Terrorism and the War and Terror

Everyone is talking about terrorism since 2001, and the 9/11 attacks. Then, former president George W. Bush declared a war on terror. But, what does terror and terrorism mean? Oxford dictionary says terrorism is, “a system of terror”, (Hoffman, 2006). It goes on to indicate that terrorism is, “a policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted”, (Hoffman, 2006). However, these definitions are not clear. The second definition calls terrorism a policy. Yet, this seems incorrect. After research on the concept of terror and the war on terrorism, there is no definitive definition of terrorism. Author Bruce Hoffman said that, “terrorism has proved increasingly elusive in the face of attempts to construct one consistent definition”. Everyone has their own belief on what terror is and what terrorism means. Undoubtedly, the 9/11 attacks were acts of terrorism. A better question is, was the attack on Pearl Harbor terrorism? This question can cause a heated debate. It can be better understood that terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. Some might argue that Pearl Harbor was terrorism because it was a planned and strategic attack on United States property. Someone else might argue that it is not terrorism because America was in war. This paper will define terrorism and explain what America is doing to combat terror.

Defining Terrorism

Bruce Hoffman wrote an article in 2006 called, “Defining Terrorism”. This article explains that terrorism is strictly political. This means that terrorism, in large part, coincides with politics and political agendas. Bin Laden organized a terrorist attack on America because he did not agree with American government, policy, and foreign affairs. This is related to politics. So, terrorism and politics work hand in hand. Hoffman explains too, that terrorism is strictly about power, “the pursuit of power, the acquisition of power, and the use of power to achieve political change”. This means that power is used against a nation to create change. Yet, terrorism is the the act of terror or violence. Analyzing terror this way, terror is using violence to create change. Hoffman explains this better, “Terrorism is thus violence—or, equally important, the threat of violence—used and directed in pursuit of, or in service of, a political aim”. Hoffman gave a clear definition of terrorism, however, this definition is not officially recognized.

Preemptive Action

International law and preemptive action is the justification for the nation to use self-defense and war tactics. Terrorism and the war on terror directly relates to international law on preemptive action. Preemptive action is justification of attack. For example, 9/11 was a terrorist attack that gave America justification to declare a war on terror. This gave the U.S justification to find, capture, and kill bin Laden without trail or jury, however that is debatable. To use force on another nation can not to be taken lightly. It will devastate the economy, destroy the nation’s infrastructure and kill lots of people. Preemption is a doctrine to provide reasoning for the use of force and weapons, (Howard, 2005). For this nation to use military force it must be for self-defense or war. To better understand self-defense, the opposing country must have been “wrong received”, (Howard, 2005). The aggressing country or organization must have done something wrong and the opposing country must have received it. The wrong received can be person or property. Action is not required. A simple threat also allows the U.S to take military action, (Howard, 2005). This is an important point. The government should not wait for an attack like 9/11 to use military force. So, under international law, the government cannot use military force unless in self-defense of territory, citizens, or property.

Five points must be met to allow U.S government to take preemptive action under international law:

  • threats of aggression using weapons of mass destruction, WMD
  • weapons that have been built against international law
  • credibility of security and balance of power
  • congressional agreement
  • UN and organizational back up, (Howard, 2005).

The main justification for action is self-defense, defending United States, soil, property, citizens, or government.

Al Qaeda

To defend the nation and counter terrorism, the government must take action. President Obama took office in January 2008. On May 1, 2011 Obama announced that bin Laden was found and killed by the navy seals, (Tavers, 2011). Bin Laden was the leader and organizer of al Qaeda, an Islamic terror organization based out of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is the organization that was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Other leaders of al Qaeda were found, killed, or imprisoned. Americans are left in the dark about the future intent of the organization and intelligence operatives continue to enforce homeland security. Author Paul Piller calls this decentralization.

Al Qaeda, now decentralized and operating in small unknown cells around the globe has made it difficult for U.S intelligence to counter terrorism, (Piller, 2007). There are several factors that make this difficult. This includes uncertain intelligence targets, fragile international cooperation, and Muslim distrust.  Bin Laden is gone and al Qaeda is without a leader. This has caused members to disperse into various countries and smaller organizations. Small organizations with no central leader make it difficult to point out al Qaeda members and potential terrorist. Disbanded, these members are more likely to act independently of each other and not like an organized structure. Each member may be unaware of other members. The organizations is in different locations and probably do not know about plots and course of action done by other cell members. As members know less and less about one another, there is little to no link between the individual cells that will encourage interest in their potential danger.

Some nations do not want to cooperate with U.S intelligence. Even if the U.S is suspicious, the country does not have to cooperate. An example is the Hizaballa regime out of Lebanon who bombed U.S Marine barracks in 1983, (Pillar, 2007). Hizaballah officials were an intricate part of their government infrastructure. Hizaballah members are involved in politics, members of the parliament, and gave to social services. Their involvement with the community made it difficult for the government to take action against the group because of its power in government, (Pillar, 2007). These events made it difficult then and are making it difficult now. So, it might be hard for American Intelligence to break al Qaeda.

Homeland Security and the War on Terror

Since 9/11 many Americans have lost some freedom. Things were different before the attacks. Security at the airport was easy and there was no color code for danger. An article in the New York Times called, “U.S. Relaxes Limits on Use of Data in Terror Analysis”, is about what the government is doing to counter terrorism in America and what it intends to do in the future. The article relates to terrorism and how it has affected Americans. The pentagon and twin towers were destroyed by foreign nationals. So, citizens and immigrants may pose a national threat. This has caused the American government to monitor people who are inside the country.

The article said, “the Obama administration is looking to relax limits on use of data for information gathered on Americans who may not pose a threat”, (Savage, 2012). Right now, the government has the authority to monitor civilians and immigrants who might be a threat to the nation. The government has access to email, wire taping, phone lines, text messages, satellite images, everything. Suspicious activity will cause the government to monitor that person. The article says, there is no relaxed limitation to government accommodation of information and use of information once it is required, (Savage, 2012). The article also said, the government wished to hold information on those who show no threat or danger for five years instead of 6 months.

This is how America is countering terrorism. The government is doing all it can to counter terrorism and is monitoring all potential threats to the government. This demonstrates the extent the government will to maintain national security. Intelligence agents are monitoring foreigners and citizens. Some do not feel comfortable knowing they may be under surveillance. Ultimately, the government is doing all it can to fight and counter terrorism.


            Since September 11, 2001 our country has continued safeguard America, its property, and citizens. The attack changed the country forever. Terrorism must be accurately defined and the U.S has imposed the Department of Homeland Security to keep the country safe. The Preemptive Doctrine is what ties them together. America signed a policy with our allies and neighbors on fair war exchange and tactics. Terrorism is not recognized as a rule of war. There must be defenses available to combat terrorism and the nation is doing just that. America has civil liberties, citizens, and government to protect. So, if another organization or country does not like our nation, democracy, or international affairs, is not justification for attack. America continues to fight against its enemies and will continue to fight against terrorism and the war on terror.




Howard, R. (2006). Preemptive military doctrine: No other choice. In R. Howard, R. Sawyer & N. Bejema (Eds.), Terrorism and Counter Terrorism New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies. Pg 483-490

Hoffman, B. (2006). Defining terrorism. In R. Howard, R. Sawyer & N. Bejema (Eds.),Terrorism and Counter Terrorism New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies. Pg 5-33.

Pillar, P. (2007). Beyond al qaeda: Countering a decentralized terrorist threat. In R. Howard, R.Sawyer & N. Bejema (Eds.), Terrorism and Counter Terrorism New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies. Pf. 492-500

Savage, C. (2012, March 22). U.s. relaxes limits on use of data in terror analysis. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/us/politics/us-moves-to-relax-some-restrictions-for-counterterrorism-analysis.html

Tavers, K. (2011, May 1). Osama bin laden dead, obama announces . huffington post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/01/osama-bin-laden-dead-killed_n_856091.


About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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