Much has already been written of Virginia Commonwealth University’s new addition to its repertoire of options for undergraduate degrees, but not much has been said on how a new degree in homeland security and emergency preparedness fits in with the American value system, as anchored by the Constitution and its emphasis on liberty and limitations.
The university received state approval in May for a program that teaches students the fundamentals of homeland security and since has reeled in approximately 15 undergraduates. I will not dispute that the timing is appropriate for the new major, considering the ever-present threat of a terrorist attack that has been emboldened by the ongoing war in Iraq. But I will dispute that it is something worthy of being celebrated, reported alongside triumphant pictures of Rumsfeld and Ridge with their hands in the air.
The world was rife with threats of nuclear and terrorist attacks long before September 11, and the world is not coming to an end because of one or two attacks on American soil. Have we forgotten about the Cold War and World War II? The American way of life always seems to cling to the edge and pull itself back up when the coast is clear and the timing is right.
To be sure, I respect the efforts of William Parrish, the Department of Homeland Security official who teaches the VCU course, to enlighten students on the evacuation of the Gulf Coast and to spark debate on FEMA’s priority shift in favor of terrorism and away from more common disasters. As a 28-year Marine veteran, he knows much more about such issues than I could ever hope to. On the other hand, a civilian skeptically staring inward from the outside is apt to worry about a shift in ideology. As the new VCU classes on homeland security reportedly teach, it is good to be skeptical.
It is failsafe to say that the country is unsafe in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons, and it will always be that way, but approaches can differ on how best to confront these risks. My opposition to the new major can best be described as the willingness to focus on cause rather than effect. While a few steps can be taken to curb the effect of terrorism, the biggest and most integral step deals with the source of the problem. After all, it is far easier to stop a youthful militant than a grizzled Osama bin Laden – but that is another course.