Sept. 11 faculty panel discusses how the world has changed in 20 years

Dr. Amanda Sharp Parker was a dance major with dreams of hitting it big on Broadway on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The terror attacks of that morning in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania altered her purpose. 

“I don’t just remember that morning, I remember that day. I remember automatically wanting to switch my major to do something that dealt with this.”

Today Parker is an associate professor and the coordinator of homeland security and cybersecurity at Campbell University, teaching courses in critical infrastructure protection, terrorism, cyber threats and cyberterrorism, transnational threats and interagency operations, to name a few. She was part of a Campbell faculty panel this week to discuss how the world has changed in the past 20 years to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

The professors shared their views on subjects ranging from history to government to literature. Each professor talked about how their respective fields of study have changed. For Parker, her field was practically created as a response to the attacks. 

“What did we learn from 9-11?” she said. “We learned how technically savvy al Qaeda was. They had computers with our [network] systems, water treatment plants, dam systems and more, and we learned so much more about what they were looking to do to our country. Looking at the positives though, in 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security has put people in the field — whether they’re political scientists, military personnel or historians — and trained them to protect our country. We have thwarted many attacks that the public doesn’t know about because of what we learned from 9-11.”

Dr. Sal Mercogliano, who served as moderator for the faculty panel, grew up in Long Island and had visited the World Trade Center several times as a kid. The associate professor of history and chair of the Department of History, Criminal Justice and Political Science also worked several years in Washington, D.C.,  at the Navy Yard, across from the Pentagon. He said Sept. 11 had a unique effect on him, and for years, he avoided visiting Ground Zero. 

“It’s hard to convey to young students the power of the events of 9-11,” Mercogliano said. “I joke with students all the time that I remember 9-11 like it was yesterday. I remember every moment of it. I can tell you almost everything I did that day. I can’t remember Sept. 10, and I can’t remember Sept. 12, but man, 9-11 is there. And it resonates. It resonates in a way few things do.” 

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Capt. Mike Slattery, professor of history and government at Campbell and a veteran of the Vietnam War, said he had unsettling flashbacks of Vietnam when the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

“It was, without a doubt, an act of war,” he said. “And that was what I told my students in my military history class the following day. Most of them were ROTC cadets and would soon be commissioned as second lieutenants. And it wouldn’t be long before they would be leading America’s response against al Qaeda.”

Slattery called the country’s initial response to the attacks a success. He called December 2001 the “high watermark” of the war after a successful invasion that killed or captured leaders of both al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He said what followed was a series of missed political and strategic opportunities and military miscalculations.  

“There were many lessons learned, relearned or ignored, both applying to Vietnam and to Afghanistan,” Slattery said. “But one key lesson that I learned that stands out, especially toward the end as we got ready to leave, is that the U.S. can provide all the training, modern weapons and equipment necessary to defeat an enemy. But it can’t earn the will of [another] army to fight or receive it if it believes [we are] corrupt and lacking its people’s support.”

Other speakers included English professor Dr. Sherry Truffin, who shared her thoughts on changes in literature related to Sept. 11; history professor Dr. James Martin, who shared the history of the Middle East and how that history led to the formation of al Qaeda; political science and history professor Dr. David Thornton, who shared his thoughts on U.S. foreign policy; and history professor Dr. Jaclyn Stanke, who talked about how Sept. 11 altered the nation’s relationship with Russia. 

Watch the entire hour-long panel here.