Archive for Monday, August 19, 2002

KU presidential historian compares Quantrill’s Raid, 9-11 in new book

August 19, 2002


Osama bin Laden is the modern-day William Quantrill.

That's according to Richard Norton Smith, the presidential historian and director of the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.

Smith draws comparisons between the Civil War-era raid on Lawrence and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for a new book, "The American Spirit: Meeting the Challenge of September 11."

"If you look below the surface, there are profound bonds between the people of New York in the wake of Sept. 11 and the people of Lawrence," Smith said in an interview last week. "History provides that link. We've been through this."

"The American Spirit" is a group of essays collected as a sequel to "One Nation," published last fall by Life. Editors asked writers to describe Independence Day celebrations in their hometowns in light of Sept. 11.

Other contributors to the new book include David McCullough, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian; authors James Bradley, Melissa Faye Greene and Alan Brinkley; and Boston Globe columnist David Shribman. Shribman's syndicated columns appear in the Journal-World.

In his essay, Smith focuses on finding parallels between the Civil War-era and modern attacks. The connection occurred to him as he was listening to fireworks near the KU campus on July 4, his first Independence Day in Lawrence.

Fireworks and terrorism

"Close your eyes," he wrote, "and it becomes faintly possible to imagine, amid the acrid smoke clouds rising from the town below, what terrorism might have sounded like in August 1863."

Smith said Lawrence's observance of the holiday "fit very well with what Life had in mind."

"The Fourth in Lawrence is not imposed from above. It's very much a grassroots activity," he said. "It makes up in spontaneity what it lacks in formal organization. The rituals may be homely, but they're heartfelt. It's celebrated by people who want to celebrate."

Smith also discusses Lawrence's history of political activism, which he considers a form of patriotism. He mentions the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee and Mark Creamer, who is known for his "Honk for Hemp" signs on downtown street corners.

More Lawrence color

Other local color includes the debate about outlawing fireworks, an Independence Day celebration at the home of school board president Scott Morgan and the efforts of then-KU student body president Justin Mills to raise money for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The signs of Sept. 11 are still apparent in Lawrence, Smith wrote.

"Ten months after Sept. 11, the white ribbons have been taken down, but KU's ubiquitous Jayhawk still shares window space with the American eagle along Massachusetts Street," he wrote.

The true parallel between Lawrence and New York City is resiliency, Smith said. He mentions Lawrence's motto, "From Ashes to Immortality."

"The substory is one of recovery and renewal and, I think, a more vibrant democracy than ever," he said. "That's the hopeful story any student of Lawrence history specifically, or of American history in general, takes from this."

"The American Spirit: Meeting the Challenge of September 11" is available through for $17.47.

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