News From Terre Haute, Indiana

9/11: 10th Anniversary Coverage

September 10, 2011

LIFE & LIBERTY: Americans won’t let lives be ruled by fear, prof says

TERRE HAUTE — In the post-9/11 world, Americans have been willing to make some concessions in the name of national security, but not many, says a St. Mary-of-the-Woods College faculty member.

Americans value their personal freedoms, says Pat McIntyre, assistant professor of theology at The Woods. “People refuse to let fear of the possibility of attacks cause them to give up their liberty,” she said.

They will continue to travel and understand the need for certain inconveniences such as airport security measures. People will sacrifice some of their personal liberties and privacy to be safer, “but over the 10 years, it’s not been that much,” she said.

For the most part, people haven’t changed the way they live or do business. Crowds of 70,000 to 80,000 still gather at stadiums for major athletic events. “We didn’t stop doing any of that,” she said.

Americans are saying “there are certain things we do value and there are certain ideas we think are important enough to defend. … Liberty is one of those.”

McIntyre pointed to the debate over the Patriot Act, passed six weeks after 9/11. The law greatly increased government powers to combat domestic and international terrorist activities. It broadly expanded law enforcement’s surveillance and investigative powers, and some of its provisions raised civil liberties issues and brought legal challenges. “Personally, I think there were elements of the Patriot Act that were overly intrusive,” she said.

Again, people want security “but not at the expense of our liberty.”

In their response to 9/11, Americans also demonstrated that they value justice, she said. They want those responsible for the terrorism to be penalized, but they aren’t going to blame an entire group of people for the actions of a few, McIntyre said.

People aren’t being “rounded up” or marginalized because of their ethnicity, color or politics, she said. “It’s been encouraging to see there hasn’t been a real rush to judgment” or violence against Muslims on a broad scale, although there have been isolated incidents. 

“We can still claim that justice is central to our existence as a nation,” she said.

Tom Steiger, Indiana State University sociology professor, said Americans tend to share the same values, which are embedded in our culture. But individuals may prioritize those values differently.

Americans deeply value their individual freedoms and the ability to go where they want unfettered, especially by the government.

In the decade since 9/11, what has surfaced is a kind of “tension” between the need for more security so citizens are safe versus the value placed on personal freedoms.

On one hand, Americans recognize that something has to be done to make the country more secure, “even if we don’t believe it’s that effective,” Steiger said.

For example, citizens are willing to put up with greater security measures at airports and give up a little of that personal freedom — but there are limits, he said.

Use of full-body scans at airport checkpoints has sparked intense debate, pitting national security measures against issues of personal privacy.

Tom Johnson, ISU professor of psychology, says there was a lot of post-9/11 rhetoric about not giving in to fear or hate.

But the event did generate much fear and anger.

He suggests that some of our national political policies and responses under President George Bush “were driven by fear.”

He believes it could be argued that Mideast policy as well as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “were at least in part driven by either fear of not wanting [terrorist attacks] to happen again or the idea of retribution for those responsible.”

In giving the government greater authority to fight terrorism, Johnson suggests Americans may have given up some of their civil liberties — or at least more than they want — because they don’t want another 9/11.

On a personal level, Johnson said he hasn’t curtailed overseas travel because of 9/11, but he does think about security issues now and the potential for terrorist activity.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@

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