By Sherye S. Green
Long before I became a teacher, I worked in the business world as a communications and public relations specialist. One of many tasks I was charged with was developing a crisis management plan, a critical component of any company’s overall business strategy. Such a plan provides detailed instructions to be followed by employees, should an emergency situation arise such as a catastrophic storm or an act of workplace violence. Just as school children participate in tornado drills in order to prepare for inclement weather, a crisis management plan insures that an organization could maintain some semblance of order when faced with overwhelming circumstances.
During my years as a member of the faculty of Jackson Preparatory School, I had the privilege to teach a class, Terrorism in the 21st Century, which I also authored. The class, based on one of my favorite courses taken while in graduate school, covered a host of topics comprising the complicated and often-confounding conundrum of terrorism. Terrorism is an extremely fascinating topic. Terrorism is also an intensely personal subject for me, as my son wears the uniform of this country. I concur with the philosophy held dear by founding father Thomas Jefferson, “An educated citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.”
A well-rounded education in today’s world must contain more than the four core disciplines—English, mathematics, science, and social studies. American students also need to be equipped with knowledge of the world around them. As some of that information can be both scary and confusing, discussing it within the context of a frank, honest, and non-threatening conversation in a classroom setting can be beneficial. In the event that an act of terrorism occurred close to home, I wanted my students prepared. This class was my crisis management plan.
I had three specific goals in mind when writing the course: 1) to provide easily understandable, up-to-the-minute, factual information on the topic; 2) to enable my students to understand the very real danger terrorism theoretically poses to each and every American; and 3) to arm my students with information which potentially could save their lives. My greatest deficit in teaching this class was that I have no actual personal experience related to combatting terrorism. As the class met only one period a day and lasted for the duration of a semester rather than an entire school year, it lent itself perfectly to inviting speakers to class, experts from both military and government circles, who brought to life for my students the concepts, which for me at best, were only words on a page.
Within the first few weeks of the inaugural class, I had the great fortune to be introduced to Frank Janotta, who at the time served as the Anti-Terrorism Program Manager for the Mississippi National Guard. Having served previously with both the Marine Corps and the Army, Frank possessed a wealth of information. He graciously agreed to partner with me and returned to class every few weeks to share insight on a new topic with my spellbound students. The other speakers likewise shared their expertise, discussing subjects from types of terrorism including domestic, religious, and suicide to weapons of mass destruction to counterterrorism organizations such as the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center to the geo-political backgrounds of current world events.
American students, when compared to those of other nations, display an appalling dearth of historical literacy. A recent “Watters’ World” segment of The O’Reilly Factor featured Fox News producer and commentator Jesse Watters interviewing college-age students. Watters pitched his subjects a variety of questions regarding the significance of the Memorial Day holiday and basic facts of twentieth-century American history. While the ridiculousness of the students’ answers was entertaining, the depth of their ignorance concerning their own birthright as American citizens was quite sobering.
A favorite quote regarding terrorism is attributed to the eighteenth-century statesman Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Stamping out apathy in today’s society is as important as fighting ignorance in all its forms. Believing that knowledge is power, I hope that not only my students, but every American, will educate themselves about this complex topic.
We live in a post-9/11 world, and we can never go back to the way it was before. Although not a new phenomenon, terrorism as waged in this twenty-first century is a very real threat and has morphed into a highly sophisticated, deadly form of asymmetrical warfare. The horrors of 9/11 made that all too clear. The great driving force of most of today’s terrorism is a fanatical religious ideology called Islamism that seeks to drown out all other voices but its own.
The danger of terrorism is not just posed by citizens from beyond our borders. One of the most insidious threats to America’s security comes from sons and daughters of this great land, both native and naturalized. The 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building and the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing are graphic illustrations of this rising terrorism trend.
As we celebrate our country’s birthday this July 4th, let us never forget the great price at which the security of this nation has been maintained. The words of President Ronald Reagan continue to ring true, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” If America is to remain free, then protecting freedom’s wall from all dangers, clear and present, must continue to be an integral part of our nation’s crisis management plan.