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There is much confusion over what terrorism is and is not. The following is an essay from the US Army's Command & General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The essay does an excellent job of explaining not only the basics of terrorism, but also details the US policy towards this phenomenon. U.S. Army, Field Manual 100-20, Stability and Support Operations, (Final Draft),”Chapter 8: Combating Terrorism.” Introduction Terrorism is a special type of violence. It is a tactic used in peace, conflict, and war. The threat of terrorism is ever present, and an attack is likely to occur when least expected. A terrorist attack may be the event that marks the transition from peace to conflict or war. Combating terrorism is a factor to consider in all military plans and operations. Combating terrorism requires a continuous state of awareness; it is a necessary practice rather than a type of military operation. Detailed guidance for establishing an organizational program to combat terrorism, including preventive and protective measures and incident response planning, can be found in Joint Publication 3-07.2 (1993). Terrorism is a criminal offense under nearly every national or international legal code. With few exceptions, acts of terrorism are forbidden in war as they are in times of peace. See, for example, the Hague Regulation of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The DOD definition of terrorism is "the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological." This definition was carefully crafted to distinguish between terrorism and other kinds of violence. The act of terrorism is defined independent of the cause that motivates it. People employ terrorist violence in the name of many causes. The tendency to label as terrorism any violent act of which we do not approve is erroneous. Terrorism is a specific kind of violence.

The official definition says that terrorism is calculated. Terrorists generally know what they are doing. Their selection of a target is planned and rational. They know the effect they seek. Terrorist violence is neither spontaneous nor random. Terrorism is intended to produce fear; by implication, that fear is engendered in someone other than the victim. In other words, terrorism is a psychological act conducted for its impact on an audience.

Modern terrorism offers its practitioners many advantages. First, by not recognizing innocents, terrorists have an infinite number of targets. They select their target and determine when, where, and how to attack. The range of choices gives terrorists a high probability of success with minimum risk. If the attack goes wrong or fails to produce the intended results, the terrorists can deny responsibility.

Ironically, as democratic governments become more common it may be easier for terrorists to operate. The terrorist bombings of the New York City World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City Federal Building prove how easy it is for terrorists to operate in a free and democratic society. Authoritarian governments whose populace may have a better reason to revolt may also be less constrained by requirements for due process and impartial justice when combating terrorists. As commanders and staffs address terrorism, they must consider several relevant characteristics. First is that anyone can be a victim. (Some terrorists may still operate under cultural restraints, such as a desire to avoid harming women, but the planner cannot count on that. Essentially, there are no innocents.) Second, attacks that may appear to be senseless and random are not. To the perpetrators, their attacks make perfect sense. Acts such as bombing public places of assembly and shooting into crowded restaurants heighten public anxiety. This is the terrorists' immediate objective. Third, the terrorist needs to publicize his attack. If no one knows about it, it will not produce fear. The need for publicity often drives target selection; the greater the symbolic value of the target, the more publicity the attack brings to the terrorists and the more fear it generates. Finally, a leader planning for combating terrorism must understand that he cannot protect every possible target all the time. He must also understand that terrorists will likely shift from more protected targets to less protected ones. This is the key to defensive measures.


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