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Institutionalizing Imagination: National Defense and Defense of the Humanities in The 9/11 Report



This essay analyzes The 9/11 Report, exploring its connection between the defense of the nation and the defense of the humanities. Comparing American civic engagement with the work of literary criticism, the report argues that America's “most important failure” before 9/11 “was one of imagination.” Significantly, each of its four major recommendations for improving future intelligence work parallels a specific literary-critical skill. Grounding these skills in the work of the humanities classroom, The 9/11 Report concludes that America's global power requires the imagination and the ethics central to a liberal arts education.



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1 Scott Shane, “Afterword: The Legacy of the 9/11 Report,” National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, The 9/11 Report (New York: St. Martin's, 2011; first published 2004), lxxvi.

2 The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, The 9/11 Report, cxxv. All future references to The 9/11 Report will be made parenthetically within the text.

3 David Johnston and Douglas Jehl, “Report Cites Lapses across Government and 2 Presidencies,” New York Times, 23 July 2004, at

4 Shane, lxxvii.

5 George W. Bush, “State of the Union Address,” Washington, DC,, 29 Jan. 2002, at The term “war on terror” is fraught, as I have argued elsewhere (Kristine Miller, “Introduction,” in Miller, Transatlantic Literature and Culture after 9/11: The Wrong Side of Paradise (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014), 1–13), because it can emphasize either the abstraction of fighting a feeling or the experience of fighting a battle, depending on whether one capitalizes “war” and “terror.” This essay capitalizes “War on Terror” only when quoting those who have framed the Anglo-American response to the 11 September attacks as a discrete military campaign. For further discussion of this idea see Alan Hodges, The “War on Terror” Narrative: Discourse and Intertextuality in the Construction of and Contestation of Sociopolitical Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 100.

6 David Simpson, 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006), 126.

7 Marc Redfield, The Rhetoric of Terror: Reflections on 9/11 and the War on Terror (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), 1, 17.

8 Ibid., 18, original emphasis.

9 Simpson, 148.

10 Redfield, 18.

11 Simpson, 150.

12 Angela K. Brown, “Taking Note of 9/11 Report, Bush Considers His Options,” Boston Globe, 27 July 2004, at

13 See also Britten, Bob, “Picturing Terror: Visual and Verbal Rhetoric in The 9/11 Report Graphic Adaptation,” International Journal of Comic Art, 12, 1 (Spring 2010), 355–69.

14 Warren, Craig A., “‘It Reads Like a Novel’: The 9/11 Commission Report and the American Reading Public,” Journal of American Studies, 41, 3 (Dec. 2007), 533–56, 537.

15 Ibid., 537, 543, 545, 546. Warren cites each of these reviewers: a Publisher's Weekly's review compared the report to a Shakespearean play; Brown for the Associated Press and several Amazon reviewers noted parallels between the report and a novel; Kennicott in The Washington Post aligned the report with a trauma memoir; Kipen in the San Francisco Chronicle likened The 9/11 Report to a legal brief.

16 Ibid., 533, 534.

17 Traister, Bryce, “Terrorism before the Letter: Benito Cereno and the 9/11 Commission Report ,” Canadian Review of American Studies, 43, 2 (2013), 2347, 23.

18 Ibid., 43.

19 Richard A. Posner, “The 9/11 Report: A Dissent,” New York Times, 29 Aug. 2004, 1, at

20 Ibid., 2. This problem appears to be international in scope. See James Glanz et al., “In 2008 Mumbai Attacks, Piles of Spy Data, but an Uncompleted Puzzle,” New York Times, 21 Dec. 2014, at Glanz calls the 2008 Mumbai attacks “a terror strike so scarring that it is often called India's 9/11” and points out a fundamental lack of coordination across Indian, British, and American intelligence, leading, once again, to a situation in which “no one put together the whole picture.”

21 Posner, 6.

22 Ibid.

23 The fatwa appeared in “Text of World Islamic Front's Statement Urging Jihad against Jews and Crusaders,” Al Quds al Arabi, 23 Feb. 1998, and was translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service.

24 Richard Posner challenges this statement by arguing that politics and logistics blocked imagination, even before 9/11: “The commission's statement that Clinton and Bush had been offered only a ‘narrow and unimaginative menu of options for action’ is hindsight wisdom at its most fatuous. The options considered were varied and imaginative … But for political or operational reasons, none was feasible.” Posner, 3.

25 The report notes that various sections of the government did, at times, attempt imaginative responses to terrorist acts, such as when General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001, tried to “demonstrate that the military was imaginative and knowledgeable enough to move on an array of options” after the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (280). However, the overall lack of coordination across agencies left the intelligence community fundamentally out of tune.

26 Richard A. Falkenrath, senior fellow, “9/11 Commission: A Review of the Second Act,”, 6 Dec. 2005, at, 1.

27 US Department of Homeland Security, “Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations: Progress Report 2011,”, 2011, at, 3.

28 These individuals included Ahmad Ajaj, Mohammed Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmoud Abouhalima, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”), and Ramzi Yousef.

29 The varied English spelling of the Arabic “al Qaeda” results from the different alphabets of the two languages. See Zieminski, Andy, “Quran or Koran? Newsrooms Grapple with Style Standards for Arabic Words,” AJR: American Journalism Review, 82 (Dec. 2006–Jan. 2007), at Zieminski quotes the Associated Press Stylebook editor, Norm Goldstein: “We try to come up with a spelling that is understandable to United States readers and as close as possible to the actual pronunciation.” However, “as editors from San Antonio to Detroit explained to AJR, the arbiters of style don't necessarily agree.”

30 Simpson, 9/11, 11. He quotes Edward Rothstein, “An Appraisal,” New York Times, 11 Oct. 2004, B1.

31 Simpson, 9/11, 11

32 Ibid., 18.

33 Barry Schwartz, “What ‘Learning How to Think’ Really Means,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 18 June 2015, at Schwartz identifies a few key intellectual virtues, including a love of truth, honesty, fair-mindedness, humility, perseverance, courage, good listening, perspective-taking and empathy, and wisdom.

34 Simpson, 13.

35 See Maureen Dowd, “Liberties: A Grave Silence,” Opinion, New York Times, 12 Sept. 2001, at; Niall Ferguson, “The War on Terror Is Not New,” New York Times, 20 Sept. 2001, at; William Safire, “Essay: New Day of Infamy,” Opinion, New York Times, 12 Sept. 2001, at; and Joe Sharkey, “Word for Word/The Blitz; Moxie among the Ruins: When Upper Lips Were Never Stiffer,” New York Times, 7 Oct. 2001, at

36 See Miller, “Introduction,” 1–13. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair began building their own diplomatic special relationship upon this long-standing US–UK alliance from the time of Bush's inauguration in 2001. He and Blair held their first meeting “inside Holly Cabin at Camp David,” where “decades earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill planned the Allies' invasion of Europe in World War II … The historic symmetry was intentional.” Judy Keen, “9/11 Attacks Forged Bush, Blair Alliance,” USA Today, 7 April 2003, at

37 Michael White and Patrick Wintour, “Blair Calls for World Fight against Terror,” The Guardian, 12 Sept. 2001, at

38 Robin Andersen, A Century of Media, A Century of War (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 19.

39 Michael White and Stephen Bates, “Blair Recalls Parliament and Calls Allies to Help ‘Dismantle Machinery of Terror’”, The Guardian, 13 Sept. 2001, at

40 George W. Bush, “Remarks by the President upon Arrival,” White House South Lawn,, 16 Sept. 2001, at; Bush, “State of the Union,”, 29 Jan. 2002, at

41 Tony Blair, “Full Text of Tony Blair's Speech,” The Guardian, 11 Sept. 2001, at

42 Tony Blair, A Journey: My Political Life (New York: Vintage, 2011; first published 2010), 345.

43 Vanessa Thorpe, “Busted: Blair Gives Public Treasure to White House,” The Guardian, 27 Aug. 2005, at

44 Winston Churchill, “Their Finest Hour,” 18 June 1940,, at

45 Winston Churchill, “Never Give In,” 29 Oct. 1941,, at

46 Bush, “State of the Union.”

47 Redfield, 23.

48 Ibid., 25.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid. Redfield quotes directly here from The 9/11 Report.

51 Ibid., 25–26.

52 Other United States government agencies supported the 9/11 Commission's call for citizen action. See US Department of Homeland Security, “Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security: Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations, Progress Report 2011,” at The progress report concludes that “we all have a role to play” because “protecting the nation is a shared responsibility and everyone can contribute by staying informed and aware of the threats the country faces.” This call to contribute by staying informed seems particularly important in an age of Internet news and social media.

53 Craig A. Warren, “‘It Reads Like a Novel,’” 536. For this statistic, Warren cites Heidi Benson, “9/11 Report Creates a Stir in Bookstores,” San Francisco Chronicle, 1 Aug. 2004, A2.

54 The website for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, where the report was made available for download, is very clear in its answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” that the “Commission's final report is a public document. There are no copyright restrictions or laws governing the translation and publication of the final report.” See

55 Edward Wyatt, “Publisher Names 9/11 Charities,” New York Times, 21 July 2005, at See also ‘9/11 Report’ Proceeds Go to SAIS Fellowships,” JHU Gazette, 34, 40 (25 July 2005), at The JHU Gazette describes how Norton eventually announced its choice to donate $200,000 “to establish an annual fellowship at Johns Hopkins' Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies” and $200,000 each to “New York University's Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response and to the International Center for Enterprise Preparedness, a project within CCPR.”

56 Wyatt.

57 See Edward Wyatt, “9/11 Report Is National Book Award Finalist,” New York Times, 14 Oct. 2004, at This article notes that the only other government document ever nominated as a National Book Award finalist was “Attica,” the 1973 report by the state of New York on the Attica prison riot. The 9/11 Report did not win the 2014 National Book Award, which went instead to Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age.

58 Although Goodreads has been affiliated with Amazon since March 2013, the two sites have not integrated their reviews, and Goodreads offers more information, allowing users to rate books without writing full reviews. Users, of course, constantly add reviews to these sites; the specific numbers cited in this paragraph are therefore less important than the general trends that they demonstrate.

59 Shane, “Afterword,” lxxvi.

61 Thomas H. Kean (chair) served as the president of Drew University, Lee H. Hamilton (vice chair) attended DePauw University as an undergraduate, Richard Ben-Veniste earned an AB from Muhlenberg College, Bob Kerry served as the president of the New School in New York, Fred F. Fielding graduated from Gettysburg College, John F. Lehman attended St. Joseph's Jesuit College, Jamie S. Gorelick earned her undergraduate degree from Radcliffe, Timothy J. Roemer served as a distinguished scholar at George Mason University, Slade Gorton was an undergraduate at Dartmouth, and James R. Thompson taught at Northwestern University's law school.

62 See Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2014). Unlike The 9/11 Report, however, even this recently published edition of the CIA's torture report, which is much smaller than the original duplication of the pdf published a few weeks earlier in Dec. 2014, is bulky and clearly not a mass-market best seller. One wonders if the intent is for the public to read news summaries instead of this nearly 500-page “executive summary.”


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