Term:terrorism

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Terrorism is formally defined as intentional creation of terror in the pursuit of political purposes. While all warfare involves creating terror, pure terrorism differs in its goals and methods from ordinary warfare because it is not intended to take objectives or destroy opposing armies, but to achieve its results by causing political rather than military outcomes. However, the distinction refers to the apparent intent of the act, and so is amenable to much manipulation. Saddam Hussein was known to refer to the bombing of Baghdad as a form of terrorism, and in terms of his propaganda it probably was, since the invasion it prefaced had no chance to succeed, within the frame of propaganda.

The distinction is therefore more commonly made based on the immediate usefulness of the target in war. In ordinary warfare, saboteurs might blow up a bridge as a way of crippling the war industries of the enemy, slowing the transportation of men and materiels from the enemy's home base to the warfront. If a high school were napalmed, on the other hand, the objective would be to wound the population psychologically, make them mourn for their children who had been horribly burned to death, fear that their younger children might be immolated in their primary school at a later date, expect that they and the entire city might go up in flames. The hope would be that rather than being energized in their defense of their homeland these people would sink into fear and apathy and thereby impede their own war effort.

However, the target is not the only distinction. Another distinction is the degree to which civilian casualities are minimized or maximized. This leads to some difficult problems however. On September 11, 2001 the Pentagon was attacked, and this is a legitimate military target by any definition. However, it was attacked by steering a laden civilian airliner into it, resulting in civilian casualties. However again, the hijackers seem to have chosen which flight to hijack in part on the basis of reducing women and child casualties - a mid-morning flight during the week, which often carry fewer passengers and very few families.

Cause is generally not a useful distinction. One study held that 95% of so-called "terrorist" events were linked to a national and/or ethnic cause, as conventional warfare is. The term:war on terror is misleading by definition and should simply not be used.

When terrorist tactics are ably used, they are often accompanied by concentrated efforts to destroy the effective agents of government on the local level while leaving in place the incompetent and/or venal. Whenever possible forces identified with the legitimate government and/or its allies are deliberately tempted into committing barbaric acts of retribution against provocations made by terrorists who meld themselves in with the general population.

When extremely ably used, it causes tremendous disruption to civilian response systems and creates logistical disruptions with security reactions, analogous to the way a virus like Spanish flu can cause an extreme immune system response and shut down its host. After September 11, the stock exchanges and North American civilian air traffic were shut down for week. The total cost of the attack is estimated at well over a trillion dollars. Given that it cost only a few hundred thousand, and the lives of under 20 attackers, there is a strong argument that this was asymmetric warfare in very effective and efficient form, and that such tactics did, if widely emulated, have the potential to damage a state and force it to surrender. Had attacks with impacts as widespread as Sept.11 been carried out once a week for several years thereafter, there would be little left of the US economy.

Because of the various good reasons to avoid the term, it pays to reframe:terrorism into the various different causes and effects it has or is purported to have, and not to let the use of the word itself justify anything.

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