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Psychological aftermath of Sept 11 - global transition

Psychological aftermath of Sept 11th and implications for Iraq
Recent messages on CASI referred to conference plans and sanctions changes in 2002.  But you may find that political events go through a roller coaster of changes next year very different from those currently planned by the US, Israeli or UK governments.  We are just three months into a potential Global Transition triggered by the events of September 11th and the Afghan War.  This may involve widespread unrest and disruption next spring but with potential to start moving into a very different and more stable new world order during the summer or autumn. 
The basis for this proposition is the psychological concept of transition described in 'Human responses to change' from the journal Futures, Aug 1999 and how it may apply to individuals, governments and international affairs in periods of trauma and change. (Available on my website at ).
Early responses to trauma are shock followed by 2-3 months of practical, sometimes very resourceful coping behaviour e.g seen in recovery operations in New York.  Decisions may be instinctive responses based on old assumptions e.g. starting military retaliation.  During this period the mind tends to shut out or postpone the deeper implications of events. 
During the second three months the new reality begins to undermine basic assumptions or deeply held beliefs that have been violated or rendered obsolete by the trauma. This progressively disrupts confidence, strategic decision making and increases strain on relationships and personal stress to crisis point. 
A transition crisis may become evident about 6 months after the start of the trauma or change in strategic errors, deep distress, breakdown or quitting and in groups by internal scapegoating and external aggression.  The crisis may be resolved in weeks or extended for months or years.  It is resolved by letting go obsolete beliefs or allegiances and coming to terms with the new reality. This catharsis liberates individuals to be more confident and adventurous and groups to become far more innovative and effective sometimes within weeks, usually within 2-3 months in supportive conditions.      
How might this process work through in a global transition and in our individual lives in coming months?  It suggests growing instability for individuals, groups and governments through the next three months.  This is likely to develop into a transition crisis period for individuals and groups most affected during March and April i.e. 6+ months after traumas began. 
Since so many people were traumatised at much the same time this may lead to distress or unrest of a different order from events in the last three months except in Israel and Palestine (in extended crisis since April), and very recently Nepal.  The risk is of a series of simultaneous political crises in most countries deeply affected by September 11th, the Afghan War or both, interacting into a global transition crisis.  It may turn around in weeks if there is a global will to contain it, or continue for months. 
Anticipating and stabilising this period - managing the expected Global Transition - is a crucial issue for world peace and economic stability. Transition management principles have been developed for individual and organisational change but the psychological principles involved have never been applied at societal level before.         
However, as in the Chinese character for change, crises also carry the seeds of opportunity.  The Global Transition opens fascinating possibilities for social and political change emerging from its potential crisis period.  It is likely to lead to deep questioning of our own beliefs and hence of the systems we live in. 
In political organisations this may involve individuals reaching "defining moments" when they recognise the need to abandon certain obsolete principles and re-assert others most relevant to the new reality e.g. David Trimble's bold decision to work with political opponents in November 1999 that created the breakthrough needed to reconvene the Northern Ireland Assembly. Such decisions are potentially hazardous but crucial to liberate groups into successfully adapting to trauma or change in the final "recovery" phase of transition.       
When the current Global Transition reaches the turning point between crisis and recovery many issues may come up for fundamental re-appraisal.  For example the crisis phase may dispel the widespread public apathy about (or passive acceptance of) increasing government and commercial power in affluent populations dominated by modern media. This might for example lead to demands for greater accountability of politicians and military commanders for military action,  past and present. But there likely to be wide variations on the type of issues that come into question in different societies, depending on how directly they have been affected by September 11th or the Afghan War.  These are best analysed by multi-disciplinary debate within each cultural context.            
This is not just wishful thinking.  Nor does it involve subversive action.  It is likely to be just a natural, instinctive, unstoppable psychological reaction to recent traumas and changes.   It might even awaken western populations to other atrocities committed in our names over recent years, including the sanctions in Iraq and the aftermath of depleted uranium pollution there, in the Balkans and almost certainly now in Afghanistan.
You can explore a current example of the effects of national trauma by considering the massacre in Nepal in June and apply the change cycle to subsequent events, especially the major escalation of conflict in the last 2-3 weeks.  Typically a period of transition involves a crisis point for individuals some 6 months later. 
Communities and organisations( including governments) that are simultaneously affected by a major trauma or change are likely to enter a collective transition crisis at much the same time or soon after.  Eventually when individuals come to terms with the new reality we can enter an exciting recovery phase, a key phase of personal development in our lives.  This can happen within 2-3 months of the crisis but may take much longer in large groups.  
In February 2001 I applied a similar analysis anticipating a possible Intifada transition following the mass trauma of 350 dead and several thousand wounded in Palestinian communities during October-November 2000.  Stone throwing shifted to terrorist suicide bombing as individuals went into in April as forecast. 
Sadly the communities remain in an extended crisis due to lack of committed international action to stabilise the psychological as well as political climate in the region (see attached Israel transition updated today from the original in the Power or Peace project).  This and several other examples of recent trauma and change cycles for governments and communities in conflict are available at   The psychology of change for individuals, communities and governments is a powerful but little researched process. 
If you have plans for events on behalf of the ordinary people of Iraq they may be more timely before March.  They have suffered much already - from international apathy and hypocrisy as from military aggression and repression.   But many national and international plans and attitudes are likely to change from March onwards - more radically than most people would imagine. 
The transition cycle seems to be an inbuilt psychological adaptation process that affects every individual affected by a trauma or change.  Someone (whether Al Qaeda or other persons unknown but highly influential) created a global trauma on Sept 11.  The US Administration, supported by the UK and other governments, started another trauma cycle for Muslims and other Asian communities around the world with the new war on October 7th.  Anyone can start a post-trauma transition cycle.  But no power East or West can control the individual despair, crises, insights and transformations that will result as the psychological aftermath of these mass traumas.
Sufficient to say that 2002 is likely to present everyone affected by the horrors of September 11th or the War with potential crises and opportunities.  Fortunately no military or political technology, including clandestine Psychological Operations or political spin, will be able to rule the minds of several billion people of scores of different cultures and religions - not now this global transition period has begun. 
Forces relying on violence started both trauma cycles.  Neither will finish them.  The only given is the remarkable human potential of individuals and communities to adapt to trauma, loss and change.  As a species this has enabled mankind to evolve, to survive and thrive through the most dire experiences as seen in Jewish, Japanese and German societies after World War 2.
The outcome I think we (and they) can expect is that many fundamental assumptions from the 20th Century will change radically next year  - political, military and economic.  Few national or international institutions have shown any substantial adaptation to the new Millennium yet.  In mass transitions individuals may come to terms with a new reality through our personal transitions faster than organisations or national and global institutions e.g. community peace workers in Northern Ireland and the Middle East - catalysts for change as a new order emerges (see Many Paths to Peace on the website). 
The process of transitions works within the minds of individuals with new insights and outcomes that no-one can predict.  This could be a threat to those who seek to dominate the future of nations.  It is an opportunity to those who anticipate a time of change.  It could be a time of liberation from forces that are currently tightening their control over freedom, justice and information more than most people realise using paranoia to justify their actions.  In the next three months the grim realities of current events will begin to penetrate the deeper consciousness of many people around the world.  The contradictions between our old world and the new may be deeply disturbing, undermining some of our most deeply held beliefs - for example our trust in basic principles of democratic government and a free press. 
Those whose propose new military action against Iraq, who presumably monitor this group, have just under three months to stabilise the world again.  Psychologically they must realise they are losing control of public opinion as the phases of transition unfold.  They had 6 months to stabilise the world (especially the deepening crisis in the Middle East) after September 11th and to re-assert democratic principles of law and justice if they truly believe in them.  In practice they have already wasted the last two months increasing global instability through starting a war based on vengeance not justice. 
Far from stabilising world affairs this war has increased global tension and provided a model for extreme aggression not wasted on men of violence in Israel, Palestine and other countries.  The Afghan bombing may have also inflicted an even deeper atrocity on the people of Afghanistan than on civilians in Iraq 10 years ago. 
If depleted uranium has been used in the hundreds of tons of hard target bombs and missiles dropped in Afghanistan, as they did in Iraq, US forces may have sown the seeds of  irreversible illness, death and mutation far in excess of the victims of the World Trade Center massacre and other crashes on Sept 11th.   Like the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam the world will discover the truth sooner or later if DU bombs have been used.  In doing so this may disclose greater use of DU in Iraq than previously admitted and establish beyond doubt that depleted uranium munitions are weapons of indiscriminate effect. 
Politicians in the US and UK governments may not have realised this when they sanctioned the Afghan bombing war but they should know the facts by now.  Those who found themselves deceived by military and scientific advisers will be going through personal and political transitions soon.  
Even without depleted uranium bombs the people of Afghanistan were coping with multiple humanitarian disasters from a combination of drought, poverty and Taliban oppression.  The last two months were a vital time for building up aid to survive the winter.  Lost time may cost many more lives. 
Outside Afghanistan the military response to September the 11th has diverted immense resources away from combating global economic recession with cycles of its own, apart from a boost to the arms industry.  Business confidence and strategic decisions may also suffer as individuals in organisations affected by September 11th or the War become more stressed during the second three months of the global transition.   
This is a time of flux: in Dylan's words like a game of roulette "the wheel's still in spin".  If the US, other Governments or violent political groups risk ANY fresh conflicts in the next 3-6 months they are likely to reap a whirlwind they do not expect and cannot control.  It is not military or terrorist firepower that they have to fear, but an international wave of outrage as people wake up to the realities of current events and strategic errors made by those we have trusted to run our countries. 
These delayed psychological reactions are likely to start first in the society most traumatised on September 11th - i.e. within the USA.  This is not a political or religious proposition - just an extrapolation of the natural psychological process of transition that seems to be part of our evolutionary heritage in every individual and every society. 
The traumatised communities of New York and Washington, including Government and Pentagon staff and their families, appear to be side-lined by the war but will need increasingly psychological support over the next 3-6 months.  
It is vital that the US Administration can give time and priority to manage these internal transitions.  From Idi Amin to Tony Blair a classic reaction of governments in crisis is start external conflicts to divert attention from domestic problems.     
So if a global transition is underway then the highest priority in the next three months must be peace, humanitarian aid and atonement - in every country and community destabilised by recent events.  This is a message to governments, captains of business and masters of war.  But it applies equally to ordinary people too - all of us who until now may have too trusting and tolerant of those who wield power in our world without accountability. 
How long did it take for the Soviet Empire to collapse after the Berlin Wall came down?  What great powers will be shaken by the aftermath September 11th and the Afghan War?  It is not terrorism that will be the major threat to national and global institutions in 2002 but a psychological backlash at recent military and political decisions and the 20th century values they represent.  This wave of change is likely to sweep round the world in the next 6 months as each phase of this global transition works through.  
There could be several basic outcome scenarios from this period of change and multiple variations for different social and cultural contexts.  These are early assessments and some of the more optimistic outcomes.  But awareness of some of the likely psychological dynamics may add another perspective on coming events and plans, and give hope beyond new crises.  In transitions the darkest hour is often just before dawn - important for ourselves and very important if trying to help others in periods of trauma or crisis.   Further details about transition analysis are available in the full text of the Power or Peace project - summary on the website.
The outlook for psychological climate in many countries through the first half of 2002 is more unstable than current events.  But from mid-year onwards 2002 may become a year of remarkably powerful and positive change.  The global transition has potential for transformation of many of the legacies of the 20th century that must be left behind.  Each of us, including our politicians and the military, must decide what we value and respect most and wish to preserve in the new world order, and what aspects of our society have become obsolete and must be let go, confronted or rejected.    
However unstable world events become next spring my work gives me faith in the astonishing resilience of the human mind to adapt creatively to trauma and change.  If so world opinion may shift faster in 2002 than the deeply suspect systems that we trusted to protect our freedom.  This shift may also be the best opportunity I see for restoring dignity and human rights to many oppressed populations especially in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.   Of course I may be quite wrong and it may be state and media control that wins like Germany in the 1930's - after polarising societies into ethnic and religious wars.  But they will need to close down the Internet first. 
Yours in concern for peace and hope in times of change.
Dai Williams

WTC transition #1.doc


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