Steamboat Springs More than 100 students and faculty members packed into a lounge on the Colorado Mountain College campus Wednesday for a discussion on America's war on terrorism.
The exchange was sometimes provocative and at one point emotionally charged.
Student Nicole Snelgrove fought off tears as she told her classmates and teachers how impressed she was they had assembled for the occasion.
"I get excited looking around here because every one of us has a voice," Snelgrove said. "We have the power. We are the youth of today."
Snelgrove said she moved to New York City the day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to work with a group known as the International Action Center.
She said she believes that even as the United States is fighting its own war on terrorism, it supports terrorism in various forms around the globe.
"I don't think it's talked about," she said.
Wednesday's gathering at CMC's Alpine Campus was convened to discuss the ways the United States and the world have been changed by the events of Sept. 11.
Professor Emeritus George Tolles opened the discussion by telling the students that university campuses have long been a place where Americans' freedom of speech is nurtured.
"9/11 was an important event," Tolles said. "The fact that this meeting can take place is equally important. This is an oasis of freedom of discussion. That principle is as important as anything you will learn at this college."
Sociology professor Diane Mitsch Bush told the gathering that a current poll of American societal attitudes shows some sharp changes since Sept. 11.
The poll reveals Americans' attitudes have been transformed by the attacks. After years of declining trust in government and other groups in society, Americans are now more likely to place their faith in public officials and their neighbors than they were even two years ago.
They are also showing signs they will reverse a longstanding trend toward declining voter turnout, she said.
"This shows what I think we could call a seismic shift in terms of trust," Mitsch Bush said. "People are much, much more tolerant of other Americans of other ethnicity and religious background."
However, Mitsch Bush was careful to note the increased trust hasn't been extended to people of other nationalities, nor has the measurable shift in beliefs and attitudes been reflected in actual behaviors.
Economics professor Roger Segler said neither the stock market crash nor the national recession is linked to Sept. 11, but the terrorist attacks have impacted the economy.
"The real loss has been due to pessimism and uncertainty about the future," Segler said. "People are asking, 'How long will the war last?' and, Will it be expanded?'"
Bob Baker, a professor of history and philosophy, said Americans have undergone a psychological crisis that mirrors what Europeans experienced at the onset of World War I.
"9/11 had the same psychological impact on Americans that 1914 had on Europe," Baker said. "Europeans were living in an imaginary bubble. They didn't have passports and they traveled freely throughout the world. The optimism of the European middle class came crashing down. I think we can see the same things happening to Americans post-9/11."
America is confronted with an ethical dilemma, Baker said.
"There hasn't been closure. Americans want to kick some ass. But we don't know where to do it, how to do it and when to do it. A war in Iraq will create more moral ambiguity."
Former CMC student Steven Chamberlain posed a prickly question to his former professors.
"Is terrorism a legitimate form of warfare?" Stevenson asked, while noting their opponents branded some of his heroes from George Washington to Menachem Begin terrorists.
Mitsch Bush responded that terrorist attacks typically don't have the same goal as formal warfare.
"Terror is symbolic," Mitsch Bush said. "Its goal isn't to take down a government. It's intended to frighten people."
Jennifer Seidinger urged students on the CMC campus to exercise their voting rights.
"This fall, let's register everybody on campus to vote," she said.
CMC student Cyndi Millett said she doesn't think showing up at the polls is enough.
"If voting is all we can do, that bothers me," Millett said. "Because the last time I checked, Gore won the popular vote.
"If voting is all we can do, that's sad."
Mitsch Bush didn't disagree: "Social movements have had more impact than any political party."
Millett said the prospect of an invasion of Iraq frightens her.
She is convinced an attack on Iraq would be motivated by Texas oil interests intent on controlling more of the world's petroleum supply.
Tolles concluded by saying he believes the United States is embarking on a perilous journey if it extends the war on terrorism into an effort to change political regimes, beginning with an attack on Iraq. It isn't clear to him where the effort to topple threatening regimes in other countries would end.
"We don't know where we're going," Tolles said. "The war on terrorism has no end because we've never defined it."
Further, the willingness of the United States to provide support to political regimes in small countries in the name of fighting terrorism is providing those regimes with the means to squelch political opposition, Tolles said.
"Other countries are defining (the war on terrorism) for us," Tolles said. "It's really very dangerous for us unless we define our goals. No one is willing to do that Democrat or Republican."