Gathering around the barrel: sudden impact

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Princeton’s 9/11 Memorial Garden, inaugurated in 2003, features a bronze bell – titled “Remembrance” – and 13 stars placed in memory of the 13 former students who died in the attacks.

Princeton University, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment Communications, Bumper DeJesus (2021)

Be prepared … the meaning of the motto is that a scout should prepare by thinking and practicing how to act in an accident or emergency so that they are never taken by surprise. – Robert, Lord Baden-Powell

Over the past two years, here in the History Corner, we have revisited and investigated a number of long trials in the history of the university – wars, epidemics, etc. Various examples of hard times give us a context for the current trials and uncertainty, whether it be things to do (like locking the campus down during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1917-18) or other things. not do (like banning the great Norman Thomas 1905 from campus at the same time because he was a WWI pacifist.)

Of course, such wisdom goes no further. As promised, next time we’ll end this theme by taking a look back at 1946, a pivotal year in Princeton history where we came face to face with the unexplored postwar world after years. of agony. But today, by a grim coincidence of timing, we consider the opposite end of the tribulation spectrum: the role of the University in the face of a sudden and unsuspected catastrophe.

It’s the 20th anniversary of September 11th.

That’s all you need to tell everyone who was around at the time, though it’s worrying to think that our current underprivileged friends weren’t even alive yet; their entire existence has been in the jumble of emotions and negative acts that supporters of Osama bin Laden have forced on the world. Coincidentally, Princeton in the New Century was clearly emerging as a force mirroring Toni Morrison’s opening speech at his 250th anniversary convocation in 1996. He had seized the socio-economic ground by eliminating student loans and replacing scholarships. as well as liberalizing aid standards for the middle class, recruited an impressive number of teachers / researchers and was for the second time ranked the best undergraduate institution in the country. Miraculously, there was even a shiny new student center after perhaps a century of confusion.

One of the main drivers of all this, President Harold Shapiro * 64, had retired on June 15, 2001, to be replaced by one of the brightest members of his faculty, Professor Shirley Tilghman. In her first major public speech, during the opening exercises on Sunday, September 9, she recalled the start of school in her youth in Canada and spoke to first-year students about the wonders of learning to learn. Nineteen days later, the title of his speech at his official inauguration said it all: “The Academy’s Role in Times of Crisis”. In the tradition of Princeton serving the nation, she asked, “How can we help as this great country seeks the honorable path to world justice and peace?” ”

In the immediate term, Princeton did what was appropriate and obligatory: sports were postponed, advice provided, memorial services organized (eventually becoming the Memorial Garden adjacent to Chancellor Green). An astonishing spontaneous effort by alumni reached out to every alumnus supposed to work anywhere near the World Trade Center or the Pentagon to offer help. But in some ways, with alums touring Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times, and a trillion dollars spent, we still seem to be waiting for the definitive answer to the question of America’s rightful place in the post world. -cold War. We are left with fragmentary yet haunting memories, as evidenced by Jennifer Senior’s recent fascinating piece ’91 in Atlantic about his friend Bobby McIlvaine ’97 and his family.

In past emergencies, this ambiguity was not always inevitable.

Long before Internet news feeds or Frist’s video walls were covered in wired information, the public’s thirst for the latest news was just as pronounced, and in the meantime the yellow papers of Hearst and Pulitzer skipped. . February 15, 1898 – a year and a half after Princeton’s ascent as a university – the USS erupted Maine in Havana Harbor caused a stir on campus as it did everywhere else, and the country responded to the fury by brutalizing the shell of the remaining (supposedly responsible) Spanish Empire in a four-month war. Drilling units formed on campus, and 170 men from the 1856-1900 classes enlisted and served overseas. Five of them died, including Ralph Simonds 1899, killed by Filipino revolutionaries who were also fighting the Spaniards, but didn’t like the way the United States was trying to “help” them. The resulting globalization of American Manifest Destiny accelerated the growth of the new academic field of political science, whose principal high-level authorities were Professor Woodrow Wilson 1879. Privately opposed to the annexation of the Philippines, he nonetheless generally came to support American influence abroad, leaving its own limiting strands behind. Washington clearly leaned in the same way: as part of the modernization of the Navy, the gunboat USS Princeton III had been baptized “incidentally” in 1897, and was immediately involved in the Cuban War, and then in the follow-up campaigns in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

This is where we come close to our old acquaintance, the law of unintended consequences, which begs the question: If the United States had not retained the Philippines, would Japan have attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941?

And so, our blind examination of the disaster shifts from “Remember the Maine” to “Remember Pearl Harbor”. America, in part because of the ferocity of the war that began in Europe in 1939 and its familiarity with Western cultures, ignored much of the Asian war that had been going on in the 1930s and comparatively dismissed Japan’s ability or willingness to confront us. Most of the “America First” debates have focused on the evils of Nazism, not securing Maui’s beaches. Support for European allies was at the center of President Harold Dodds * 1914’s opening address in 1940. But never more than 25 percent of students actively supported entering the war, according to a 1994 article in PAW – until December 7, when in the huge shockwaves across the country America First were gone and Dodds suddenly had to implore students to complete their degrees before enlisting, which many still failed to do. The resulting fury and unprecedented war economy, aided immensely by a total effort of thousands of ex-servicemen (355 of whom died), at the Los Alamos laboratories, at the new aircraft carrier USS Princeton IV, has simply changed the world we live in, and the University with it, as we will conclude next month.

But it is very possible that the public impact of September 11 in the modern American world most closely resembles November 22, 1963, before which there was no debate, no economic adjustment, no consultation with the allies and clearly, very little intelligence information among friends. Global issues surrounding the Cold War, strongly emphasized during the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cuba again?). Many more people were sobbing for JFK than they had ever voted for him, because they intuitively knew that a part of them (as they imagined) had died with him. The Princetonian Daily reunited with Columbia professor Richard Neustadt having lunch at Wilson School, and he noted that there was a documented and agitated consensus across the country for change, but no agreement on what that should entail.

As Princeton canceled classes and delayed the Ivy-championship Dartmouth football game (almost an annual feature in the 1960s), President Robert Goheen’s ’40 * 48 administration was already effectively integrating the student body; the historic hiring of Carl Fields was imminent. Lyndon Johnson measured the moment and applied his experience in the hills of Texas and the accords of Congress to the War on Poverty and a series of historic civil rights laws. This approach to change sparked further unrest, and the 1968 murders of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Kennedy’s brother Robert essentially extended the trauma of 1963 to envelop a decade. King had preached in Princeton Chapel in 1960; in 1970 his widow received an honorary degree there. The decade that followed included profound changes in faculty, social systems and university governance, not to mention the complete transformation of the student body into a multiracial, multicultural and multisex image of a larger America.

Since September 11, Princeton under Presidents Tilghman and Eisgruber has grown even more diverse, and its juggernaut endowment has grown from $ 8.4 billion to $ 26.2 billion, with various new No. 1 university rankings and considerable new efforts to combat global warming and other international scourges. . This is still in part the legacy of Goheen and his allies of all stripes and generations. But its attempts to serve all nations were somewhat stifled by a U.S. government which, instead of rallying to first principles after the heinous attack, fell back on the slander and the worthless vituperations of Hamiltonians and Americans. Jeffersonians. The two are long gone, although they never made it clear what caused the War of 1812, or much else. I know this from the note I received from the History Folks’ Club, somewhat delayed by the newly politicized Postal Service. Perhaps the copies in Congress were affected in the same way.


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