The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. (Book Reviews)

By Johnson, Dr. Douglas V., II | Parameters, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. (Book Reviews)


Johnson, Dr. Douglas V., II, Parameters


The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. By Caleb Carr. New York: Random House, 2002.

If you are into Political Correctitude don't read this book--it will only give you apoplexy-but if you like your history slashingly unvarnished and straightforward, you will love it! Be warned, however, that the Prologue and Chapter One are difficult going as the author trots out his own peculiar philosophy of organized violence. Carr 's definition of terrorism is "the contemporary name given to...warfare deliberately waged against civilians with the purpose of destroying their will to support either leaders or policies that the agents of such violence find objectionable."

He then proceeds to make clear the true nature of terrorism as so defined: "[We] have in the past been, and in disturbing numbers remain, prepared to treat terrorists as being on a par with smugglers, drug traffickers, or, at most, some kind of political Mafiosi, rather than what they have in fact been for almost half a century: organized, highly trained, hugely destructive paramilitary units that were and are conducting offensive campaigns against a variety of nations and social systems." Carr continues to refine his perception of terrorism: "One can refuse to call such people an army, if one wishes; yet they are organized as an army, and certainly they conduct themselves as an army, giving and taking secret orders to attack their enemies with a variety of tactics that serve one overarching strategy: terror."

Following this attempt at defining the issue, he moves on to declare, within the context of Just War theory, that most wars have eventually become little more than acts of terrorism. The bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan come in for particularly sharp scrutiny, calling to mind Sir Winston Churchill's devastatingly perceptive question, "Are we beasts?" In Carr's treatment of Just War theory, the reader will be exposed to a good deal more Emmerich de Vattel than Hugo Grotius.

Thence Carr begins a tour of global military history from China to the Incas by way of the rest of the world, pausing in Prussia to highlight the wars of Frederick the Great. …

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