News and Events
Defending Democracy: Juniors Kevin Mills and John Deniston
By Jovie Baclayon
Imagine going into a restaurant and having to empty your pockets, take off your hat, and walk through a metal detector, all before deciding whether or not you want fries with your order. In the United States, we've come to expect searches at government offices and at airports, but as Seaver College juniors Kevin Mills and John Deniston experienced in August 2005, heightened security is a way of life in Tel Aviv, Israel.
"It's evident that there's a slight realignment of values in the Israeli mindset right now," says Deniston about observations made during the two-weeks he spent studying counter-terrorism with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). "Here in America, we prioritize convenience, efficiency and ease, but over there, for very good reasons, security is their number one priority."
Whether it was metal detectors at restaurants and cafes, being strip searched at the airport, or needing permission to enter their hotel, both he and Mills agree that the delays and extra security measures made them feel safer than ever before. They argue, however, that news coverage makes the city appear more intense than it really is. "Images from TV can portray it as a place constantly embroiled in violence and strife but that's not the case," says Mills. "It happens, but your day-to-day life doesn't always consist of people throwing rocks or bombs going off. It's similar to life in America."
For Mills, this was his second trip to Israel. The political science and international studies major studied in Heidleberg, Germany, last year and spent Christmas with an Arab-Christian family in Israel. He, too, was impressed by the level of security. "I remember going to the movies and sitting next to me was a group of Israeli soldiers. The entire time I was watching Oceans 12, there was a rifle resting next to my leg," he laughs looking back on the incident.
Security is always on the minds of the students who participate in the FDD Undergraduate Fellowship on Terrorism. The program provides participants with a solid background in international terrorism and the resources to become promoters of peace and democracy on their respective campuses. Deniston, a political science major and minor in Asian studies, learned about the fellowship while studying in Pepperdine's Hong Kong program last year. He passed the information to Mills, who he befriended through Pepperdine's Social Action and Justice Colloquium. The two applied as a team.
Along with more than 40 other students from colleges throughout the country, including Harvard, Stanford and Georgetown, Deniston and Mills became immersed in subjects such as Current Threats to the United States, and Roots of Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorism. They also enjoyed an array of field activities, including visiting an Israeli maximum-security prison that held inmates convicted of terrorist acts. "We stood in an open courtyard and spoke face-to-face with an English-speaking gentleman who was serving 46 life sentences for killing 46 people with a bomb," Deniston, a native of Colorado, recalls. What struck them both was how similar their lives are to the young men convicted of terrorism.
"Their lives aren't that different from ours yet they have this hatred and resolve to cause destruction and death," says Mills, whose family lives in Wenatchee, Washington. "The people we spoke to in prison showed no remorse for their actions. When you see the face of an enemy like that, you realize that there are people who will do anything possible to get their political message across."
Even their more adventurous outings provided a strong message, including shooting live M-16 semi-automatic rifles and playing paintball against Israel's most elite counterterrorism unit. "While it sounds like a fun activity, it makes you appreciate what it's like to be in a situation where your life is hanging in the balance all the time," says Mills. "When you get hit with a paintball, yeah it hurts, but it's just a game. That night, the same people we played against went out on a real mission. Thinking about those who risk their lives to combat terrorism really sobers you to the reality of the consequences of battle."
The program also included visits to major religious sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and featured speakers ranging from the ambassador of Jordan to Israeli government officials to intellectuals and academics. In addition to the all-expenses paid trip to Israel, students attend a weeklong seminar in Washington, D.C., in January and organize programs at their respective schools promoting pro-democratic/anti-terrorist thought, including a 9/11 memorial.
"This is perfect for students who are really interested in understanding what's happening beyond the headlines of the global struggle centered on terrorism. There's a lot more than theory and history behind this," says Deniston. "I can't think of a program with more access that stresses such a clear and comprehensive understanding or terrorism, which is the most important issue, in my mind, in international relations today."
After graduation in 2007, Deniston, an Air Force ROTC cadet, will be a second lieutenant in the Air Force. He has indicated to them that intelligence is his preferred specialization. Mills is considering working for the U.S. State Department and has already applied for a summer internship.