FOLLOWING A SPEECH BY PRESIDENT BUSH FOR THE FOURTH ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11/2001. Elections naturally bring out a country’s divisions, especially in a two-party system. One way to maintain the fundamental unity so crucial in a time of bitter debate is to use language carefully. Some leaders tell us we are now engaged in a “war on terror.” Others call it a “war on terrorism.” I suggest we not simply ignore the difference, but explore it, to clarify the task before us.
Terrorism is the belief that illegal and repulsive techniques of killing and destruction are licit. The war on terrorism, then, is directed at terrorists, the killers who employ terrorism. To win the war on terrorists, we need to identify and neutralize them where they really are, isolate them from the populations they claim to represent, and encourage in their own communities voices that denounce their excesses. These surrounding communities will not hear us if our arguments are infected by arrogance, ignorance, or vengeance.
Now let’s look at the war on terror. Terrorism naturally provokes in the target population an emotional response: hatred, anger, fear. The worst possible reaction for the victims of terrorism is terror. Therefore, our leaders should minimize terror. That is the war on terror, but it’s an internal, psychological war, a war in our own hearts. We can advance in the war on terror by trusting ourselves, keeping faith with our founding documents and institutions, preserving our traditional distrust of a concentration of power in the executive, retaining the presumption of innocence for all accused, honoring the privacy of our citizens, and respecting due process in criminal proceedings, the Congress and the Supreme Court. The strength that results from thus reaffirming our national values will remedy our collective shock at horrific atrocities and, by channeling our terror, advance the war on terrorists.
This essay on the logic behind the phrase “War on Terror,” entitled “War of Words,” was broadcast as a “Perspective” by KQED radio, Nov. 16 and Nov. 20, 2004. https://ww2.kqed.org/perspectives/2004/11/20/war-of-words/