lecture will begin at 8:00 p.m. Carroll's most recent book, Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, critically examines the Catholic Church's treatment of Jews throughout its history and his own crisis of faith.


December 10, 2001
September 11: Scholarly Responses

"The one that gets past you": Trends in Terrorism
by James Larry Taulbee, associate professor of political science

At this point, developing a fresh view concerning the events of September 11 presents a daunting task. The following focuses on how recent events both depart from, and conform to, historical precedent. President Bush has repeatedly warned that the war against terrorism will be a "long haul." I am quite certain that at present the American public does not have yet a firm conception of just how long the "haul" may be.

The latest attacks reflect a disturbing trend. Until the rise of groups driven by apocalyptic religious beliefs or ethnic fervor, terrorists tended to choose targets that produced a lot of publicity, not a lot of people dead. Drawing attention to their cause and manipulating target governments formed the essence of "traditional" strategy. Whether of the political right or left, these groups had some recognition--however perverse the calculus may seem--that violence must be calculated and controlled. A leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) noted that "You don't bloody well kill people just for the sake of killing them."

Groups motivated primarily by ethnic or religious zeal have no such reservations. While publicity remains an important byproduct of their terrorism, they have more interest in punishment than publicity. The new breed of terrorists see themselves as representatives of a particular constituency. The appeals and effects of any action are directed to this constituency and justified by the reactions from it. There may or may not be any systematic thought about how a specific act may influence target governments on particular issues. Any political calculus clearly forms a secondary motive to retribution for transgressions, real or imagined. As a result, these groups see little need for restraint.

Two other points should form part of America’s own political calculus. First, religious and ethno-nationalist or separatist groups tend to have a much longer political life and resilience than those based on secular ideologies. The extent to which these groups can draw sustenance and support from their perceived constituencies obviously plays a vital role. Short-term success in terms of arrests or otherwise neutralizing known key players will not necessarily result in a sustainable "victory" so long as the underlying motivating factors remain salient to their constituency. The Palestinian Liberation Organization has existed since the mid-1960's. The IRA has endured in various incarnations for at least a hundred years. A plausible case exists for tracing its origins to the aftermath of Wolf Tone's abortive revolutionary effort (1798). Recent reports also indicate that, once again, membership in Aum Shinrikyo has swelled in Japan and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Second, terrorists control time and tactics. Despite protestations to the contrary, the straightjacket of conventional (and wishful) thinking still binds us. Americans tend to think in terms of tit-for-tat, action-retaliation-action-retaliation within a relatively short time frame. Yet surely this diverts attention from the fact that, to terrorists, immediate response has little meaning. A follow-on event could occur in six weeks or six months. The impact of terrorism stems as much from the expectations associated with the threat of violence as from actual incidents. Considering the present mood in the United States, the next episode does not have to be either spectacular or particularly deadly to have a chilling effect. The terrorist merely has to choose the right venue at the right time.

Finally, in focusing on the threat from foreign terrorists, we should not overlook homegrown groups. Prior to September 11th the most heinous act of terrorism on American soil, the Oklahoma City bombing, sprung from within. The Phineas Priesthood, Aryan Nation and fellow travelers have detailed religious doctrines, a very definite view of what America ought to be, and an unbridled hatred of the federal government. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates the membership in various militia groups across the country may be as great as 15 million.

An examination of the circumstances surrounding Timothy McVeigh, elicits a remarkable correspondence to the circumstances surrounding the events on 11 September. Although McVeigh did not formally belong to a structured group, he did see himself as part of a wider social network which shared and supported his fundamental political beliefs. He belonged to a radical fringe that perceives themselves as considerably outside the central political spectrum of American political life. This group of disaffected individuals deeply believes that they do not have any meaningful influence in ordinary politics. They believe that their views receive little respect from society at large even though they possess what they believe to be the truth.

The majority of those who subscribe to these views do not plan or engage in overt acts of violence. Most do believe that they must arm themselves because they serve as the last defense of liberty and constitutionalism. Still, the potential for violence exists.

These individuals profess to believe in democracy, but feel that true democracy has been perverted because it does not protect and promote what they have defined as fundamental rights. They feel extremely frustrated because the majority of Americans fail to see what they know without question. McVeigh directed his actions as much to those he saw as his supporters as to the wider audience of the general American public.

McVeigh, like the hijackers, lived in an atmosphere of inflammatory speech and thought where many leaders urged the need for resistance to government actions. In justification, he had a very elaborate explanation of why the rules of civilized behavior did not apply to him. His favorite T-shirt had the imprint of Jefferson's sentiment that the tree of liberty must require periodic watering with the blood of patriots and tyrants. McVeigh may have spoken of Ruby Ridge and David Khoresh, but he used these incidents as manifestations of a thoroughly corrupt, repressive regime, not as his principal justification. He saw himself as the instrument that would help begin a process which would renew the original vision of America as he understood it.

In similar fashion, those who attacked on 11 September wished to strike a decisive blow against a vision which they find offensive and an authority which they find malevolent to their own purposes. Ironically, or perhaps prophetically, they utilized some of the principal instruments associated with contemporary society to attack. These men were not from the totally dispossessed; nor were they mentally unbalanced. Unfortunately, the depth of their religious commitment paralleled the depth of their hatred for the US.

Whether born abroad or in the states, terrorism will remain one of the significant threats to international stability in the foreseeable future. Always a weapon of the weak and alienated, terrorism now takes advantage of modern technologies to enhance its appeal and evade security procedures. Even though the U.S. has become more vigilant and has moved to increase capabilities in terms of intelligence and active interdiction, Paul Wilkinson's observation on the continuing problem springs to mind: "Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves, but the only shot people remember is the one that gets past you." Once focused, relevant agencies have improved their ability to anticipate, but everyone needs to keep in mind that no system is infallible. The risks will be real and continuing.

Current collaborative efforts aimed at rounding up known terrorists, eliminating sources of financial backing, and attacking other bases of support will produce short-term results. The more difficult problem of ensuring security for the "long haul" depends on a collective willingness to address the actual grievances of disaffected groups in a manner they understand as serious. This, however, may fall well beyond the political capabilities of current international institutions.

December 3, 2001
September 11: Scholarly Responses

No Quarter
by Dan Reiter, professor of political science

Is Afghanistan another Vietnam? The answer is yes and no. In some ways, the conflict in Afghanistan bears frustrating similarities to the Vietnam War. The physical environment in both places complicates military operations. Airpower plays a central role in American military strategy. Guerrilla warfare promises to be a problem. A long–term solution will require winning hearts and minds. Further, the United States finds itself dealing with an unsavory and not terribly competent political and military force as a means of combating a greater evil.

A crucial difference, however, distinguishes the war in Vietnam from the war on terrorism: we cannot afford to lose it. Though the conquest of South Vietnam in 1975 had limited impact on American national interests, the West must not allow itself to believe that it can walk away from the war on terrorism without victory. We already know that the worldwide terrorist network called al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden and hosted by Afghanistan, has the ability to strike on American soil. September 11 was the single bloodiest day in American history, worse than Pearl Harbor or Antietam. This network also uses biological weapons. Even more frightening, there are reports that al Qaeda seeks to acquire a nuclear weapon, which could mean the deaths of more than a hundred thousand people in a single blow and the irrecoverable destruction of a major American city.

This terrorist network cannot be bargained with. Most other terrorist groups, such as the Irish Republican Army and the Basque separatists, promised to end their reigns of violence if their demands were met. The political advisability of meeting terrorist demands is a separate question, but al Qaeda has made no specific demands. It employs violence merely to destroy, similar to some earlier terrorist groups such as the anarchists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the Weather Underground of the 1970s and 1980s. Since al Qaeda seeks to destroy rather than coexist with the West, it must be completely crushed.

Though the Afghanistan conflict in some ways resembles Vietnam, bin Laden and al Qaeda more closely resemble Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Hitler’s aims were unlimited: he sought world conquest, planning to invade North America after he had conquered the Soviet Union and neutralized Britain. We must assume that bin Laden and al Qaeda seek literally to destroy the West. We must take seriously their own ideological tracts proclaiming the need to eradicate infidels just as the Allies eventually came to understand that Hitler viewed Mein Kampf as an actual blueprint for action rather than a meaningless rant.

Finally, as with Hitler, the United States must adopt a policy of unconditional surrender against bin Laden and his network. We must allow no quarter. Their financial and material support networks must be destroyed, and the terrorists themselves must be hunted down and either captured or killed. The recent military successes in Afghanistan are encouraging, but final victory is not yet in sight. We should view these events as marking the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.