Are the Terrorists Winning?

terrorism, noun, defn: 1. the use of violence or threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes; 2. the state of submission and fear produced by terrorism or terrorization; 3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Although there is currently no internationally acknowledged definition of terrorism, it is commonly agreed that terrorism involves the use of violent acts as staged events to create fear within a population for ideological purposes. Terrorism especially targets civilians, since such attacks create a feeling of chaos and bring the battlefield to Main Street. Terrorists hope that by sufficiently unhinging a population, they will force a government to use police-state tactics, resulting in loss of freedoms and privacy, as well as massive expenditures for security, all of which may cause citizens to cry uncle.

In the U.S., which is relatively new to the phenomenon, we have had few acts of terrorism, but the catastrophic events of a single day (9-11) and the accompanying loss of life were of sufficient magnitude to sow the seeds of fear deep within the national psyche. The “relatively few acts” may cause many to conclude that we are “winning.” Yet if we examine the goals of the terrorists, the opposite may in fact be true.

The British applied terroristic tactics during the American Revolution by burning farms, shooting civilians, and starving and freezing prisoners. When Congress and the Continental Army declined, on moral grounds, to respond in kind, the more cynical among the enemy remarked that “humanity” may be a “Yankee virtue,” but they will be “governed by policy”– in other words, “Just wait; they’ll soon have to cave in to fear and chuck their scruples like the rest of us.” The fact that we did not do so had a profound impact on the war and its aftermath (including the desertion of many of His Majesty’s mercenaries to the American side).

Tragically, two centuries later we seem to have forgotten that lesson. Instead, throwing humanity and all caution to the wind, we are indeed now governed by “policy”: electronic eavesdropping, racial profiling, preventive detentions without trial, torture, targeted assassinations of American citizens, among other egregious violations of our civil rights and Constitution, as well as an ever expanding militarism, ballooning deficits, and unconscionable acts of violence abroad. What the American people will not put up with in the quest for “security”!

Sadly, the one thing we will not put up with is an honest look at ourselves.

If the terrorists are winning, it is because they have, with little effort, bullied us into chucking the better angels of our nature, sacrificing our liberty and our Constitution, and dropping our benevolent mask, revealing the cruel and rapacious empire beneath. This is what they have wanted. This is how terrorism works. And they have had their way.

Unfortunately, the winner of this contest will not be determined by the last man standing on some rugged mountain in AfPak, but by how we have defended that which ought to be more sacred to us as a nation: our humanity, our compassion, and the rule of law.

As John Adams wrote at the height of the war in 1777:

“Is there any policy this side of hell that is inconsistent with humanity? I have no idea of it. I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this, piety, humanity, and honesty are the best policy. Blasphemy, cruelty and villainy have prevailed and may again. But they won’t prevail against America in this contest, because I find the more of them are employed the less they succeed.”

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