Unprecedented 9/11, terrorism course challenges popular narratives

This summer, Marshall University history professor Chris White began teaching his unprecedented (at the university) class on the causes and implications of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and related terrorism.

White, who is also the author of “Creating a Third World: Mexico, Cuba, and the United States during the Castro Era;” “The History of El Salvador;” “A Global History of the Developing World;” and a book to be released in September of this year, “The War on Drugs in the Americas: A Concise History,” said the class focuses on anti-U.S. terrorism, but also explores non-U.S. factors related to anti-U.S. terror.

“The citizens of this country have a responsibility to think critically more so than any others in history,” White said, “because our government is the most powerful in world history, and it has the ability to marshal unparalleled quantities of resources to achieve its goals.”

American citizens must be capable of accurately understanding world events, White said, because the U.S.’s overall impact on the world, whether destructive or prosperous, depends on their doing so.

“When it comes to the War on Terrorism,” he said, “if Americans don’t know what has caused terrorist attacks against us over time, we are by definition doomed to foment more terrorism.”

White said he believes many Americans have a wide array of misconceptions regarding the causes of the September 11 attacks, including that they were “an inside job perpetrated by the U.S. government itself.”

Such a conspiracy theory ignores the realistic routes and history of anti-U.S. terrorism, White said, “and that is what the course examines.”

Any student who cares about the security of the U.S. and its role in the world should learn about the issues explored in the class, especially anyone who is not familiar with scholarly accounts of the U.S.’s role in the Middle East, White said.

“The course looks at scholarship rather than opinions,” he said.

White, who also teaches classes at Marshall on drug wars, the Vietnam War and world history, said “a common theme of [his] classes is to cultivate the value of evidence-driven analysis.”

Garry Roland, who is enrolled in Marshall’s ROTC program, decided to take White’s 9/11 and terrorism course over summer after taking his Vietnam War class during a previous semester.

“I really enjoyed class with Dr. White. I took his Vietnam War class my last semester at Marshall, and it really got me interested in history,” Roland, also a military veteran, said. “Now I’m going to get a minor in history just because I took that one class.”

Roland, who was deployed to Afghanistan twice, said he was eager to take the class because of his interest in the history of terrorism in the Middle East.

“For me, Dr. White’s class actually connected so many dots and answered so many questions I had when I was deployed about how everything unfolded and ‘how did we get here?’” he said. “He’s really a phenomenal instructor.”

White’s classes have provided him with a significantly deeper understanding of several different aspects of history, Roland said.

“You really want to educate yourself on these truths, even if just to have a better idea about how people make decisions and how politicians make decisions during times of war,” he said. “Wars shape history. Almost all big decisions throughout history have been made during or because of wars, including a lot of bad decisions by the U.S. government.”

Roland said White’s thorough analyses of information and different perspectives presented throughout his classes are evidence of his knowledge and teaching abilities.

“He really brings a special touch to his classes,” Roland said. “As a veteran who’s been deployed to the Middle East two times, the class just answered so many questions for me.”

White’s 9/11 and terrorism course will also be available during the upcoming fall semester.

Douglas Harding can  be contacted at [email protected]