Terrorism is a difficult term to define
In one study 119 different definitions for the term were found in respectable literature.
This difficulty is enhanced by its emergence as a one of the most pejorative terms in our time. It is used to charge that actions are an uncivilized form of warfare.
Terrorism is not a new form of warfare
During the American revolution it characterized the war in the South. Homesteads of "loyalists" and "patriots" were attacked, whole families including women and children were killed, buildings burned to the ground. The objective, like in modern terrorism, was to spread fear that would weaken the commitment to the enemy army.
The United States' war on Native Americans was marked by the same practices. Natives burned homesteads, killed men, women and children or carried women and children into slavery. The United States burned Native villages and committed atrocities we still call "massacres" up into the 1890s. Smallpox was spread through blankets in a form of biological warfare.
In Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, terror was carried out by the armies.
In World War II the bombing of London by the Nazis, the destruction of Shanghai by the Japanese, the fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo by the allies, and the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are all characteristic of warfare by terror designed to break a will to fight.
The warfare between Israel and the Arabs after 1948 has been marked by terrorist acts.
In the late 20th century, terrorism is marked by:
Asymmetrical warfare. If there is a great disparity of power between two forces, traditional warfare by the weaker power is folly; terrorism may offer an alternative. If those committed to the weaker power are to give their life for their commitment, an effective suicide terrorist mission may be a more logical (in one sense of that term) choice.
Warfare between cultures. Terrorism works by finding the vulnerabilities of a culture and attacking those vulnerabilities. It not only attacks military forces but attacks the cultures that support them.
Having lived through it, ask yourself this question and provide yourself a fulsome answer.
It was an attack on US Soil.
It was an attack by other than a nation-state. The rules of war made us anticipate war as something that was made by nation-states. Identifying al Qaeda as the perpetrators did not fit this rule.
The target was civilian in addition to military.
Remember that when events impose themselves on the nation's consciousness, the nation must come to terms with the events. The nation will call upon recognizable symbolic motives to frame its response.
A different rhetoric surrounds each of these and guides the society to react differently to the events.
|Power||Asymmetrical. Crime is the action of an individual or a small group of individuals against the public order.||Symmetrical. War is fought against another nation-state whose army is to be respected as nearly as strong as ours.|
|An act of||Deviant from normal society. A criminal law defines deviation from the dominant viewpoint of society.||Enemy. Typically a nation-state. War is much more a one on one encounter among somewhat equals.|
|Prudent response||Investigation. The crime will be investigated carefully, evidence will be gathered, indictments prepared.||Justification of war. The just-war doctrine will be invoked to cast the events into a framework that makes war the legitimate response.|
|Community of actors||Criminal justice system.||Military structure.|
|Rights defined by||Domestic complex of civil rights defined by Bill of Rights and United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.||International law. Specifically the Geneva conventions relating the the rules of war|
|Scene in which response plays out||Courts of Law||Battlefield|
|Outcome||Justice||Victory or defeat.|
This choice demands a different rhetorical framing:
Thus, when 9/11 happened, the nation had to seek its meaning, to locate its response. Up to 2001, the United States had treated acts of terrorism within its borders as criminal acts.
A different rhetoric surrounds this choice as well.
American's interpretation was first rhetorically framed by the news media. The media cut away from normal programming to interpret the events and their meaning. NBC used the headline "Attack on America" to introduce its coverage. Tom Brokaw, the NBC news anchor (and author of the recently released book on World War II The Greatest Generation) declared the attacks an act of war, compared them overtly to Pearl Harbor, and called upon the war motive to describe what had happened. Dan Rather, CBS's anchor, began his coverage with "American is at War!" Thus, even before the nation's leaders had been heard from the definition of the events as war was underway.
As the nation's leader, George W. Bush had to decide how he was to frame the 9/11 events and thus which approach to response he would motivate.
In Florida, immediately after the attacks. Did he use a rhetoric of crime or war to frame the events? Did he select a rhetoric of globalization or nationalism?
An hour later, now in Louisiana:, Did he use a rhetoric of crime or war to frame the events? Did he select a rhetoric of globalization or nationalism?
By September 20, how is he making these choices? What choices is he motivating?.
The uniqueness of terrorism as a mode of war required an adaptation of the rhetoric of war.
This adaptation defined rhetorical requirements on President Bush:
Who is the enemy? Al Quada was virtually unknown to the public before the attack. This had not been true in previous wars. An enemy had to be created.
An organization rather than a nation-state as enemy. We are used to warring with states. What does it mean to war with an organization? Or is that what this is?
The war had to be defined as a just war. How did he attempt to do this? Did he succeed?
What kind of a war was to be motivated? Given the types of wars that we have fought, which kind is this to be? Then the characteristics of the rhetoric of that kind of war became necessary.
The obvious defeat had to be molded into a commitment to the war. How did he attempt to do this? Did he succeed
Victory needed to be defined to give a sense of progress to the war effort. How was this to be done? Did he succeed?