FLORENCE— The terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, have had a lasting impact on the U.S. and world.
Much has changed, including the way the United States handles security issues. Security has become a part of our daily lives when Americans travel at home and abroad.
“One of the most obvious ways it can be seen is at airports,” Francis Marion University professor of history Scott Kaufman said. “I remember being able to walk up to the gate to meet people as they got off the plane. Today, you have to wait outside of the security area. Going through security is more rigorous, with one having to take off shoes and being unable to bring large liquid bottles with them.
“Security also ties into the idea of threat perception,” he said. “President George W. Bush tried to make it clear to the American people that Islam was not the threat; rather, it was terrorism. While most Americans agreed, that view has changed, particularly on the political right: Republicans are more likely to see Muslims as a threat to American security than Democrats.”
Kaufman said he vividly remembers what he was doing when he heard about the attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I had just finished a morning class, returned to my office, and turned on a comedy radio program,” he said. “I heard the hosts talking about planes hitting the World Trade Center and the towers on fire. At first, I thought it was part of a joke, but I quickly realized it was not. I went to our media center on campus and saw on TV what had happened.”
Asked if we are safer today from terrorists’ attacks, Kaufman responded this way. “If you are referring to terrorism from the outside, I think we are. We have not seen an attack like 9/11 since. Local, state, and federal authorities, and even business leaders, are proactive in identifying the threats posed to us. That said, it is not an easy job, particularly with the internet providing those who want to harm Americans with the ability to spread their messages to large audiences.”
The issue of domestic terrorism is growing, he said.
“I agree with those who see this as a greater threat to this country than international terrorist organizations, in part because there is reluctance among Americans to identify those domestic terrorists for what they are. White supremacist and anti-Semitic organizations have become quite active in this nation, and much more must be done to stem their activities.”
Kaufman said, “We live in the oldest constitutional democracy in the world. Yet democracies are by their very nature fragile, as they require buy-in by the people. Recent events have placed our democracy in peril. Should it collapse, what will replace it? An authoritarian dictatorship? Anarchy? If a key purpose of democracy is to provide security by protecting basic freedoms, what would the demise of democracy mean for us as Americans? Unfortunately, these questions are not being asked, for words that have been part of the American lexicon, such as “bipartisanship” and “compromise,” seem to have all but disappeared.”
Coker University associate professor of English Margaret Godbey is responsible for the student travel program at Coker. She handles all the study abroad and study away programs. This is her 12th year at Coker.
“I wasn’t traveling with students,” Godbey said. “I was at Temple University in Philadelphia.”
She remembers that September day in 2001.
“I was on a treadmill in a gym with all of these cameras in front as one sees in gyms,” Godbey said. “Suddenly all the monitors went to the broadcast showing what was happening. I was teaching at Temple University and walking into the classroom the next day was one of the most difficult things. Helping student process what just happened.”
Since then, she said, travel security has changed for everybody. When traveling with students, Godbey said, she tries to let them know all the different steps they are going to take before they arrive at the gate.
“That is something I think students traveling for the first time or going on an airplane for the first time are not necessarily used to,” she said.
Godbey said she makes sure in the planning meeting before going to the airport that she goes over with the students what to expect, security measures such as taking off their shoes, jackets and sweatshirts coming off, emptying their pockets, cameras coming out, etc.
“It can be a little hectic and surprising when you get up to that gate,” she said.
“I feel very safe now,” she said.
She said the airlines are doing a lot to make sure people are safe.
She said in some ways the Europeans she has talked to look at the United States as a more worrisome place because of domestic terrorism.
Charlie Poag, director of information technology at Coker University, said for most of his career, he wasn’t directly involved in security.
“I was probably just like anyone else about the technology security … on the outside looking in.”
He has been at his position at Coker since February.
“I can tell you that after 9/11 the physical security got better and better,” he said. “I think terrorists started turning more to cyberattacks as a way to get around the physical security. … It became a much more attractive option for terrorists. … It is easier and cheaper for them to do it.”
Over the past few years, cyber attacks have evolved.
It used to be something that was a concern only for governments and large companies, but it has become a concern for all. It brought about a new industry of cyber insurance, and that opened up others to being a target, he said.
“Now they will go after anybody to get the insurance money,” he said.
There is a small college in Illinois that struggled through COVID like everybody and then it was cyberattacked and couldn’t recover from it, he said. All its systems went offline. Daily operations stopped. The university had to shut its doors in May.
Poag said Coker students are required to take training.
“Our community is very good about reporting suspicious emails,” he said.
Poag said that happens on a regular basis. Students receive suspicious emails almost weekly.
“Back before 9/11 I don’t think I ever gave a thought to cybersecurity,” Poag said. It wasn’t used back then the way it is today. Before that it was people trying to trick people into giving out information over the phone,
“It has really changed a lot,” he said. “Now, it is not something that just big corporations or government need to be aware of but every single individual must be wary of.”
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