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The Green Room, Spring 2002

Since September 11, 2001, millions of words worldwide have been written about the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center. But Sanford Pinsker has taken a unique approach to that tragedy. He puts The Education of Henry Adams in the context of Ground Zero.

"The horrific events of September 11th only deepened my conviction that there must be an even stronger relationship between the literature I teach and the very new and often strange world we now live in. My rumination of Henry Adams and Ground Zero was an attempt to join my students in thinking about how much changed in a matter of minutes and the shape that the 21st century is likely to take."


The Road to September 11

Historians looking back at the tragic events of September 11 will discover the roots of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon originating in three episodes that occurred in 1979. The first event was the Iranian Revolution which overthrew the Shah and created an Islamic Republic under the leadership of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The second occurrence was the successful conclusion of the Camp David meetings between Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin, wherein Israel and Egypt concluded a peace treaty which not only ended the state of war between both countries, which commenced with the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, but also witnessed the first Arab state to make peace with Israel. The third incident was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The United States during the Carter presidency responded to Soviet aggression by aiding the Afghanistan opposition against the invasion of their country. Despairing, however, of being able to form a unified coalition, because of the intense ethnic divisions among the country's clans, the United States covertly sent financial aid and arms (including stinger missiles) through the Pakistani Interservices Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's counterpart of our CIA, to unite the Afghani opposition under the banner of Islam.


Henry Adams At Ground Zero

Granted, Adams's persona was firmly wrapped in the mantle of failure—so much so that savvy readers soon suspected that he was protesting just a bit too much about his ignorance and ineptitude. Still, when he writes that "Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts," we can, I think, take Adams at his word. "Inert facts," the material that one dutifully memorizes and then reproduces on exams, were essentially useless because they could not be actively applied to rapidly changing situations. Such "facts" simply sat there, rather like cornflakes in a bowl of milk, and became increasingly soggy. Here it is worth mentioning that Adams's proposed sub-title for the Education was "A Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity." If the Virgin hearkened us back to a simpler age, one that organized and thus unified itself around the force of religion, science often seemed to dump the human component altogether, preferring the disinterestedness that is an essential component of the scientific method.