Militerrorism

J. Landrum Kelly, Jr., Ph.D.

e-ter-rence\ L deterrere, to frighten\
 the maintaining of vast military power, etc.

 “Militerrorism” is a neologism, a “new word.”  

I shall use it as an inclusive term to describe all attempts to use fear to control or modify the behavior of others, regardless of the worthiness of the end being promoted.  

Even though the term is inclusive of all formal organizations in whatever realm
(including teaching, if the teacher relies upon fear), it still seems most appropriate when used to refer to military and paramilitary organizations, whether in democracies or in totalitarian regimes.  The original object of creating such a new word was to point up the hypocrisy of calling upon military or paramilitary organizations to “control terrorism.”  Yet, the longer one works in any type of formal organization, the more one sees the problem with focusing exclusively on military and paramilitary organizations, so well established is the tradition of using fear as a social regulator.

A consistent pacifist would have to be against the deliberate use of fear in all realms, of course, since some sort of violence or threat of violence is the means of inducing fear.  

This is obviously true for military and paramilitary organizations, but it is also true for organizations which use economic violence in order to enforce compliance (such as the threat of withholding remuneration in bureaucracies, public or private).  Since the use of fear as a social regulator is so pervasive in modern organizations, it seems reasonable to expand the uses of the term “terrorism” so that there is some logic is referring to a “pacifism-terrorism” dilemma: those who endorse the use of fear in any capacity may justifiably be called “terrorists,” whereas those who abjure the use of fear as a deliberate motivator in all types of organizations and social situations could be called “pacifists.”

 Calling such a wide range of activities “terrorism”

Is not going to automatically convince persons that all such activities are wrong. Yet, this is exactly what Christian pacifism would like to do, and the creation of a term such as “militerrorism” might help to dramatize the point: one wants to deny most emphatically that the deliberate use of fear to modify behavior or enforce compliance is ever morally legitimate.

In spite of its inclusiveness, the term “militerrorism” 

Would certainly have primary applicability to that great variety of organizational forms which rely upon coercion and fear as the primary methods of social control and manipulation.  Thus, even though “bureaucracy” in all of its rather routine manifestations could qualify, the primary focus would indeed be upon military and paramilitary organizations.  Among these, there would certainly be instances of militerroristic activity which would fit the bureaucratic model, such as the highly disciplined and bureaucratized SS of Adolph Hitler.  Yet, the highly disjointed
and fragmented activities of the Weathermen or Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) during the 1960’s would also qualify.
The term “militerrorism” admittedly connotes a negative judgment of the morality of using fear as a method of enforcing compliance.  As such, its use is a standing moral indictment of a wide variety of actions and social practices–most of which are viewed by nominal Christianity as morally legitimate, including but not limited to those military and paramilitary organizations whose “essential services” involve the delivery of deterrent potential through overt violence or threat of violence: the military and police forces in every culture.

 Although it may sound outrageous to say so, perhaps the archetypical example of militerroristic organization on a massive scale in the United States would be the United States Air Force.  While the U.S. Air Force is far from being the most brutal organization in terms of maintaining internal discipline (possibly less brutal than, say, IBM), its glib defense of the efficacy of nuclear terrorism (“deterrence”) as the avenue to peace would surely allow it to gain the honor of serving as the paradigmatic model of militerrorism.  The fact that the U.S. Air Force also has the most highly polished public relations devices and euphemistic slogans for justifying its terrorist methods (“Peace is our profession”) would also increase the dangerousness of its basic enterprise: one man’s terrorism is another man’s motherhood and apple pie, and what qualifies the Air Force for the dubious honor of paradigmatic militerror-istic organization is in part the masterful image-building which allows it to pass its militerroristic activities and missions off as the most wholesome and genuinely “All-American” of pursuits and professions.
    Many militerroristic organizations do not, of course, concern themselves with image or public relations, nor are they always well-organized.  These are the more likely to be perceived by the general public as “terrorist” organizations: the PLO, the SDS, and the Islamic Jihad are examples of these types of organization, which in fact seem to try to infuriate or thumb their noses at their adversaries.  The U.S. Air Force, by contrast, is concerned with maintaining an image which conduces to its lobbying efforts for increased expenditures.  Such an image also promotes its claim of defending democracy and thus serves to give it a cloak of legitimacy and dignity which its use of euphemism is intended to convey.  
    Even so, in the U.S. Air Force, the image of smooth professionalism and detached moral judgment hides the ugly reality of the greatest concentration of massive destructive power in the world today by any single organization.  On this ground alone, one might consider the U.S. Air Force as the archetypical case of militerroristic organization in this country–and possibly in the world.

“After college, my son is going to go into a career in mili-terrorism.”

Alright, so most persons will never adopt such a usage.  One hopes that at least a few others, however, will get the message and never adopt such a profession.

  • There are two broad ways of effecting change or maintaining order in the world,
    regardless of the scale of the action or its consequences.  One method uses moral suasion and is committed to peace not only as an end but as a means.
  • The other uses fear, which in turn implies the use of force or the threat of force.
  • There is a true dichotomy between appeals to moral suasion and appeals to fear, and thus have I referred to “the pacifist-terrorist dilemma.”  Although there are many gray areas, the two methods are conceptually distinct.
  • The advocates of both methods (of pacifism and terrorism) speak of peace. For the advocate of fear, peace is a state of affairs which refers as correctly to the graveyard as to a state of genuine harmony: wherever there is order and the absence of overt conflict, there is seen to be peace.  For the advocate of moral suasion, peace refers not only to the absence of conflict, however, but to freedom from want and fear.  This kind of peace cannot be brought about by fear and the concomitant use of force or the threat of force, for the appeal to coercive force is always an appeal to fear.

Are there justifiable uses of terror? 

I believe that most advocates of nuclear deterrence are saying, behind the cloak of euphemism, that the use of fear or terror is at least sometimes justifiable, if the terror is used to promote someone’s conception of “justice.”  Otherwise the use of terror is mere terrorism.  (Is this not the implicit assumption of the “just war” doctrine?If we relabel it as the “just terror” doctrine, will there be any loss of meaning?)
    Terror can be used to promote a number of things, including property, privilege, and national security.  Justice, however, is surely something more than some end which can be promoted by any old means.  Surely justice has something to do with means as well as ends, and–just as surely–just means measured by the example of Christ would automatically preclude the use of terror.  
    The argument for nuclear deterrence is reducible to an implicit claim that the end justifies the means: one may use terrible means to achieve wonderful ends. The argument has a raw utilitarian ring in its casual acceptance of an evil for the sake of a greater good.  And–make no mistake–the threat of annihilating cities or a whole people in the name of peace is an evil, whether one ever uses the weapons or not.
    The mere threat of the use of a weapon, physical or economic, constitutes an instance of terrorism.

Even the Islamic Jihad makes some claim of ultimate good in its defense of
terror–most terrorist groups do invoke a moral cause.  They would not claim to be
pursuing violence for the sake of violence.  Yet, though they may say that they are
promoting justice through the use of terror, one may reasonably question whether or not it is indeed justice which is being promoted: “justifiable terror” is surely a contradiction in terms.

One reading of Paul in Romans 13 would appear to suggest justifiable uses of
terror:  “Magistrates are no terror to an honest man, though they are to a bad man.  If you would avoid being alarmed at the government authorities, lead an honest life and you will be commended for it; the magistrate is God’s servant for your benefit.  But if you do wrong, you may well be alarmed; a magistrate does not wield the power of the sword for nothing, he is God’s servant for the infliction of divine vengeance upon evil doers.”
(Romans 13:3-4, Moffatt translation.)  
    Orthodox Christianity, to the extent that it affirms the retributive message and seeming endorsement of state violence on the part of Paul, demonstrates that it, too, is a terroristic organization–perhaps the most dangerous terroristic organization in the world, for it falsely invokes the sanction of God for such evil.

Although it may seem naïve and simple-minded to hold that war and punishment
are never justifiable (or “just”), I cannot understand what the whole significance of
Christianity is supposed to be if Christ’s example is really indistinguishable from the usual worldly, statist way of responding to evil.  

The example of Jesus gives us a particular conception of God, such that none more forgiving or more benevolent can be conceived.  God is no terrorist, and His Justice could not therefore be promoted by the use of terror.  My Prince of Peace is not one who advocates peace through preparedness for war, nor one who calls the condition of anxiety under the umbrella of nuclear deterrence “peace.”  Such “peace” is mere stalemate by mutual threat.  
    Shalom, the biblical concept of peace, is more than the absence of conflict, in the same way that justice is more than mere “law and order.
    As for those who still believe in a God of retribution, I can only say that I find such a concept of God too small, too petty–and all too human.  A valid religious claim ought to distinguish itself from the commonplace, and the justification of routinized legal terror and punishment is too commonplace–not to mention too arbitrary and too cruel–to be taken seriously as a manifestation of the divine will.

What commonly goes by the name of “government” rests ultimately upon fear, terror. 

Yet, to the extent that actual governmental organizations are composed of persons who to varying degrees employ moral suasion in lieu of fear, these persons operate by pacifistic methods.  Most organizations and most of the centers of power which we call “governments” do in fact rely upon both methods.
    Even so, many organizations would put the new wine of moral suasion in the old bottles of fear and threat. Bureaucracies are, in their pure form, designed with an eye to the ultimate appeal to fear if moral suasion fails to persuade.  Such organizational forms are inherently terroristic, although to say so seems (but only seems) to make too strong a statement.  

What passes for diplomacy (at least since von Clausewitz) is too often terroristic:
“Come, let us sit down at the bargaining table and discuss matters rationally.  If you won’t, then we will bomb you back to the bargaining table.”
    This is really only a slightly better dressed version of Don Corleone’s conception of diplomacy in The Godfather: “Let me make you an offer you can’t refuse.”1  Translated, this meant, “Let us reason together; and, if you don’t come around to our way of thinking, we’re going to blow your brains out.”  When Michael Corleone tells his fiancée that his father is no different from politicians and presidents, she tells him that he is naïve:  
“Presidents don’t kill people!”  His response?  “Who’s being naïve?”2
    The pacifist accepts Michael Corleone’s argument–not for the sake of justifying
violence, however, but for the sake of demythologizing the state and its claim of legitimate violence.

When we offer militaristic rationales to young people, we are like parents who give their children serpents when they ask for bread.

Retaliation, whatever the motive, goes through at least an intermediary state of
inducing fear in another person.  In simple vengeance, fear is the simple end or goal of retaliation: one enjoys another’s displeasure, horror.  In simple deterrence, fear is an unfortunate means for achieving some higher end.  In either case of retaliation, however, fear is anticipated and yet accepted as either the end or as a necessary means for achieving the end.  The point is that retaliation condones the use of fear, even where it does not glorify it.  
    The overt retributivist does glorify fear: he believes either (out of simple vengeance) that someone ought to tremble, or he believes (as in a more principled retributivism) that such trembling is good for the soul, for the sake of inducing repentance.  The utilitarian-deterrence conception does not glorify the use of fear in quite the same way, but it certainly condones the use of fear: indeed, it perceives fear as being essential to the achievement of the goal, the modification of certain behavior.
    Any philosophy which tries to justify retaliation, however, is a terroristic doctrine. Noble ends do not change this fact.

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear. . . .” (II Timothy, 1:7)

If the world were down to its last pacifist, and if the militarists are right in saying
that such a weak person would be killed by unlawful men, then one thing is certain–that death would produce more converts to the cause.
    Have the militarists not heard of the one mustard seed which fell into the ground some two thousand years ago?  The death of one pacifist is a wondrous thing, for it sows the seed for many, many more.

Vis-à-vis Hitler, one often hears, “But would you not have fought against
fascism?”
    Yes, I would have fought against it.  I am fighting against it now.

What is militarism but the defining core of fascism?  I would not have joined the
military to fight against fascism.  I would not, that is, have joined fascism in order to defeat fascism. Can one expect to defeat fascism by embracing its methods?  
    Is it by “demons” that we are to cast out “demons”?

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