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Posted on September 4th, 2012, by

Disaster psychology is a developing sphere of knowledge aiming at analyzing psychosocial reactions of environmental or anthropogenic disasters’ mass victims. It presents new approaches to constructive long-term and short-term programming of relief.

Coming across inadequately stressful situations like disasters, people usually experience a number of physiological reactions, including anger, denial, mood swings, irritability, self-blame and blaming others, isolation, hyperactivity, feeling helpless and stunned, grief, depression, nightmares, and fear of recurrence. The intensity and duration of such reactions varies and can be acute or mild, immediate or delayed, increasing intensity (Braga et al., 2008). This paper aims to discuss the peculiarities of mass reactions to the 9/11 and Lusitania disasters.

Inadequate public reaction to the events of the September 11th caused the same harm to human life and property, as the harm directly caused by the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings. Some scientists believe that the Americans could more effectively fight terrorism, if they would learn to respond more soberly to the similar atrocities. It does not concern that reasonable bodily fear and necessary precautions taken in the hours and days immediately following the September 11th, when there was a possibility of the recurrence of similar or even worse attacks – it was all natural (Chapman & Harris, 2002).

The society is stuck at September 11th, of course, because it was the terrorist attack, and it has deeply etched in minds through hourly news announcements. The citizens obviously support a sudden and massive shift in national priorities since the September 11th. There is an opinion that the economic and moral damage caused by the events of September 11th that affected the life of every American, was the result of primarily people’s reaction to these events, and objectively was not so great.

Recalling the nationwide grief caused by the news of the 6500 victims at the WTC, one would expect the public celebration, when in late October it turned out that slightly less than half that number survived. But there were no newspaper and magazine titles like “3000 WTC victims are alive!”¯ Even a few weeks later, many continued to talk about more than 5000 victims. Scientists, who study the perception of danger, state that it is a natural human behavior (Chapman & Harris, 2002).

The fact that on September 11th terrorists deliberately attacked the symbolic and real objects of economic and military power (WTC, Wall Street and the Pentagon) really seized the entire society with panic, because many people genuinely believed that such attacks could destroy the American society.

Meanwhile, the programs not related to national security suffer. Charitable funds created for the homeless charity are engaged in the support of wealthy families of traders from Wall Street bearing losses. Educational and environmental funds are spending on “security”¯ of public buildings and events. Billions of dollars derived from the imposition of additional taxes, are spent on the military operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but not on improving the American economy. After the September 11, ten billion dollars were reallocated almost immediately without any public debate (Chapman & Harris, 2002).

Many experts believe that an impartial public discussion of security problems is necessary, so that future government decisions would not be made under the influence of momentary moods and emotional outbursts.

The very idea of terrorism is that small anti-social actions of intruders cause a disproportionately violent response. Researchers think that by minimizing our negative reactions, we could hinder the objectives of the terrorists more effectively than only by starting the war against them or increasing the cost of defense. According to the famous maxim of Franklin Roosevelt, the only thing to fear is our own fear.

Somewhat similar situation occurred on May 7, 1915, when a huge British passenger ship Lusitania, going from New York to Liverpool, was suddenly attacked by German submarine U-20 near the south coast of Ireland. Of 1,959 people on board of Lusitania, 1,198 were killed.

According to the official statement of representatives of the British Government, on board of the passenger ship there were no weapons, ammunition or naval mariners. The sinking of Lusitania was named one of the most tragic events of the First World War (The Lusitania Disaster, n.d.).

In fact, on May 1, a warning of German Embassy appeared in a newspaper: Americans were not recommended to use the services of the British passenger liners because of the possibility of attack by Germanic submarines. The editor of the German community in the United States, often performing instructions of Germany’s war attachĆ© in the USA, said that a large British liner with Americans on board would possibly be sunk.

There is no doubt that Churchill realized what Lusitania (one of the largest and high-speed ships) meant for Britain, the Admiralty had received disturbing reports from America. But they not only did not enforce security measures, but showed a strange carelessness.

The official British version claimed that the Lusitania was sunk by the explosion of two German torpedoes. The Royal Commission of Inquiry acknowledged that the passenger ship had no ammunition on board (which was repeatedly doubted). Responsibility for the shipwreck was assigned to the German naval forces command, which allowed the captains of submarines to attack civil ships without warning (The Lusitania Disaster, n.d.).

The consequences of the explosion were terrible. A huge hole formed in board of the ship. In the rush while putting boats off, the officers of Lusitania crew did not take into account that the ship was mechanically moving forward, and as soon as the boats touched the water, they turned and strongly hit the steel liner. They all turned upside down, and people

fell into the water. The number of killed was 1,5 times more than the number of rescued. It was the biggest sea disaster after the sinking of Titanic. Contemporaries remembered the events of May 7, 1915 as a crime committed by German militarists.

However, back in spring 1915 in London, the personal representative of the U.S. President Colonel House assured the Minister of Foreign Affairs of England Gray that if German submarine sunk a liner with Americans on board, the anger would cover the Americans, and this would be enough to involve the USA into war.

When the news that the Lusitania was attacked by the German submarine came to New York, Stock Exchange was working its last minutes before closing. But this time was enough for many stocks to fall immediately. The death of 115 U.S. citizens in the U-20 attack on the Lusitania provoked sharp protests from the US. Demonstrators carried anti-German slogans and demanded to punish Germany (The Lusitania Disaster, n.d.).

Thus, the English strategy took full advantage of the convergence of interests and long-term plans for Britain and the United States.

President Wilson was preparing for war, but was careful to speak with militarist statements before the election. In 1915, President Wilson needed an excuse to justify America’s military preparations. After Lusitania disaster the U.S. government sent an official note to Berlin.

As we can see the reactions to both described disasters were similar and led to similar consequences. This can be explained by psychology of disaster concepts, one of which states that everyone who witnessed a disaster is a victim. Loss or trauma after disaster directly impacts people. Moreover, there are persons who are psychologically damaged just by being in the impacted society.

Another concept divides disaster traumas into two types: individual (psychological shock breaking into one’s mind so abruptly and strongly that one cannot adequately react to

it), which is expressed in the individual survivors’ depression and grief responses; and collective (social shock that injures the ties keeping people together and damages the existing sense of unity), which can break the social connections between survivors and environment. These might be links that could give essential psychological backing in stressful times. Disaster disturbs almost all every day activities and related connections. Weakness and anger can raise family violence and damage family relations (Greenstone, 2008; Myers, 1994).

One more concept explaining the reactions to disasters is that stress and grief responses are normal in abnormal circumstances. Along with the stress, most persons usually show some features of psychological and emotional injure.

However, during the so-called “heroic”¯ and “honeymoon”¯ stages, people might feel euphoric, philanthropic, and positive rather than deprived. During the “inventory”¯ stage people are likely to discuss the disaster, trying to understand and analyze what has happened. They might be more inclined to discussing their considerations than their inner feelings. In the “disillusionment”¯ stage, people might show irritation and anger (Greenstone, 2008).

The common feature of the both disasters is the predictability of people’s reaction to them, which leads to the idea that they were caused intentionally. In both cases the nation’s grief united angry and aggressive masses against the government’s enemy and became an excuse to justify the war against the Germans in the case with Lusitania, and the war in Iraq after the September 11th disaster (Myers, 1994).

In conclusion, we would like to note that the costs of the motherland defence, with a minimum budget of all other vital public problems, are appallingly high and not comparable with those tiny funds that are spent to prevent other causes of death and misery in the society. The main source of vulnerability to terrorism, violence acts, and disasters is relentless irrational fear of it that has gripped the society.

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