Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 12 Issue 5 (September/October 2002), Pages 309-375

Tragedy and catharsis in the wake of the 911 attacks (pages 369-374)


We argue that the events of 11 september 2001 (911) should be understood as a tragedy in the Greek sense of the term. Contemporary US views of tragedy typically communicate a sense that little can be done to predict or explain catastrophic events. This leads to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Accordingly, traditional US psychological interventions focus upon ameliorative efforts only. In Greek notions of tragedy, however, the hero(ine) has a character flaw that contributes to his/her demise. Lessons are learned, and catharsis results. From the standpoint of the US as a tragic hero, psychological interventions should be both ameliorative and preventative. We contend that this overemphasis on ameliorative work and the limited views of terrorism's root causes are counterproductive. Indeed, we recommend that individual US psychologists and the American Psychological Association leadership engage in both ameliorative efforts and broadly conceived preventative work. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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