The Corner

A Constant Presence of Fear

This week on Uncommon Knowledge, Philip Bobbitt, the author of the 2003 bestseller, The Shield of Achilles:  War, Peace, and the Course of History.  On the staff of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, Bobbitt, now a professor at the University of Texas, is the author of a new book, Terror and Consent:  The Wars for the Twenty-First Century.  “This,” historian Niall Ferguson asserts, “is quite simply the most profound book to have been written on the subject of American foreign policy since the attacks of 9/11 — indeed, since the end of the cold war.”

Today’s segment begins with a straightforward question:  What sense it can possibly make to speak of waging war on terror, a mere technique or method, rather than on the terrorists who employ it?

Most people whose views I respect would agree that you can’t have a war against terror.  They also think that terrorism is a technique and, therefore, always merely a means to an end. The keyword I would withdraw from that proposition is the word always.

Terror has typically been a means to an end in the past, but it can also be for some groups an end in itself.  If what you want to do is make people too fearful to exercise choice, to make them just too terrified to exercise their own political, religious, moral, and social choices, then what you want is a state of terror in both senses of the phrase:  You want a state that maintains this terrifying atmosphere and you want to induce in the individual a constant presence of fear.

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