A Philosophical Interpretation

C. Ellsworth Hood


A Philosophical Interpretation


   When international terrorists strike, what should an attacked nation do? What options are there by way of response? For much of the world this has been neither an idle nor a merely theoretical question. It is one which Americans are now addressing existentially. The U.S. response has been to attack a sovereign nation, to destroy its government and, with international participation, to attempt to rebuild that country, Afghanistan, as a stable nation with a government which will respect human rights and be inhospitable to terrorists international or otherwise. The jury is still out on the success of this approach. At the time of this writing no verdict is to be expected in the foreseeable future. There are other approaches. To begin the process of evaluating options, it must be recognized that international terrorism constitutes a distinct subclass of lethal violence which calls for a response specific to its peculiar nature. It isn’t, as with war, nation pitted against nation or nations banded together against another nation or group of nations. It isn’t guerrilla warfare. It isn’t paramilitary conflict. It isn’t civil war or domestic conflict. It shares characteristics with each of these forms of lethal violence, yet differs from each in important ways.

   Like war, it is international. Like guerrilla and paramilitary warfare, it is episodic and directed against civilian populations using tactics such as kidnaping, murder, suicide bombers and attacks on the economic infrastructure–buildings, planes, trains, shops, restaurants, and even schools, hospitals and clinics. Like civil war and domestic terrorism, international terrorism aims to destabilize the social order and, here too, means, methods and tactics are often shared.

   International terrorism, however, differs in important ways from either civil war or domestic terrorism precisely because it is international. Civil wars and domestic terrorist activities arise out of the dynamic of the particular nation in which they occur and are, barring international intervention, resolved according to the customs, traditions and practices internal to that nation. International terrorism arises out of inter-cultural conflict and must be dealt with in the absence of common customs, traditions and practices. Unlike conventional war or guerrilla or paramilitary conflict, international terrorism does not aim to engage the military of the attacked nation though it may on occasion target either on or off duty soldiers. Unlike guerrilla or paramilitary warfare, it does not usually attack dams, power plants, power grids, bridges and airports, but aims directly at civilian populations. Planes, trains, buildings, locations where people congregate are targeted, but the people constitute the primary target. Unlike armies, guerrilla forces and paramilitary organizations, international terrorists do not organize as a military force or structure. International terrorism does not aim for control of territory or directly at political or economic control. Its aim is to destabilize a society and force it to accede to its demands by instilling terror in the citizenry. Its aim is to undermine the confidence of the people in their government and in themselves and thereby force them to change their behavior whether social, economic, political, military, religious or whatever it is that incites the to terrorists.

   The goal may be the relatively modest one of coercing the attacked nation to withdraw from certain regions of the world, restrict its economic, political, military and cultural activities and allow the terrorists and the population which shares their traditions and culture to live free from the influences of the alien culture. The goal may, however, be the much more aggressive one of destroying the alien culture. Because its very existence is seen as a threat to the tradition the terrorists uphold, to destroy it is seen as duty. The alien culture is thought to be thoroughly corrupt and there is a presumption that it will, when sufficiently destabilized, collapse of its own inherent corruption. With the collapse of the alien culture, the threat to the culture of the terrorists comes to an end. An even more aggressive goal may appear as well if the terrorists’ goal is not only to destroy the alien culture but to replace that culture with its own. Then international terrorism becomes an opening campaign in an all-out war. Terrorism by itself cannot achieve this most aggressive goal. Military and political control would be necessary to do so. These require armies, police forces, economic and social control agencies and structures with the ability to defeat armies, conquer territory and populations and then organize a society composed largely of a hostile population according to the practices policies and beliefs of the conquering power. This presents a scenario very different from the topic here under discussion, international terrorism.

    What options are there for dealing with international terrorism? The range is rather wide. The list I’ve assembled here is more representative than exhaustive and includes options which border on madness, though that does not keep some people and from entertaining them and either arguing for them or taking action based upon them.


              --all out military attack, including the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction

              --full scale conventional war

              --clandestine assassination

              --purely technological fix

              --armed camp option

              --military attack plus nation building

              --direct diplomacy

              --simultaneous world organizational diplomacy

               --world court

              --UN/world government

              --nonviolence plus economic/technological reorientation

   The question is which of these options would be best both morally and practically in countering international terrorism. To answer that question we need to address both principle and strategy. Strategy must conform to principle.


   In a way there is only one fundamental principle: the infinite intrinsic worth of each human individual/person and the rights intrinsic to such beings, to persons. Worth is intrinsic to what or who we are as persons–intelligent, free beings by our very nature. The rights to be, to be free and to be treated justly with the respect due such intelligent and free beings are inalienable, intrinsic to each person. In the 1776 Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen the United States of America the worth is assumed and the rights enumerated as the inalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

    Persons are free, intelligent beings, beings of infinite intrinsic worth and therefore to be respected, treated justly, with their rights to be, to be free and to live in just circumstances honored by whatever social, political, economic, religious and other institutional structures the world may contain. Things are of another order entirely. They exist as means, tools, subject to necessity and evaluated according to their usefulness. . This distinction must be kept clearly in mind in all discussions of possible strategies to reduce and remove terrorist actions and the conditions out of which such actions arise. This sets a clear logic and provides the basis upon which to build a world suited to free, intelligent beings, to persons. Endnote

   Realism is necessary. We do not yet live in such a world or anything even remotely approaching it. In the world we actually live in this fundamental principle soon runs into conflict with an assumption shared by virtually every political, economic, social and religious organization and virtually every belief system in the history of human existence. That assumption is that if the cause is great enough, again whether it be political, economic, social, religious or whatever, the sacrifice of human life, including innocent human life, is justified. The assumption that persons can be sacrificed for causes reduces persons to the status of things

   As long as this assumption holds sway in the world, wars, mass murder and terrorism will continue to seem justified to various groups. Nations, tribes, ethnic groups, races, religions, economic structures, cultural groups, social classes or individuals when they feel themselves to be oppressed, whether objectively the case or not, will resort to lethal violence and practice human sacrifice in service to their cause. This same assumption, with the same results, is shared by other groups whose self-understanding entails a right or even duty to impose their way of being in the world on others, in some cases on all others, or worse yet to exterminate other groups, whether races, tribes, religions, political parties, social classes or whatever sub-group of humanity is judged unfit to be in the world.

   Given that we live in a world in which the assumption that there are causes great enough to justify human sacrifice and that there are all sorts of groups and individuals who operate on that assumption it would be highly unrealistic and morally culpable to do nothing or to act in a way which ignores this very real feature of our world. Nevertheless the principle that each person is a being of intrinsic worth with inalienable rights to be, to be free and to live in just circumstances remains the basic criterion by which to evaluate all strategies for dealing with international terrorism.

   So now to strategies. What can nations attacked by international terrorists do? A successful strategy will entail a long term goal and actions appropriate to obtaining that goal and short term strategies which will be effective in ending or at least ameliorating terrorism short term. These short term strategies should simultaneously contribute to setting the conditions necessary to effect the long term goal.

   Short term strategies have the same essential goal as long term strategy and need to be consistent with that goal and progress toward that goal. They differ in that they address specific mass murders, genocides, terrorist campaigns–this bombing, this hi-jacking, this murder, this genocide, this terrorism. Short term strategies will vary significantly with specific nations and specific acts of terrorism by specific agents, individuals or groups. There are, however, a few criteria which will apply generally. Whatever strategy is pursued, one criterion by which it will be evaluated is the pragmatic one. Does it work? When innocent lives are at stake and the social fabric is endangered, something has to be done. The terrorists must be stopped from further acts. Hence the pragmatic criterion. Other relevant criteria will be less readily agreed to and be more difficult to apply. Short term strategy should not exacerbate unnecessarily the conflict by violation of cultural, religious or ethnic beliefs and practices. This criterion may be difficult to meet because it may prove impossible not to violate beliefs and practices when they are the source of the terrorism or work to protect the terrorists. Short term strategy also should not undermine the long term goal of a world in which each person is respected as a being of intrinsic worth and a center of inalienable rights. This criterion, too, will be difficult to meet. The assumption that human sacrifice is justifiable if the cause is great enough can play an ambiguous role here. It contradicts the fundamental moral principle of the intrinsic worth of persons and justifies terrorism yet the fact that the terrorists accept it means that the threat to the long term goal is less than it would be if they did not. Use of direct lethal force to defend oneself, innocent non-combatants and one’s homeland would be expected and seem justified to those who accept the assumption that if the cause is great enough, human sacrifice is justifiable. This does not mean the short term strategy is therefore justified, only that pragmatically its consequences may not be severely damaging to the long term goal.

   The long term goal is a world in which persons relate as is appropriate to persons–free, intelligent beings who relate to one another as free, intelligent beings, in which each receives the respect due a person, in which life, liberty/freedom and pursuit of happiness are secure, a world in which justice is actualized. It entails rejection of the assumption that cause may justify murder, that human sacrifice is permissible. The long term goal is to replace that assumption with the principle that each person is a being of intrinsic worth. To some this may seem to be the dream of a philosopher whose head is several orders of magnitude remote from reality . The truth of the matter, however, is that unless we dream this dream and act to make it reality, all that awaits us is a future of wars answering wars, terrorism answering terrorism, mass murder answering mass murder, a world in which the technologies of death will destroy both perpetrator and victim alike.

   For any long term strategy to promote the goal of a human world of human relations to succeed, a few criteria will have to be met. The categories are those of Freeman Dyson, the elaboration is mine. Endnote The first category is moral conviction. That one is a person, that others are persons, what it means to be a person, how to be a person and how to relate to others as persons, as free intelligent beings with inalienable rights just as one is a person and has such rights oneself, is the moral conviction which must be appropriated by each individual, become part of the self-understanding of each person. In practice this means the conviction that each person is a being of intrinsic worth must supplant the assumption that causes can justify human sacrifice. Being a person entails active use of one’s intelligence and one’s freedom to create a world suited to persons, to life as free, intelligent beings. This too, must become part of who one is and of one’s self understanding. Since there are vast numbers of immoral as well as amoral convictions held by all sorts of people, it is no small matter to determine how to bring about this properly moral understanding and moral conviction. Educate, educate, educate. Not just in schools and universities, but homes churches, mosques, synagogues, zen centers, wiccan circles, businesses and corporations, service clubs and organizations, all need to become teachers of how to live and relate as persons. While the moral conviction that persons are of intrinsic worth is independent of all religions, nationalities, races, gender, ethnicities and social, historical, political and economic structures arrangements and doctrines, these are tools and means whereby to implement the basic moral conviction in practice. The way we drive our cars, the way we walk down the street, all that we are, say and do must evince our being as persons and our recognition of others as persons. Moral conviction is not merely a set of beliefs held, but a way of being in the world.

   A second category is patience. Patience does not mean passively waiting for others to improve their moral understanding and behavior. It does not mean allowing oneself to be used as a mere thing, to be reduced to cannon fodder by one’s own nation or religion or cause. It does not mean passively to receive the violence others direct at one through terrorism, war, economic boycott and exploitation, religious oppression or whatever else. It certainly does not mean passively allowing the hijacking of planes and flying them into buildings, bombings of trains, suicide bombings or biological or chemical terrorism. It does mean holding firm to one’s status as a person and insisting that others do so as well and this consistently, persistently. Patience entails courage. It means acting and expecting others to act as free, intelligent beings. Frequently, certainly as our world now is, they will not. Patience means having the courage in this morally ambiguous world to stand by one’s moral understanding and to insist that others rise to that level as well. Patience means to accomplish what we can and to prepare the way for others to do more in their turn. We are not gods, but finite beings and we must remind ourselves that we are not gods and remind others that they are not gods either. Patience entails a realistic appraisal of what can be done, then to do it and to be content that one has fulfilled one’s role as a person building a world suited to persons–free, secure and happy in pursuit of justice. We can’t end all terrorism, all mass murder, but we can take the steps necessary to reduce the occurrence of these atrocities in our world. What steps? Long term strategy is at issue here. Educate, educate, educate, teach by word and deed, by political participation and responsible social action, educate also morally, politically, economically, scientifically, technologically to build a world in which each is a free person able to be secure in life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, justice actualized. Impatience leads to short term strategies to deal with terrorist attacks and the threat of such attacks which can undermine the long term goal. In the face of opposition, backsliding, betrayal, ignorance and downright treachery patience and the courage to persist are necessary ingredients of success in a long process of moral, social and political progress toward a world more suited to the life of free, intelligent beings, persons.

   A third category is objectivity. There is need for cool, calm, clear, realistic appraisal of the situation on the part of the attacked nation and an open honest, straight forward assessment of that nation’s responsibility for the situation it is in, indeed the extent of our culpability for the inhuman behavior taking place. There needs also to be an equally cool, calm, clear, realistic appraisal of the other party or parties involved in the situation and an open, honest, straight forward assessment of their responsibility for the situation and the extent of their culpability for the inhuman behavior taking place–mass murder, terrorism. Objectivity entails that one recognize that they too are human, a mix of good and evil as one is oneself, finite in understanding and knowledge and wisdom just as we are. They too believe, however wrongly, that they are agents of good and act justly in their deeds, deeds done in service of what they take to be some great cause, some greater purpose to which they sacrifice themselves and others. Objective understanding and evaluation of their beliefs and their interests are necessary for us to engage them in a conflict resolving process.

   The fourth category is a willingness to compromise and to avoid humiliation of the opposition. The goal is to end the murder, the terrorism and to set the stage for a world of free, intelligent, mutually respecting persons. It can’t be done all at once, but we can move closer. The long term strategy’s intent is to awaken the latent humanity in each person in each party involved. Humiliation of any is contrary to the intent of the strategy. To compromise, then, is to accomplish the good one realistically can in the given circumstances . Part of that good is to avoid humiliation of the perpetrator of the evil so as to appeal to their essential humanity in the subsequent process of building a more human world based on respect for the intrinsic worth and dignity of each person. One must be objective and realistic concerning what one sets out to do to bring the atrocities to an end and equally so in evaluation of one’s own means to ensure that they are consistent with the goal of a world more suited to human life and relationships. The appropriate sort of compromise is not one which would compromise the goal or the moral character of one’s means, but only in time frame and in letting people who perhaps do not deserve it to save face.

   Long term strategies have a huge task. Their goal is to awaken in humanity its own worth, the understanding of why that worth is intrinsic to its way of being and to fashion the institutions and structures which will enable each person to live, to live freely and to pursue his or her happiness in circumstances of justice. To succeed, the strategies will have to wean the world away from the belief that there are causes and situations which justify human sacrifice.

   As we turn now to evaluate the options listed earlier we need to address two questions to each of them. The first question: Is it at all likely to succeed, at least in the very short term, to end the terrorism? The second question: Will it likely help build a terrorist free world later on, one suited to free, intelligent beings, a world in which they can exercise their inalienable rights, live justly and be treated justly? The various criteria outlined above nuance and lend precision to these two questions.

   The first option: all out military attack, including weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Could it likely succeed, at least in the very near term, in ending an outbreak of terrorist attacks? Probably, but not necessarily. As is the case with the al-Qaeda network, other terrorist organizations are likely to be spread around over the world. The more likely result would be World War III with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons armed combatants on all sides. No one actually knows how the other nations and peoples of the world would respond if weapons of mass destruction were used by whatever nation chose to do so. Whom to target would be a major problem since international terrorist organizations are not based in any one nation or even readily identifiable group of nations. If multiple nations are attacked, WW III seems inevitable. We do have a pretty good idea of the horrendous consequences of the use of weapons of mass destruction, particularly of the large scale use of nuclear weapons. These would be the weapons of choice for the United States because the US has so many of them and such a sophisticated delivery system for their use. We also know that the prospect of horrendous consequences , including self- annihilation, is not enough to deter use of such weapons. The old MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, doctrine of the cold war era, recent suicide bombers in Israel and India’s and Pakistan’s willingness to use the nuclear option in their dispute over Kashmir make that very clear. Would this option likely help build a terrorist free world later on? No. The best we could hope for would be that some world and some human life would survive in a nuclear devastated environment. In the current situation the lesson the United States would have taught those survivors would be that the U.S. had been, as its enemies had said, the Great Satan, willing to threaten and destroy life itself to promote what it took to be its own self-interest, largely oil as the key to wealth and power. This option fails to meet even the short term pragmatic criterion. The murder-suicide entailed in its potential to produce large scale WMD warfare violates the criterion for long term strategy and totally negates the goal of long term strategy. Quite apart from its inherent madness, it is an option particularly unsuited for dealing either effectively or morally with international terrorism.

   The second option, full scale conventional war: Would it likely succeed short term in ending terrorist attacks? Possibly, though as with the first option, the world wide terrorist network could continue to operate and likely would do so. In fact the odds of its doing so are greater than with WMD warfare because it would be a longer, more drawn out process. Would it likely help build a future terrorist free world? No. This option, even with full use of 21st century technologies of smart weapons, would entail land conquering and territorial occupation. The process of conquest would inevitably result in massive destruction and civilian casualties and occupation could well entail cultural conflicts far deeper and more complex than the occupation of Japan and Europe after WW II. There is, of course, a very real possibility that WW III, complete with weapons of mass destruction, could result. If the terrorist organization were harbored by one or a very few countries and a relatively contained war was quickly won, nation building could follow and could be helpful in moving toward a more human sort of world.. The rebuilding after WWII lends plausibility to this possibility. The likelihood is, however, very , very low. The dynamic of terrorism differs significantly from that of war between nations. A nation defeated and then aided in recovery by the victor is rather different from a nation attacked because it harbors, willingly or otherwise, a terrorist group. Conventional war is designed to wreck things and kill people as efficiently as possible. This hardly sets the stage for a world more structured in terms of respect for human life and the freedom of thought and action it entails particularly if the people of the nation which harbored the terrorists do not see themselves as responsible for the terrorism. As a response to terrorist attacks it would, even if successful in making it a war quickly won, more likely convince the world, as with option one, that whatever nation chose this option is the Great Satan and that all means to oppose it are legitimate. Terrorism would flourish in that environment. Like the first option, this one attempts to apply an approach designed for war between states and is unsuited for dealing either effectively or morally with international terrorism..It meets neither the short term criterion of quickly ending a terrorist campaign nor the long term criterion which must be met for the long term goal of living freely in a terror free world.

   The third option, clandestine assassination: Spies, informants, intelligence operatives and the underworld of drugs, weapons and illegal money could be used to buy the information and the agents to assassinate terrorist leaders. This would seem a direct way to end the current terrorist attacks. Would it work short term? Probably. One cannot say any more than probably because there is no clear evidence that current or future terrorist organizations would depend on one or just a very few leaders. An added practical difficulty would be in getting the intelligence necessary and finding and deploying reliable agents in the country or countries playing host to the terrorist organizations. In addition the likelihood of seriously violating local customs and traditions and thereby alienating the indigenous population would be particularly strong. Could it succeed long term? No. There is a significant difference between nations aiming to assassinate the leaders of other nations and the assassination of the leaders of terrorist organizations. Assassination of terrorist leaders would not, it is true, directly threaten the international system of nation states and therefore would be less destabilizing to the world order. Nevertheless, it directly undermines the trust, the respect for human life and honesty in human relations necessary to any tolerable world order. To adopt this option would be in essence to adopt a murder-for-hire approach. Pragmatically this option could possibly succeed in reacting to a specific terrorist attack if the terrorist organization responsible were sufficiently dependent on a few key leaders and they could be taken out without significant violation of local customs and beliefs. The only long term strategy it contains would be for a world-wide spt network of incredible extent and efficiency. It violates every one of the criteria for long term success laid out above and directly contradicts the fundamental moral premise of the intrinsic worth of each person and the entailed rights of each to life, freedom and to live in circumstances of justice.

   A purely technological fix: This would be a fourth possible option. It seems not a very credible one yet it was essentially the one taken by the US Government under the Chaney/Rumsfeld/Bush administration until the September 11 wake up call. The US was operating on the belief that its technological superiority could make it invulnerable in defense and invincible in offense and therefore secure. It could do as it wished, the world community be damned. September 11 proved the highly unrealistic nature of this policy. This option clearly fails the short term criterion of pragmatic expediency. Long term prospects do not look much better. The history of technological advances has been a history of subsequent advance in war making capabilities in which offense has consistently out ranked defense. There is little to no reason to expect this to change with further technological advancement. There is, however, nothing intrinsic to technology which makes it inevitably a technology of death. If technology were guided by the four criteria for long term strategy, particularly by the first, moral conviction of the intrinsic worth of each person, and the entailed clear rejection of the assumption that if the cause is great enough, human sacrifice is justified, technology would become a technology of life rather than death. This option, unfortunately, arises out of a rejection of the first criterion and the result, if it were adopted as a long term strategy, would be an ever increasing technology of death.

   The armed camp option. A fifth possibility would be to turn one’s nation into an armed camp with four cops on every intersection and security cameras in every room, at every street corner and in every public and private location and with every citizen called upon to spy upon every other citizen. Civil rights of all kinds would be canceled in the interests of security. This option easily blends in with the technological fix option. Both depend on advanced technological means of information gathering and processing together with secure communications of that information to the appropriate authorities. Would it work short term? Perhaps. The weak link is that terrorists, of course, would not cooperate and report their associates’ plans and deeds. Counter intelligence agents, moles and spies would further erode the chances of success of this option short term and long term as well. In spite of these factors, could it succeed long term? Unfortunately, yes, it could, at least for an extended period of time. Totalitarian dictatorships have been remarkably successful in suppressing dissent and social unrest for lengthy periods of time. It could not, however, be a successful long term strategy to produce a terror free world. It flies in the face of everything needed to have a world suited to free, intelligent persons exercising their inalienable rights to be live, to live freely and to pursue their happiness in just circumstances.

   Any one of the so far mentioned options or any combination of them would be far worse than option number 6, the approach the US actually took after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This option calls for limited military attacks, with special care wherever possible, to avoid harm to innocent civilians, plus nation building in the post military phase. Is this option at all likely to succeed, either short term or long term, to end terrorist attacks? The fact that the US has actually employed this option provides some evidence for its likely success short term. It has disrupted the al-Qaeda network and ended the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan. It has done so with little loss of US personnel, though it has caused significant civilian casualties and physical destruction in Afghanistan The jury, as was said above, is still out on the short term success of this option since the senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have evaded death and capture and appear to be regrouping in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. What is evident so far is that it is difficult to counter an international terrorist organization by military action against a host nation. The answer to the second question we have been asking concerning each option, will it likely help build a world less threatened by terrorism and more suited to human beings in human relationships, is probably not. What we have learned thus far from the experience of the US in Afghanistan is that it could possibly contribute negatively to the creation of such a world by disrupting one terrorist organization and making room for a more humane government in that country. The prevention of the return of a terrorist organization or the arising of another one and the creation of a new government are long term tasks remaining to be accomplished.

   There is, however, a coherence to this policy. First, put out the fire, then deal with why there are so many combustible materials around and so many people ready and willing to ignite them. Those who question the policy need to recognize this coherence. To do so will aid them in understanding why the approach seems so plausible to so many. The approach does, however, have real risk of failure. An unfortunate but likely outcome is an even more determined anti-American population in the region due to the extensive physical destruction, the loss of life, particularly the killing of innocent persons, the economic disruption, and the destabilizing of other countries which is occurring. These unintended but seemingly inevitable collateral effects of even a limited military approach will only add to the conviction that bin Laden was right, the West, centered in the US , is intent upon complete destruction of Muslim culture. In addition we will have, once more, affirmed that if the cause is great enough, important enough, then the killing of innocent civilians is justified. Israel, for example, is openly saying that the invasions of Palestinian lands and the killing of Palestinians is only doing what the US was and is doing in Afghanistan–seeking out and destroying terrorists. Can one say the Israelis are wrong? Or that the Palestinians are wrong to use suicide bombers to attack Israelis? The Palestinians claim they are using the only means they have to protect themselves from Israel . India is challenging Pakistan to stop Muslim terrorists from attacking in Kashmir and claims the right to launch attacks in Pakistan to eradicate terrorist camps, training schools and personnel. Both India and Pakistan have openly asserted the right to use the nuclear option to defend their homelands. On all sides it is argued that they are carrying out a religious duty to attack with violence those who attack them with violence. Defending the homeland and religion are taken to be causes great enough to justify lethal violence, including terrorist attack and the killing of tens of millions of what others see as innocent civilians.

   This option does call for more than a military response. Preparations for and eventual nation building are included. Diplomatic means, arranging economic assistance for the post war rebuilding and humanitarian relief efforts are means being pursued. There is an international effort, which the US supports, to enable the Afghans to form a new government. These nation building factors are consistent with working toward a world less threatened by terrorist acts and more suited to human life. Yet the military campaign to find and destroy al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters and weapons continues and most of Afghanistan is currently controlled by local tribal warlords who disregard the provisional government in Kabul and break into open conflict with each other repeatedly. In the fog of war it is difficult for the world to see efforts toward peace and nation building and appreciate their potential significance. The explosions of bombs and missiles and the smell of death and destruction are too evident. These factors show why future nation building will be so difficult and prospects for a long term success of this option so dim. To fight fire with fire can ignite an even greater conflagration. This is what worries many in the international community, East, West, European, Asian, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and secular parties alike. The violence may spin out of control and produce a major international war with weapons of mass destruction armed parties on all sides involved. A less horrendous result would be the suppression of al-Qaeda and disruption of the Taliban regime but leaving many hot spots smoldering in the ruins, spots easily fanned back into open flame. There is no clear rejection of the assumption that great causes justify human sacrifice and no clear enunciation of the fundamental principle of the intrinsic worth of each person and the respect for the inalienable rights of person as the basis of government and social order. A further problem with this approach as a long term strategy is that it has none. Nation building in Afghanistan, even if successful in producing a relatively democratic and just political and social order, leaves unaddressed the wider, deeper sources of terrorism. This approach is essentially a brush fire extinguishing approach but does not address the reason why there are so many combustible materials around and so many people ready and willing to ignite them.

   The Direct Diplomacy Option: This option calls for beginning with an appeal to the at least potential rational intelligence of the terrorist leadership, respecting their human nature and engaging them in diplomatic discussion . The record of terrorist organizations in negotiations has been dismal at best and treacherous at worst, yet they do sometimes offer to negotiate. Could this option work either short term or long term to end terrorism? The approach the US took to the Taliban leadership can be instructive here too. No negotiations with terrorists or their supporters. No one knows how they might have responded if negotiations had been attempted. The US failure to at least try negotiations only adds fuel to the fire, only reaffirms that bin Laden and his defenders have been saying all along–the US is a blind, unreasonable, implacable foe which despises all things Muslim and understands only violence. It also missed the opportunity to show the world otherwise and perhaps to end the specific terrorist threat emanating from bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and the al- Qaeda network. The US said it did not want to destroy Afghanistan or harm its people, only to end the terrorist threat. Some of its actions belied its words. Innocent Afghans were killed and villages, towns and cities destroyed. A small, but potentially very effective step would be to accept the essential humanity even of the terrorists, address their rational nature, their intelligence and understanding . Try to elicit from them participation in removing the at least apparent injustice which contributes to the terrorist mentality and action and lends plausibility in much of the world to their claims that their actions are justified. Could this approach work short term to end the terrorism? Could it likely help build a terrorist free world later on? As with the current US approach, the answer to the first question is perhaps it could have. It was not tried and so we do not know. Due caution and wariness would have been essential given the level and sophistication of the terrorist attack and the known character of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This would remain true of any terrorist organization. The danger that negotiations would be entered only to provide time to arrange further mass murder has to be taken seriously. This danger leads me to answer the first question, could this approach work short term, with a highly qualified perhaps.

    What about the second question, long range prospects for a less terrorist threatened world? The answer to this second question is a qualified Yes. As President Bush and others in his administration keep saying of the current approach, this approach will not be quick, it won’t be conventional and it definitely will not be easy. Its weakness is that it has no long term strategy to develop these resources. Like the current US approach, it focuses on the current crisis and how to resolve it, but it too is essentially a brush fire extinguishing approach with no strategy for avoiding future brush or, for that matter, forest fires. What it has going for it, which the current US policy does not, is that it assumes and draws upon the human resources necessary to building a human community. There is, however, no explicit rejection of the assumption that a cause great enough can justify human sacrifice. Nor is there annunciation of the fundamental principle of the worth of each person and the respect due persons and their inalienable rights. As a stand alone approach it suffers from the same defect as does the phased military approach. It is essentially a brush fire extinguishing approach. It would put out the fire by withdrawing the fuel rather than beating out the flames directly, but once this fire is out, the strategy ends. The rest of the world remains at risk of the development of new terrorist organizations and attacks.

   Simultaneous World Organizational Diplomacy: Any nation as the victim of terrorist attack could work through many of the numerous world organizations, World Bank, WTO, UN, NATO, European Union, Arab League, APEC, NGOs of all sorts, religious structures, people-to-people campaigns, world organizations of scientists, humanists, philosophers, writers, musicians, film stars and producers; the list is vast. The idea would be to build a world consensus that terrorist action is never justified and to begin to address the economic, social, cultural, ethnic, religious, political and nationalist sources of the real and apparent injustices which breed terrorism and the support for terrorism. Could this approach work short term? Probably not, though it could if enough participation of relevant populations were to occur. The chief defect it has as a short term approach is that it would inevitably be slow and difficult to coordinate. A well organized terrorist group would likely strike again before this approach could be effective. Could it work long term? Perhaps. It has the disadvantage that it entails so very many lines of action with no central governing structure or strategy. This could prove an advantage in the long run, though I’d emphasize the word could in this connection. The fact that multiple channels would be operative simultaneously could enlist much broader support and draw upon a much larger pool of talent than other approaches. As the world now stands many of these organizations tacitly if not directly accept the assumption that human sacrifice, including the sacrifice of the innocent, is justified if the cause is great enough. Incoherence in fundamental principle would very likely issue in incoherence in action as well. An advantage relative to the UN based approach, which is number 10 of those listed above, is that the simultaneous organizational diplomacy approach does not entail a single world government with a monopoly of control, though it could eventuate in a world anti-terrorist organization with perhaps police function or perhaps judicial function or perhaps both. It leaves it more to the people of the world to decide how to create a more human, less terrorist threatened world for themselves. The absence of any overall structure or strategy for reaching the goal of a world more suited to human life and relationships and the incoherence in fundamental principle probably doom this approach, as attractive as it is in other ways.

   World Court: Could appeal to the World Court end a terrorist campaign and set the stage for a world free of terrorist threat, one suited to free, intelligent beings, persons whose rights to life, freedom and pursuit of happiness in just circumstances would be ensured? In the world we live in now this seems an approach unlikely to succeed either short term or long term. It is unlikely to succeed short term because it necessarily entails a long process and the World Court has no police powers upon which it can depend and no enforcement powers to see that its decisions are in fact carried out. Another major problem is that many countries, the US included, largely ignore the World Court when it would in any way impinge on what the countries see to be their national interests. The US recently refused to join the international community’s effort to establish an International Criminal Court with enforcement powers to deal with war crimes due to fears that US presidents and military personnel might be cited for things like the strikes against Sudan and Afghanistan or those launched against Serbia or the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. When it comes to long term prospects one of the major obstacles to making use of the World Court to deal with international terrorists is the difficulty in attaining agreement on what constitutes terrorist acts. Can a nation commit terrorist acts? If so, how do we draw the lines on what constitutes legitimate military actions to differentiate them from terrorist acts? Why would it be that nations cannot commit terrorist acts if the acts would look like terrorism if done by some other organized group or even an individual? What would the implications be if nations could be subject to prosecution for acts legally defined as terrorist actions? Enforcement of any legal determination would pose a further set of difficulties to be surmounted. Long term success for this option depends on creation of a relevant and adequate body of international law to address terrorism specifically and on the creation of an adequate enforcement mechanism first to apprehend terrorists and subsequently to enforce judgments made by the court. For reasons cited above it seems unlikely that either one will come into existence any time soon. All the same, the World Court deserves a place on the list partly because it already exists, has the respect of many people and nations and because it could be made effective if the world’s people were to decide to institute justice world wide. The lack of a strategy to get to that decision and to ensure that the justice system in fact was based on recognition of the intrinsic worth of each person is the real problem.

  The United Nations: This is essentially a world government option. Could this succeed short term? No. There is no consensus among the conflicting parties to turn to the UN either to respond to or to prevent international terrorism nor is the UN structured in a way to play the necessary role, given the veto powers in the Security Council. The lack of consensus concerning the viability of the UN as an institution to respond to international terrorist attack was made evident by the way the US ignored the UN when it organized a response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Further evidence of the lack of consensus concerning the viability of the UN as an institution to deal with international terrorism was provided by a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera TV. In the video Osama bin Laden called the UN an instrument of crime and declared that all leaders and countries which accept the UN as legitimate are infidels. That means, of course, legitimate targets of terrorist attack. Long term prospects are not favorable either. There is a real danger that a single world government with a monopoly of control military, judicial and probably economic as well would become a world tyranny. That would subvert the development of a world order suited to persons with inalienable right to be, to be free and to live in and pursue their happiness in circumstances of justice, a world suited to human beings, beings who are free and intelligent by their very nature. The UN and World Government belong on the list because the UN does exist, it has the respect of many people in the world and there is no reason to believe that a world government structure could not be invented which was in accord with the worth of persons and their inalienable rights to be, to be free and to pursue their happiness in conditions of justice. The absence of a strategy to create such a structure is the problem. Nevertheless, this option also deserves a place on a list of long term options. Some form of world federative government could be a means to implement a world suited to persons, to free, intelligent beings. So long , however, as the world continues to accept the assumption that human sacrifice is justifiable the risk of world tyranny is too great to make world government a viable option.

   Nonviolence Plus Technological Reorientation: Is this option likely to succeed either short term or long term in ending terrorism? First we have to be clear what is entailed. Nonviolence does not mean passive acceptance of oppression or acceptance of violence projected toward oneself or innocent parties. It entails active resistance to violence as a first step toward a world appropriate to human beings. It requires patience, persistence, insistence. It incorporates within it the four criteria set out above for the success of any long term strategy: moral conviction, patience, objectivity and willingness to compromise. It entails intellectual, moral, social, political and physical courage. It entails the courage to think as a free and intelligent being, to act as a free and intelligent being and to challenge those who think and act otherwise. It entails the courage to create a world suited to persons, a world in which person are free to exercise the intelligence they possess by nature, free to act, to believe, to speak, to think as free persons. This would entail major changes in political, social and economic structures and practices.

   At both the short term and long term levels this option remains vague as to who this “we” would be who would implement this strategy. How do we get consensus that persons are of infinite intrinsic worth and have inalienable rights to life, liberty and to pursue their happiness in just circumstances? Even if that consensus were to be obtained, how do we get consensus on having patience, being objective and accepting necessary compromise? The problem is in some ways like that found in several other options. The difference is that with this option building the consensus is intrinsic to the strategy itself. That said, the “we” is still undefined. It is rather like the “we” at the start of the Constitution of the United States of America. The “we” is comprised of those lucid human beings who are aware of their own and of every person’s infinite intrinsic worth and are willing to act accordingly.

   The civil rights movement of the mid 20th century in the US can serve to elucidate who this “we” is and how the strategy would work. The civil rights movement was a rather amorphous development. Its sources, agents, institutions and organizations were largely ad hoc and its leadership equally so. That Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach set its stamp on this extensive and diverse process, which included many factions antagonistic to his active non-violent approach, is instructive. There were many people who knew that segregation and all that went with it was wrong, that the social-economic order contradicted the intrinsic worth and dignity of everyone involved, oppressor as well as oppressed, though in different ways and to different degrees. Their consciences bothered them, but they remained inactive until challenged by the SCLC to act on their consciences. This is the way the “we” comes into existence and assumes its role. There is a vague awareness in the human consciousness that each person is a free, intelligent being of intrinsic worth and with right to be, to be free and to pursue his/her happiness in a circumstance of justice. There are, however, myriad finite causes, structures, organizations, belief systems--religious, political, economic, scientific, ethnic, cultural and who knows what else--which cover over this vague awareness of what is right. Active nonviolence appeals to that vague awareness, sharpens it, brings it to lucid consciousness–and the “we” appears. It is this latent “we” which makes the active nonviolence plus technological/economic reorganization strategy plausible.

   Could this option succeed short term in ending a terrorist campaign? Not by itself, but it could if joined with direct diplomacy and perhaps multiple world organizational diplomacy each guided by the four criteria set out earlier for the success of any long term strategy. As with several of the options already discussed, this process could be slow even if coherently and aggressively pursued. This is perhaps the place to address an issue which has been lurking in the background of much of this discussion but is particularly acute for advocates of the nonviolent option. If an active terrorist campaign is taking place and innocent people are being maimed, blown apart, incinerated, poisoned by chemical attack, sickened and killed by biological attack and the survivors traumatized and an immediate termination is not agreed to, would lethal violence by justified? No it would not be justified but it would be necessary as the lesser of evils in a world which does not always present a morally coherent action. Endnote Any such use of lethal violence should be very brief, sharply focused on countering the terrorists’ ability to strike and accompanied by extensive diplomatic efforts to return the world to sanity at the earliest possible moment. This needs to be done with clear and unequivocal recognition that the violation of human life is a direct contradiction of the fundamental moral conviction necessary to long term success in countering international terrorism.

    The nonviolent option is the most likely to succeed long term because it most clearly aims at creating a human world suited to human beings, being free and relating in a human way. Creative thinking concerning technology and economic structures, practices and relations is intrinsic to this option. This reorientation, guided by the four criteria for the success of any long term strategy, would include alternative energy technology to replace new weapons, smart or otherwise, mine removal technology rather than new more sophisticated mines, medical technology rather than bio-chemical warfare technologies, new agricultural science and technologies to feed the world’s population, space technology for science, for adventure and recreation rather than for military dominance. These with concomitant political and economic reorientation to bring political and economic structures to serve human life rather than using human life to serve political and economic structures can begin to move us toward a world in which persons can live, live freely and pursue their happiness in circumstances of justice and peace.

   Will there be mass murders and terrorist acts along the way or even with our best efforts long term? It would be naive and counterproductive to think otherwise. Even if our actions are consistent with the goal of a world suited to human beings and guided by the four criteria set out in the categories developed earlier on, there will still be those who would attack with lethal force and with lethal intent. . It would be unjust for those who know that human sacrifice is wrong to allow themselves to be victims of the ignorance of others. There will be times even in the best of possible worlds when the use of lethal force in self defense or in defense of the innocent is the only option available. Does this mean there is such a thing as a just war? As said above, the answer is no, there is no just war and no justifiable use of lethal violence. But, as said before, we do not live in a fully just world, one in which persons are seen as of intrinsic worth. We will always live in a world in which human sacrifice is assumed by some to be morally justifiable if the cause is great enough.

   In a world structured by nonviolence, one in which the assumption that human sacrifice is justifiable if the cause is great enough is the exception rather than the rule the number of times in which we will have to act in absolute contradiction to our fundamental moral being and understanding can be reduced to a rare exception. If we use our wits and have a modicum of good fortune perhaps we could do so altogether. But if we fail, then first try to head off the attack by various short term strategies. Offer to negotiate, address the apparent and real injustices at issue, engage in theological, historical, economic, political and moral debate. Stall, if possible, and see if a nonviolent solution suggests itself. One should be wary during any discussions and negotiations and not leave oneself vulnerable to duplicitous machinations. Stay alert and negotiate honestly, without prejudice, but also without illusion. Sub-lethal coercion, combined with negotiations if possible, would be the next option. Should these fail, should clear evidence of an intent of the terrorists to strike again become known or worse yet they strike again, what then should be done? Lethal violence then becomes our only option. It would be worse for the at least relatively innocent victims to be killed than for the intended victims to use lethal force against the aggressor. The innocent have a right to be and to be free and to live in justice and a duty to create the circumstances under which that is possible. To allow the aggressor to go unchecked is to affirm the right to practice human sacrifice and to teach the world both that the practice is justified and that it is not one’s responsibility to insist that it is not. As said above, this does not mean that the use of lethal violence is justified, only that it is necessary as the lesser of evils in a world which does not always provide a morally coherent action. We must be keenly aware that once we cross the line and kill, we are in a world in which there are no rules other than Hobbes’s two cardinal virtues of war, fraud and violence, and we had best return to a world of human dimension and human relationships as quickly as possible.. If we keep the goal of a world suited to persons, a world suited to free, intelligent beings whose lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness in just circumstances is secure, clearly in mind and proceed in ways conforming to the categories of moral conviction, patience, objectivity and willingness to compromise, I think we have every reason to be confident we can reduce the levels of lethal violence to a minimum. Is this merely a philosopher’s dream? Not any more so than any alternative to what the world already is. In a way not any more so than what the world already is because that world exists due to a long string of human choices or more accurately failures to have the courage to express their intelligence and to choose wisely.




Originally published in JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF PEACE AND CONFLICT. Copyright by The Wisconsin Institute For Peace and Conflict Studies Posted with permission of the publisher. Published Essays