The September 11, 2001, attacks and their aftermath are without precedent in U.S. history and have transformed public consciousness, policy discourse, and international action regarding security. In response to the attacks, the United States elevated terrorism to the top security concern and has sought to combat terrorism using a broad spectrum approach that integrates military, financial, intelligence, and law-and-order elements. Public discourse has emphasized military responses, and discussions of peace have either been muted or made to seem irrelevant to the current situation.
From a psychological perspective, a key question is how effective the U.S. approach is likely to be in preventing terrorism. The central thesis of this essay is that the approach is inherently limited because it fails to address the causes of terrorism, which, left unattended, are likely to boost anti-U.S. sentiments and produce new generations of terrorists. It argues that issues of peace building and terrorism prevention are intimately connected and that policy discussions about terrorism need to be enlarged accordingly. The essay begins with a sketch of the psychological atmosphere of the post-attack environment and analyzes why the situation lends itself to predominantly military, punitive responses. Although such responses are valuable, they are too reactive and limited to provide comprehensive terrorism prevention. The essay attempts to show that the present approach fails to address the sources of terrorism, particularly issues of social justice. It suggests that a peace-building focus is needed to complement the current approach and to construct a comprehensive, psychologically informed strategy of terrorism prevention.