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Terrorism as a form of warfare

American war machine
American war machine
Photo by Ken Ishii/Getty Images

The United States has the most powerful military in history. It is efficient, effective and is unmatched by any developed country in today’s world. Enemies of the United States, regardless of their country of origin, try hard to avoid direct confrontation with the American war machine. As a result, these adversaries use terrorist tactics also known as terrorism as a form of warfare.

The simple definition of terrorism is: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. There are other definitions suited to the entity and/or country crafting the definition. For example, the FBI uses the word “unlawful” in their definition of terrorism because it prosecutes perpetrators using the criminal justice system. Most if not all definitions share the commonality of the use of force intended to further a political or social goal. Interestingly, there is not a universally accepted definition of terrorism in the related literature. For the purpose of this article the “simple definition” written in the first sentence of this paragraph is assumed.

What the U.S. calls terrorist tactics or terrorism is reflected, at least in part, by the use of improvised explosive devices (IED) and homicide/suicide bombers. The attacks on 9/11 were classified as terrorism. The point is that our enemies are not going to confront our war machine on a battlefield. They will choose terrorism as their form of warfare. Understandably, the United States will not officially recognize terrorism as a form of war. The extremists who hate our way of life will continue to use terrorism rather than directly confronting the American war machine.

In a sense, the use of terrorism is functional for the extremists who hate America. Functionalism is a sociological concept whereas a society contributes to its own stability using whatever means necessary to shape and form that society. For example, in the U.S. we try to educate our children in order for them to become law-abiding, tax-paying adults who then will propagate the shape and form of American society. Extremists do the same as much as we disagree with their shape and form of society (e.g., Sharia law).

The purposeful killing, maiming and intimidating of non-combatants is an abhorrent means to an end. For some it is a form of warfare. Terrorism will continue to be a reality for many countries particularly the United States. It is important not to solely react militarily to terrorism but to do all we can as a nation to preempt future terrorism using any means necessary.