(TFC) – Terrorism is a complex subject, but the key elements can be distilled and presented in an internet-friendly format. Welcome to the definitive listicle on terrorism. This is the bare bones, so process all of it. Don’t skim this one.
Terrorism is “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear. It is intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies. Terrorists usually pursue political, religious, or ideological goals. Enemies who cannot compete with Army forces conventionally often turn to terrorist tactics. Terrorist attacks often create a disproportionate effect on even the most capable conventional forces.” (FM 3-0, 9-37) Even within the United States government, there are varying definitions related to terrorism. Most agencies tailor the definition to suit their mission and therefore increase their budget. The above definition is as close to a consensus as can be found.
Terrorism is not an ideology. It is a military strategy and a set of tactics. That’s it. While in today’s politically charged climate, the following statement will certainly be viewed with contempt, it needs to be said. Terrorism should not be a dirty word. Some of the world’s greatest heroes employed terrorism. That’s why you’ll find many writings use the term “asymmetrical warfare”. It’s terrorism by another name. Specifically, it’s the name the US government uses to describe the tactics of its allies who engage in terrorism.
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. It’s a cliche. It’s also very true. If a group was to attack economic interests, engaged in arson, and capitalized on the collateral damage caused by a government they were opposed to, they would be terrorists. They would also be the Founding Fathers of the United States. The events above are the Boston Tea Party, the Gaspee Affair, and the Boston Massacre. The heroes of the French Resistance routinely engaged in assassinations, sabotage, and bombings. Terrorism is a tactic that can serve any ideology or cause.
Terrorist success rates are high. Most estimates suggest that 85 to 90% of initiated terrorist attacks are successful. If a group is committed to using these tactics, they will be successful at the operational level.
Terrorist attacks are militarily ineffective. The most spectacular terrorist attack in history occurred on the morning of September 11th, 2001. It’s still talked about and used as a justification for military actions today. Without a doubt, the 9/11 attacks were the most successful terrorist attacks in history. They did not hinder the US warfighting capability in the slightest way. So why do terrorists use a militarily ineffective tactic?
Terrorism is an advertising campaign. An act of terrorism is designed to bring attention to a specific grievance or list of grievances. Sometimes, it’s as simple as the IRA’s short term goal of “Brits out!” Other times, it’s a more complicated series of demands relating to ideology or religion or even a desire to completely undermine entire societal systems. The Unabomber wasn’t killing simply to kill and scare people. He was killing to draw attention to his beliefs.
The public reaction to an attack is more important than your actual emotions. Most of the world saw the man fleeing the London terrorist attack with his pint of beer in hand. That image is an image that defeats terrorism. The “Keep calm and carry on” mantra defeats terrorism. 24-hour news coverage, changing your social media profile, or hashtagging #PrayForPickTheNextCity encourages terrorism. Why? The goal of terrorism is advertising. It’s about dominating headlines. When you prolong the coverage, you are helping the terrorist. By the same token, emotional displays of anger and fear, such as the one from the Representative from Louisiana, Clay Higgins, provide the terrorists with exactly what they want. His rant can already be found on Al-Jazeera and will undoubtedly be used in ISIS propaganda videos. Islamic State strategists couldn’t have written a more useful response themselves.
“All of Christendom… is at war with Islamic Horror.” Thank you, Mr. Higgins, for providing the Islamic State with the perfect propaganda quote to promote the idea of Jihad to non-radicalized Muslims. You said it. It’s a Holy War between “all of Christendom” and Islam. I don’t say this lightly, but you’re an idiot and if you can’t control your emotions, you need to resign.
Terrorism is not new, nor is it going away. The use of surprise, unconventional, dirty, and horrifically brutal attacks against soft targets is as old as warfare itself. Modern incarnations of terrorism didn’t originate in the Middle East. They originated in Ireland after the Easter Rising in 1916. Car bombs, assassinations on public streets, and other modern terrorist tactics were pioneered by a man widely regarded as a hero today. Think back to the legends of Disney cartoons. Robin “taxation is theft” Hood fits the role of terrorist quite well, does he not?
Acts of terrorism create two kinds of victims. The obvious victim is the one who is maimed or killed in the actual attack. The second victim is in the viewing audience. The victim is the person who becomes overwhelmed by horror and allows emotion to override reason. If you believe we should “kill them all,” you’re a victim of terrorism. If you look the other way while your country bombs civilians, you’re a victim of terrorism. If you’re scared of a woman wearing a hijab, you’re a victim of terrorism. If you understand the above, you’re less likely to become one of the less obvious victims of terrorism. If you understand what’s below, you will never surrender to terrorism no matter what the cost may be.
The most important thing to know about terrorism is about you, personally. Many will claim the terrorists are out to destroy our way of life. The last time I checked, our way of life didn’t involve murdering civilians in reprisal. It didn’t involve being afraid of our own shadows. Either what we believe to be good and noble and true is good and noble and true, and is worth defending even to the point of death, or it isn’t worth defending at all. If you’re willing to kill children in airstrikes, you aren’t making tough decisions and you aren’t displaying the measure of a man. You’re a coward. You’ve sold out your proclaimed principles because you’re scared. Our civilization made a very quick descent from “you have nothing to fear but fear itself” to a President who talks about murdering the families of the opposition. If you think murdering families is ok, you’ve allowed your fear to override your reason. You’ve betrayed any beliefs you once held regarding honor simply because you’re scared. You’ve just become another butcher. Don’t try to paint that as being tough. It isn’t. We see you for what you are. You know the relatives of those murdered indiscriminately will take up arms and kill other civilians, you’re just banking it won’t be you. You aren’t a better man because you want to do it for a red, white, and blue flag and the other guy wants to do it for a black and white one. Indiscriminate murder is still indiscriminate murder.
Do not be misled by the cowardice of elected officials. Be braver, be stronger, and maintain your honor. If you want to “make America great”, you can’t sell out the principles that might accomplish that. If you’ve become so afraid that you’re willing to commit the same atrocities as those we claim to stand against, there’s nothing left to fight for. Today’s officials react from a place of fear, they do not lead from a place of honor or principle. You have to lead yourself. You have to steel your own resolve. Nobody will give you encouraging speeches to remind you that without our principles of justice, we are the Islamic State. It’s too hard. It requires too much to display the courage to say do your worst and we will remain. It’s easier to simply engage in a war of attrition and hope we walk away the victors. There is no victory if we surrender who we are.
If you want to win the war on terror, you cannot allow yourself to be terrorized by anyone. That includes the cowards in office.