The Legitimacy of Terrorism

Now before anyone gets all upidy about the title, I am merely offering some food thought so please don’t hang me out to dry before at least thinking about this. Nevertheless, that won’t stop me from kicking things off with the following statement:

There’s nothing wrong with terrorism. No, terrorism truly is a legitimate means by which a people can combat who or what they perceive to be the enemy. Al-Qaeda and the various militant groups in Afghanistan and Iraq are perfectly justified to use the tactics that they have been thus far employing: notably kidnapping, suicide bombing, guerilla warfare. Moreover, the secretive and elusive character of those attacks is also nothing to scoff at.

So what exactly has happened to me I’m sure you’re all asking. Has the ancient world finally swallowed me whole? Has the incessant commuting finally drove me batty? Although all the points are valid to a certain degree, the truth is, after reading a book for my paper (this paper is largely inspired by the work of Hanson and Keegan), then reflecting on what I know about ancient warfare, I’ve come to the conclusion that their chosen method of warfare isn’t quite as bad as we tend to make it out to be.

Twenty-seven hundred years ago, the Greeks, those pioneering humanists and founders of democracy, developed a formation known as the phalanx. This revolutionary method of attack soon caught on among most if not all of the Greek city states. Moreover, 200 years later it proved to be quite effective against much larger Persian force at Marathon – perhaps the first confrontation with a Near Eastern power and this new military tactic. The phalanx is a large mass with dozens of men positioned side-by-side, shield-to-shield, and shoulder-to-shoulder as many as 8 rows deep. After the necessary preliminaries had been performed, the troops would begin to approach their enemies in the hopes of crushing their opponents quickly and effectively. This method of fighting required an extraordinary amount of stamina and thus would also require an equally extraordinary effort by the receiver of the push of the phalanx in order to prevent themselves from being bulldozed. Moreover, given the exertion required, this action was often fairly brief, with two sides quickly departing once one side had emerged victorious.

The theory which I think best explains its origin revolves around the agricultural nature of the ancient greeks. Perhaps as many as 80% lived in the countryside and farmed. Moreover, these Greeks were fiercely protective of their land and seemingly sticklers for maintaining their respective borders. And, I should also add that most contact between Greek states was of the military variety (it took outside empires to unite the forever squabbling Greek poleis). So, when you have men who don’t want to be away from home for too long and also happen to find themselves at war all the time, you’re left with the need to make warfare as quick as possible. Enter the phalanx. Phalanx warfare was meant to be decisive and its early success laid the foundation for the ‘western way of war’.

Over the next few hundred years, western warfare obviously involved, particularly with the introduction of professionalization, the horse and gunpowder; but through it all western powers generally developed a penchant for ending war as quickly as the Greeks did. So, you saw armies which grew bigger and bigger and weapons that grew more and more destructive.

But, this remained largely true ONLY for western nations, and those who employed method means of waging war. The Near (Middle) Eastern states often employed different means of engaging their enemies and thus were often chastised for this. As far back as the fourth century with the ‘sudden’ appearance, at least in the literary record, of the Saracens was met with both fear and repulsion. These largely nomadic people (presumably ancestors of the modern Arabs) were both allies and foes of the two dominant powers, Rome and Iran. Many Roman writers did not approve of their rading tactics and probably did not agree with using these inferior men in their armed forces. They were different people and they used different tactics for which the main means of engaging enemy forces did not work. This was laregly also true of other nomadic peoples such as Huns (assuming they were so by the time they reached the heart of the western empire – though that point is debatable) and the Mongols. These were peoples, both for the Romans, Chinese and Middle Eastern states respectively that were the instruments of the devil.

So, let’s flash ahead to the present and we are seeing the same sorts of things happening in modern-day Iraq (and around the globe in general – Indonesia, Russia, Palestine, etc.) and yet were quick to dismiss both the people and their means of fighting just as we have been doing for hundreds of years. Our western way of war has proven uneffective yet again and it seems that the best bet (and that’s banking on history repeating) is to wait for our opponents to suffer some sort of internal problems and then combustion. While I may not agree with all of the ideologies of the ‘insurgents’ and ‘terrorists’, I’m not sure that I can find too much at fault with their means of attack. We musn’t forget that their tactics haven’t yielded the same kind of results (100s of deaths in a year versus 10’s and 100’s of 1000s of deaths) that ours did in the 2 world wars (and elsewhere).

P.S. I didn’t edit this and I’m not going to. Enjoy!

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