Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson becomes first African American to give Green Lecture

Jeh Johnson gives his Green Foundation address in Champ Auditorium. PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTMINSTER COLLEGE.

Jeh Johnson gives his Green Foundation address in Champ Auditorium. PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTMINSTER COLLEGE.



United States Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Wednesday became the first African-American to deliver a Green Foundation Lecture at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where Winston Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946.

Johnson joined a distinguished group of former Green lecturers, including Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Gerald Ford and Harry Truman with his address, “Achieving our Homeland Security While Preserving our Values and our Liberty,” delivered on Wednesday, September 16 as part of the college’s annual Hancock Symposium.

The speech came just days after the 14th anniversary of 9/11 and amid heightened concerns about homeland security following recent cyberattacks.

Johnson’s Green Lecture – the 56th – was inspired by Harry Truman’s lecture at Westminster College titled “What hysteria does to us,” in which Truman described the damaging effects hysteria has on a country’s freedom.

Throughout his address, Johnson emphasized the need for those in public office to remain vigilant but not overreact during times of crisis. “In a democracy, the former leads to smart and sustainable policy; the latter can lead to fear, hate, suspicion, prejudice and government over-reach,” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that this is particularly true in relation to homeland security.

“It’s not simply a matter of imposing on the public as much security as our resources will permit,” Johnson said. “Rather, both national security and homeland security involve striking a balance between basic, physical security and the law, the liberties and the values we cherish as Americans.”

Johnson stated the need for national security officials to guard one as much as the other and described acts of profiling as both “unlawful and un-American.”

“We must recognize that our first impulse in reaction to a threat to the American people is often not the best one,” Johnson said, giving examples of the Islamic State and the outbreak of the Ebola virus.

He said in an environment of hysteria, the first impulses may be to suspect Muslims in the United States as potential terrorists and to limit travel from West Africa to the United States.

“The reality is the self-proclaimed Islamic State does not represent the Islamic faith, and we must not confuse the two,” Johnson said.

And while Johnson acknowledged that his initial reaction to the spreading of Ebola was to restrict travel visas, he said that course of action would have been a mistake.

“Had we suspended travel from West Africa at the height of the Ebola crisis, other nations would have followed our lead,” he said. “This would have had the effect of isolating these small African countries from the rest of the world at a time they needed us the most. “

Johnson explained that what was true in Truman’s time, that hysteria limits freedom, remains true today.

“We can erect more walls, install more screening devices, and make everybody suspicious of each other,” Johnson said, “but we should not do so at the cost of who we are as a nation of people who cherish our privacy, our religions, our freedom to speak, travel and associate, and who celebrate our diversity and immigrant heritage.”

Reprinted with the permission of the St. Louis American.

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