspectives:

In 2002, I attended the Eisenhower Symposium on National Security in Washington, DC. The luncheon speaker on the final day of the symposium was General Richard Myers, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The audience of around 400 included a third or more from the military. I had attended the entire symposium and had noted that the questions that had been raised by many in the audience, including some of the military in the audience, reflected what I would characterize as a “9/10” mentality or perspective. That is to say the perspectives reflected in many of these questions and comments seem to show an absence of awareness concerning the significance of 9/11. Such an awareness can be said to define the differences between those who can be said to have a “pre-9/11” perspective and those who have a “post-9/11” or “9/12” perspective.” Another way to look at those who seemed to be espousing a “pre-9/11” perspective is that they would likely have raised the same questions and made the same comments prior to 9/11.

Long before the Eisenhower Symposium, I had been deeply impressed by General Myers’ statements in press conferences and in the written media concerning the significance of 9/11. I was glad that he was going to deliver the last plenary session speech and fully expected that he would reiterate views that he had regularly expressed previously in public. I thought that there were many at the conference, including some military who did not seem to share the views that I had heard him express in the past. When he failed to reiterate his previously expressed views in his luncheon speech, I decided to raise a pointed question in the Q & A hoping that he would state to the audience at the symposium his previously expressed views concerning the significance of 9/11. I include here the question and a portion of the resulting exchange from the Symposium transcript:

PAULA GORDON: …The question I'd like to ask you is that there are people who, for whatever reason, are not convinced that there is a difference between pre-9/11 and 9/11. I wonder how you go about explaining or convincing such individuals-whether they are in the coalition, whether they’re in the Army, whether they're in the armed forces, or whether they're the public or the media-how do you explain to them what the difference is?

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: A difference in what sense? I mean --

PAULA GORDON: ....Why we live in a different world, why we need to have a different kind of focus than we had pre-9/11. What's in the balance?

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS: Okay. I'll give it my shot, and that's a great question. Clearly, we were in the business of transformation before September 11th and, as I said in the remarks, whether that was a sense of urgency and why is that is so important is the question you're asking. Why are we more worried about things today than we were then? If you look at the adversary we're up against, I think that's one of the big differences. And we're up against not other -- in some cases, not other nation's armies, air forces, and navies and so on, but we're up against networks, and networks that can really bring more harm to us and our friends and allies than armies and navies of the past. And, if you -- as tragic as Pearl Harbor was, you know, that was less than the folks that were killed there in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon episodes of September 11th.

So, if these adversaries, if the international terrorists could get their hands on things like biological or chemical weapons or, God forbid, nuclear weapons or even radiological devices, their willingness to use them, I think, is clearly shown. We know they're very interested. I mean, we have good, hard evidence from all the stuff we found in Afghanistan and from the detainees that we're questioning. I mean there's no question about their hatred, about their quest for these sorts of weapons. To me, that changes everything, and so the way we are organized and the way we think about organizing ourselves and taking the fight to the enemy has got to change along with it.

So, I think in the risk equation, the risk has gone way up. And I'll give you a concrete example without revealing any classified details. But we have had clusters of terrorists in places where, because of our inability to do things quickly, we weren't able to go after them. And, the reason we couldn't do things quickly is because we are still organized the way we were in the Cold War, in many cases, or we don't have the right equipment, or the right relationships in some cases, with not only inside our own government [but in] other governments [as well]…..

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General Myers’ answer fell short of what I hoped he would say. I went up to him after the session had ended and asked him why he had not restated the views he had expressed in briefings and on other occasions concerning the significance of 9/11 and how the future of civilization lay in the balance as a result of the demonstration of the willingness and readiness of homicidal/suicidal terrorists to engage in asymmetrical attacks against the United States utilizing weapons of mass destruction. He said that he had thought it unnecessary to say these things since many in the audience were military and they were already aware of the significance of 9/11. I said that I was sorry that he had not underscored the significance more since it seemed to me that there were a great many in the audience, including some military who in statements made during the symposium that seemed to reflect an absence of an appreciation of the significance of 9/11. Those individuals could be characterized as having a “9/10” mentality or perspective.

How one views the threat of terrorism post 9/11, how one understands the significance of acts of homicidal/suicidal terrorism in which weapons of mass destruction are employed can demonstrably affect the approach that government officials take with regard to national security and homeland security. How individuals in roles of public responsibility regard terrorism and terrorist acts and how they regard those who commit such acts and plan the commission of such acts greatly affected by whether they have a “9/10” or “pre-“9/11” mentality or perspective or one that can be characterized instead as a “post-9/11” or “9/12” mentality or perspective.

How can an educator help students, including adult learners and those in in-service training in the government, understand these distinctions in perspective? How can people expand their understanding of such distinctions in a climate that is so often characterized by adversarial position-taking and entrenchment in political points of view? Suggested here are some ways of guiding discussion and learning that can result in enhancing understanding of these perspectives.

An approach that I have used in academic settings has involved the use of a set of questions. I have raised these questions with younger students as well as with adult learners. The questions are designed to help clarify the distinctions in pre- and post-9/11perspectives. I have posed these questions in such a way as to compel students and adult learners to consider and attempt to understand both of these mentalities or perspectives, mentalities and perspectives that differ so markedly from each other. Here are some of the questions that I have used.

Questions 1 & 2: Background: A segment of a video was shown in class that featured an exchange between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Chuck Schumer. (“America’s Future: Two Visions. Two Books, Two Parties” C-SPAN Tape ID: 196723, 02/16/2007) The portion of the exchange that we viewed concerned foreign policy and terrorism and the seriousness of the terrorist threat. Newt Gingrich made a case for the seriousness of terrorist threat. The former Speaker of the House gave the example of the couple with a baby in the UK in August of 2006 who were prepared to blow up a plane disguising the explosive in the baby's bottle of formula. Speaker Gingrich said in effect that in his view this willingness and readiness to destroy one's own children in a homicidal/suicidal bombing was evidence of a level of "ferocity" that the world had not witnessed before and that we do not as yet fully comprehend. Senator Schumer, on the other hand, spoke of the need to use a surgical strike approach (involving special forces) to deal with the terrorist threat. Senator Schumer also spoke of "fear tactics" and accused at least some of those involved in supporting or "promoting" the "war on terror" of engaging in "fear tactics". (He excluded Speaker Gingrich from that accusation.)

An unknown blogger wrote the following in 2006:

"I think Paul Berman, in Terror and Liberalism, articulates why westerners are so loathe to call a spade a spade when it comes to totalitarian movements in general and one very old one with religious trappings in particular: because the liberal mindset, which places a high value on rationality, personal liberty and respect for human life simply cannot comprehend the irrationality, blind submission to authority and contempt for human life that is common to all totalitarian movements." December 8, 2006

Question 1: In your view, does the perspective attributed to Paul Berman help explain Senator Schumer's statements and other statements by other individuals that downplay the seriousness of the terrorist threat? If so, explain why. If not, critique the assertion attributed to Paul Berman.


Question 2: How would you account for the differences in Speaker Gingrich's and Senator Schumer's foreign policy perspectives as these were expressed in the excerpt of their exchange and as these perspectives are characterized in the background provided here?


Question 3: The DVD entitled "Obsession ~ Radical Islam's War Against the West" ( was studied in the course. Perspectives concerning the DVD can be wide ranging. The intention of the producers of the DVD was to shed light on the seriousness of the terrorist threat and to document parallels as well as connections between the rise of the Hitler and the Nazi movement and the rise of “radical Islam extremism.” The DVD included film footage of actual historical events, news coverage aired in Arabic by TV stations in the Middle East and rarely seen in the West, and interviews with persons of the Islamic faith who do not have extremist views. Characterize the possible basis for the differences in perspective that individuals have had concerning this DVD. What might be behind extremely negative reactions to the DVD? What might help explain why others find that the DVD sheds important light on the nature of the terrorist threat?


Question 4: There are decided differences of opinion concerning the seriousness of the terrorist threat. Differences in points of view concerning the Patriot Act constitute an obvious example. Some individuals who would tend to support the Patriot Act have said that "The Founding Fathers did not intend for the Constitution to be a suicide pact." What do you think is meant when someone makes the statement: "The Founding Fathers did not intend for the Constitution to be a suicide pact"?


Question 5: Describe the point of view of individuals who have an opposing perspective to those who use the argument in their support of the Patriot Act that "The Founding Fathers did not intend for the Constitution to be a suicide pact".


Question 6: Characterize the main differences in values and/or perspectives that are reflected in the two very different points of view that you have described in responding to the last two questions.


Question 7:

"Want of forethought, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong - these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history."

Winston Churchill, 1935 Speech to the British Parliament

Do you think that this statement by Winston Churchill has applicability to the world situation today? If your answer is yes, explain why. If your answer is no, explain why. After you answer the question, describe the difference in perspective of a person who would take the opposite point of view.


Another approach that I have used to help clarify the differences between pre- and post-9/11perspectives involves discussion of how the homicidal/suicidal terrorists of today differ from terrorists of previous times. Such a discussion is included in a 2003 report I wrote for the Lexington Institute on “Improving Homeland Security and Critical Infrastructure Protection and Continuity Efforts.” ( or In that report there a discussion focusing on the nature of the terrorist threat. The discussion is in is a section of the report entitled “The Different Nature of Terrorism and Terrorist Threats Post 9/11 and the Implications of These Differences”. ( or This section of the report that focuses on the nature of terrorist threats post 9/11 is about the differences in perspectives that individuals can have regarding the nature of the terrorist threat post 9/11 and the implications that these differences have with regard to the actions that need to be taken to address that threat. In the “Improving Homeland Security..” report, I wrote of the relevance of differences in perspectives regarding the definition of the “problem” and challenges of homeland security. If those in government start out with a confused or vague understanding concerning the nature and seriousness of the problem and the challenges that are being addressed or that need to be addressed, there will be no coherence in the way we evolve and implement policy. There will also be no common sense of mission or purpose if people are essentially working at cross-purposes based on differing perspectives concerning the nature and seriousness of the challenges facing us.

It can be helpful in understanding the difference between pre- and post-9/11 perspectives to consider the following life- threatening situation. What action is called for when there is mad dog loose in a school yard full of children. By analogy, the school yard might be seen as being the world and the mad dogs, the homicidal/suicidal terrorists.

Another situation calling for responsible action would be when one’s nation is wantonly attacked.

These examples of situations in which action is needed and “non-violent” violence is justifiable are found in the Discourses of Meher Baba. ( (Meher Baba was one whose spiritual counsel had been sought by Mahatma Gandhi.)

In sum, it can be said that the difference between a pre- and a post-9/11 mentality or perspective has to do with how one views the significance of the events of 9/11 and the implications of those events for the nation’s security as well as the implications of those events for the future of civilization. The relevance of these perspectives to the person who is in a role of responsibility in the nation’s homeland and national security efforts could not be greater. One’s perspective will be drive all that one does or fails to do to preserve and protect the homeland and to preserve and enhance the nation’s security. One’s perspective will contribute or not to helping ensure the very future of civilization.

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Dr. Paula D. Gordon is an educator, consultant, analyst, and writer. She has also served in a variety of capacities in the Federal government, including staff officer, policy analyst, and special projects director for a wide range of Federal agencies and Departments. She has an extensive background in several domestic policy arenas including drug abuse prevention, emergency management, and homeland security. Her websites at and include her articles, reports, publications, and presentations on drug abuse prevention and on emergency management and homeland security respectively. Her doctoral dissertation, Public Administration in the Public Interest (posted at focuses on complex societal problem solving and governmental change. She is based in Washington, D.C. E-mail:

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