9/11 Lesson on Terrorism

Through an accident of timing, I actually did teach on this today.

I hadn’t intended to.  The media is saturated with both the appropriate, and the biliously hypocritical, observances of the date.  Rather, I opened the lecture with Carnegie, and “Wealth.”  Worked through his prediction of the price we pay for the miracles of industrial society — the mutual suspicions and lack of understanding between the haves and have-nots.

Then, as counterpoint, the testimony of George Engel, about to be executed for his role in the Haymarket Square Riot.  They call him an anarchist, but what that actually means is “marxist terrorist.”  And why was he an Anarchist?  According to his own words, he became an anarchist when he got recruited in the factory by a man who had both a grievance, and an entirely new worldview to sell.  Once sold on the vocabulary of the proletarian, he was able to say with a straight face, without shame, that he didn’t throw the bomb on Haymarket…but that if more “workingmen” had bombs, the world would be a better place.

That’s all you need… it’s not the arguments, but how you frame them.  Not the issue, but how it’s defined.  And once you’re sold on the idea that the dude running a donut shop, or working as a lawyer, doesn’t fit within the “Working Class,” but is instead a class enemy… the bombs come next.

It’s surprising how many of my students get played by Engel.  It’s even more surprising, and somewhat gratifying, to see the horror on their faces once the lightbulbs come on.

Leave a comment


  1. Zathras

     /  September 12, 2008

    It’s all about alienating your neighbor, turning them into the Other.

    Closely aligned with this thought is the comment by von dem Bach-Zelewski at Nuremberg, explaining how the Holocaust could have occurred, “If for years, for decades, a doctrine is preached to the effect that the Slav race is an inferior race, that the Jews are not even human beings, then an explosion of this sort is inevitable.”

  2. Alex

     /  September 12, 2008

    You sir, are EXACTLY the type of history professor we need. Any time you can get a student to see the relevance of a past historical event to modern-day events, it is a beautiful thing to behold. I have always enjoyed history, but not until I had a professor put it in a way that I really got, something I could relate to, did I really appreciate it and finally “got it”.

  3. Good job — move to California, please. 🙂


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