When referring to human nature, characteristics such as thinking, feeling and acting are words that describe how we act naturally. What causes these characteristics and how concrete human nature is, are questions that form an important domain for everyday life. As shown in Barbara Tuchman’s report, “This is the End of the World,” perception in the 14th century differed mainly because of certain major influences at the time, such as religion. Centuries later, on the attacks of September 11, 2001; the same initial reactions were shown, but almost simultaneously our improved defense mechanisms were activated to answer their strikes.
For these reasons it must be speculated that with change over time, we as humans and our own nature have evolved to deal with the pressures we encounter. The catastrophic events that took place during the Bubonic plague and 9/11 attacks caused two, very different human perceptions which explains the contrasting reactions. When an entire civilization comes under attack from a source that cannot be controlled, panic and distress would naturally be primary reactions. Without proper preparedness it becomes difficult to keep sizeable populations in one accord.
The Black Death took Europe by storm and under Catholic dominion; religious influence played a major part as to how the population perceived these events. Brother John Clyn, a monk interprets, “the whole world was as it were, placed within the grasp of the Evil One” (qtd. by Tuchman par. 13). Paired with the earthquake in Italy when disease first appeared, the above statement may have served as evidence to be true. European belief and their strong association with good and evil led them to be convinced that it was in fact, an evil force destroying their communities.
Along with the countless deaths and destruction, paranoid Europeans began to view the plague as the end of the world. Death became widespread and shut down the economies of effected areas. Doctors had no cure and escaping disease became imminent. In relation to the abovementioned, Tuchman describes: “the sense of a vanishing future created a kind of dementia of despair” (par. 21). As a result of accepting the previous perceptions, they were at a loss for life and without hope.
On the contrary, when viewing the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Center, American perception was unalike the Europeans’ in the 14th century. The way Americans assessed these attacks had much to do with how our government managed the situation. Terrorists are out of reach for most civilians so in turn they look for answers from political figures. President Bush stated on September 12, “this will be a monumental struggle of good [The United States] versus evil [Terrorism], but good will prevail,” (qtd. in Seelye and Bumiller par. 2).
Our structured government offered answers to its citizens who were shocked and scared. Those answers gave insight as to who the enemy was and Americans were able to perceive their current situation with factual evidence. Citizens in 14th century Europe and Americans today perceived these events differently for obvious reasons. Europeans had such influence from the clergy, that evil forces deemed proper reasoning for the Bubonic plague. American citizens made such presumptions towards an enemy out of their reach, which showcases a more effective species.
When the Europeans blamed the cause of the plague on non-factual evidence, panic broke out and the downfall of their society commenced. With time and an evolving species, citizen and government alike made rational decisions to target those at fault rather than believe fictitious thoughts. Following the perception of these two civilizations, their reactions are important to understand how the basis for human nature is similar despite the difference in time. Through Tuchman’s reading it becomes clear that there is an outbreak of terror once the Bubonic plague reached European shores.
The physical and severe pain that ended lives within days was enough to spread chaos where ever the disease was spread. Tuchman supports: In a given area the plague accomplished to kill within four to six months and then faded, except in larger cities, where, rooting into the close quartered population, it abated during the winter, only to reappear in spring and rage for another six months (par. 6). This leads to further questioning as to why didn’t their governments create a plan to deal with the next wave?
Were those in the 1300’s that naive to believe they were invincible against another surge of the terrible disease? As a result of the chaos, without plan or answers on how to handle such events, these persons became inhumane and neglected any reasoning for life. Inhabitants of these areas abandoned responsibilities and even families. Tuchman reiterates, “The plague was not the kind of calamity that inspired mutual help. Its loathsomeness and deadliness did not herd people together in mutual distress, but only prompted their desire to escape each other” (par. 5). When comparing these reactions to current day, it is difficult to fathom that in hard times, we as a human race would not help those in need. Whether natural disaster or not, despite race or color, humans seem to have grown this willingness to offer aid. Feelings of depression and apathy were mutual in both cases, but the carelessness that followed may have very well been another significant cause to widespread casualty. Humans in Europe lost the battle against disease and more importantly, they refused to help those in need.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the terror attacks achieved to install fear in American civilians. For those of us who experienced life in such a super power, these incidents seemed unrealistic. Depression and despair fell upon citizens when thousands of lives were taken on the morning of the largest attack in US history. A feeling of vulnerability was instated when Americans realized these acts of violence were possible with our own airlines. Questions circulated as to who or what was to be held responsible. The population looked for answers and President George W.
Bush answered just 24 hours after the attacks, “this will require our country to unite in steadfast determination and resolve” (qtd. in Seelye and Bumiller). These calls for unification brought Americans extremely close and most were willing to help for the greater good. Feelings of fright and sorrow were equally shared with those of the Europeans when the plague struck. These feelings are an essential make-up of human personality, but differences in the 21st century show unity and the call to resolve such a conflict.
Such reactions from our government and cooperation from its citizens demonstrates more efficient efforts than those in the 14th century. Simultaneously, as the president was sensitive to those who were lost, plans were being set for resolution and even the rebuilding of our economy. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani spoke the following day on the destruction in Lower Manhattan, “obviously there’s a very, very substantial economic impact on the city, but the city will emerge economically stronger” (qtd. in Eaton par. 2).
Regardless of the situation leaders had at hand, the future of our states was one of the most important tasks. For these reasons it is valid to say that humanity has changed and evolved to become more successful when answering to such crises. Looking back at the reactions of the two civilizations mentioned there are many reasons that display the differences in human nature. When Europeans felt cornered by disease, their answer was to abandon all and try to survive, man-for-man. There was no plan of action made or more importantly a structured government to create such plans and keep peace.
Americans felt the same, almost instinctual feelings when incidents such as these occurred. Our president, political leaders and citizens of the US, united to work together and succeed as a unit. Grasping both events and observing the experiences that were managed in ways unalike, demonstrates the maturity in humans as a whole. In ways where Europeans separated themselves from one another, “lawlessness and debauchery” (Tuchman par. 27) prevailed. When compared to efforts following 9/11, such acts seem almost immoral to today’s standards.
There is something to be said about how the Bubonic plague and terror attacks were perceived and reacted to. In times of distress, humans should answer in support and these trials reveal how nature has adapted human life to operate effectively. Americans lived up to its countries name and stood united more than ever. “Civilization never stands still; if in one country it is falling back, in another it is changing, evolving, becoming more complicated, bringing fresh experience to body and mind, breeding new desires, and exploiting Nature’s cupboard for their satisfaction” (qtd. in Keith).
Keith, Arthur. BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2012. 6 April. 2012. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/arthurkeit287829.html Eaton, Leslie. “In Wounded Financial Center, Trying to Head Off Defections.” The New York Times 13 Sept. 2001: A23. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 16, Mar. 2012. Seelye, Katherine Q., and Elisabeth Bumiller. “Bush Labels Aerial Terrorist Attacks ‘Acts of War'” The New York Times 13 Sept. 2001: A16. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. Tuchman, Barbara. “This Is the End of the World.” Fields of Reading: Motives for Writing. By Nancy R. Comley. Ninth ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998. 231-41. Print.