How should the United States respond to the threat of terrorism?
Eighth edition. March 2016.

September 11, 2001, marked a pivotal moment for many people in the United States. It was also a vital time for U.S. policy. The U.S. government changed its foreign policy, leading to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that it claimed were necessary to fight terrorism. Changes also took place at home. September 11 created a climate of fear, uncertainty, and religious and racial tensions. The U.S. government passed laws and developed programs that it argued were necessary to protect security but that critics argued violated the Constitution. Today, with the persistence of extremist Muslim terrorism and right-wing terror, concerns about terrorism persist and raise important questions about how to respond. What is the best way to respond to terrorism? How great is the threat? What must be done overseas? What should be done in the United States? Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy helps students consider these important issues and prepares them to advocate for different options for U.S. policy in a simulation set in the U.S. Senate.


The readings prepare students to consider the complexities of the U.S. response to terrorism. Part I of the reading traces the history and evolution of terrorism, showing how tactics and objectives have changed. Part II looks at the threat that terrorism poses in the United States and around the world. Part III explores the U.S. responses to terrorism and the issues that complicate the response.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


Oral History and September 11

Students explore the human dimension of the September 11 attacks by conducting an interview. Students consider the benefits and limitations of using oral history to learn about the past, and assess their own views on September 11.

Defining Terrorism

Students develop a working definition of terrorism by determining whether several groups described in case studies should be called "revolutionaries" or "terrorists." Students explore the debate over legitimate and illegitimate uses of force and listen to several scholars discuss the phrase, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

Interpreting Political Cartoons

Students review political cartoons on various topics including civil liberties, refugees, extremism, and the U.S. response to terrorism. The range of viewpoints helps students to understand the different values present in the debate about the response to terrorism.

The Options Role Play

Working cooperatively to develop and present different U.S. policy options to U.S. senators, students clarify and evaluate alternative policy recommendations. An additional group serves as representatives from several UN countries who voice their concerns.

Joining the Debate on U.S. Policy

Armed with historical knowledge and a sense of their own values, students deliberate and then develop their own coherent recommendations. They then apply their policy recommendations to three hypothetical crises.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Cleveland, William. A History of the Modern Middle East Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2012.

Douglas, Roger. Law, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Terrorism. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2014.

Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Kurzman, Charles. The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Stern, Jessica, and J. M Berger. ISIS: The State of Terror. First edition. New York: Ecco Press, 2015.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York: Knopf, 2006.

Information on official U.S. policy on terrorism.
Information on threat levels and the functions of the department.
A website that provides clear information about terrorism.
A compilation of audio interviews of people who were directly affected by the September 11 attacks.
An interactive site by The New York Times based on interviews with friends and families of September 11 victims.
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