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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Defining Terrorism in Contexts of War and Ethics

Defining Terrorism in Contexts of War and Ethics

Terrorism can be defined on the following points; targeted attacks against non-combatants, the use of these attacks to intimidate or terrorize, the use of these attacks to force political OR cultural changes on a society.

Non-combatants must be defined carefully. A soldier, off duty and out of uniform, but still on a military base should not be considered a non-combatant, because the base is a military asset and should reasonably be protected by combat forces...even in times of peace. However, when that off-duty and out of uniform soldier steps off base, he becomes a non-combatant. He has neither arms to defend himself nor organizational support to use force. A dependent family on base should likewise be considered non-combatants; their function is not to serve as bearers of arms. Thus a bomb targeting dependent housing should be considered a terrorist attack. Politicians should be considered as legitimate combatants; they make decisions to use force or to exert government power, and while not directly bearing arms should be protected by those who do bear arms. A low-level bureaucrat should not be considered as a combatant, even if he is in an organization that supports use of force, as the bureaucrat does not make the decisions to exert force. Thus an assassination by sniper of a politician should not be considered a terrorist attack, but a bombing attack on the politician that harms his family or any targeted attacks on low-level bureaucrat, in contrast, should be considered such an attack.

The status of noncombatants is the prime reason for the creation and formulation of just war theory. Just war theory has roots in Roman political discussion, but is associated with the Catholic Church through Augustine and Aquinas (Hall, 2010, 78). Just war theory comprises of two components; just cause to go to war( jus ad bellum ), and just behavior within war( jus in bello ). Although there is discussion that the technicalities of just war theory are unsuited for the modern age (Patterson, 2005)(Hehir, 1992)(Costinescu, 2013), the underlying principle of just war theory remain the same; the preservation of innocent life, especially noncombatant life. This leads to the inclusion of targeting noncombatants as a primary definition of terrorism.

While terrorism violates all bounds of ethics save for those setting off the bombs themselves, it does share some ethical questions with the concept of war; Calhoun notes that even within just war theory that there is an inherent paradox; the theory “assumes absolutism while implying relativism” (2001, p.40) in that it sets some absolute values on life while permitting humans to change those values by decree. Walzer notes that pragmatism was a consideration of war making far more often then was the consideration of moral guidance for much of the modern age (2002, p.927). It could be argued that the tactic of terror is a tactic of pragmatism. Finally, it must be also noted that just war theory is a concept that has influenced the Western world, and carries much less weight with the balance of humanity.

Contrary to propaganda that suggests that terrorism is a tool of the “weak” and the “oppressed”, a quick perusal of the RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents (RDWTI, 2014) gives a rough estimate that 70% of terror acts are committed by Islamists and Leftists, both totalitarian philosophies whose direct control is at approximately 40% of the world population (20% of the world population being under Russian and Chinese control, and 19% of the world population is Muslim)(Official population clock, 2015)(Pew, 2012), while Leftist thought has undue influence within Western society. The use of terror is a pragmatic approach to gaining world power by these extremist groups.

The need to understand terrorism is one facet of a state entity's duty to protect it's citizenry. It is of the same nature of the duty to understand war and politics.

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
John Adams
US diplomat & politician (1735 - 1826)


Calhoun, L. (2001). The Metaethical Paradox of Just War Theory. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 4(1), 41–58. doi:http://dx.doi.org.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/10.1023/A:1011440213213

Chinese official population clock (2015) Retrieved January 17, 2015 from http://data.stats.gov.cn/

Costinescu, R. A. (2013). Christian just war theory' reinterpreted from the perspective of the challenges brought by the 21st century. humanitarian intervention and war on terror. Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie-Sklodowska, 20(1), 117-n/a. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.2478/v10226-012-0025-7
Hehir, J. B. (1992). Just war theory in a post-cold war world. Journal of Religious Ethics, 20(2), 237. Retrieved January 17, 2015 from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=5757615&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Hill, H. (2010). Can just war theory survive the War on Terror? Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies, (10), 77–VII. Retrieved October 29, 2014 from http://search.proquest.com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/863854832?pq-origsite=summon

Patterson, E. (2005). Just war in the 21st century: Reconceptualizing just war theory after September 11. International Politics, 42(1), 116-134. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.ip.8800100
Pew Research Center. (2012). The global religious landscape. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Pew Research Center. Retrieved 18 March 2013 from http://www.pewforum.org/global-religious-landscape-exec.aspx
RAND database of worldwide terrorism incidents.(2014). RAND. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from http://www.rand.org/nsrd/projects/terrorism-incidents.html

Walzer, M. (2002). The triumph of just war theory (and the dangers of success). Social Research, 69(4), 925-0_3. Retrieved January 17, 2015 from http://search.proquest.com/docview/209668376?accountid=87314

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