March 17, 2020

We learned resilience after 9/11. But it’s the wrong kind for combatting a virus.

By Joshua A. Geltzer and Carrie Cordero

Ever since the attacks of 9/11 shocked the nation, Americans have been urged by political leaders to learn resilience in the face of terrorism. That’s been critical to improving our ability to withstand such attacks when they occur and to show terrorists that their strategy won’t have the effects they desire. Now, we face our nation’s scariest moment since then: a virus that’s killed thousands around the world and that’s infecting thousands of Americans — and spreading. But the same resilience that we learned to show in the face of terrorism — centered on continuing with everyday life — isn’t strategic, wise or tough in the face of this new threat. It’s dangerous, foolish and selfish. At a pivotal moment for slowing the spread of coronavirus on U.S. soil, Americans need to learn a new kind of resilience that’s the opposite of what they’ve spent 20 years cultivating — and fast.

It was soon after 9/11 that Americans were first exhorted not to let the devastating attacks of that day interfere with ordinary life. Within weeks, President George W. Bush was encouraging Americans “to go about their lives, to fly on airplanes, to travel, to go to work.” He was right: Once the federal government felt confident that no second wave of al-Qaeda attacks was imminent, it was critical to America’s economy, society and collective psychology not to let the tragedy bring a superpower to a standstill. Showing national resilience in the face of terrorist attacks actually counters the effectiveness of those attacks: Terrorism is inherently a strategy of provocation, and standing tough afterward actually thwarts terrorists’ very objectives. We’ve both worked on counterterrorism in the U.S. government — one in the year before and decade after 9/11 at the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the other for much of the last decade at the Justice Department and National Security Council — and we both believe strongly in the value of building resilience in the face of terrorism.

Read the full article in The Washington Post.

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