I have spent some time pondering how to win a war against terrorists. I think there are three possible strategies, that conveniently fall into line with a good way, a bad way, and an ugly way.
One brief note of clarification. This is a war on terrorists, not terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic used by groups fighting from an ideology. You cannot fight terrorism. It has been used from the beginning of warfare and will be used until war has been ended. This is a fight against people, human beings. They are not monsters. They are not inhuman. They do deeds that are considered monstrous and inhumane, but they themselves are flesh and blood.
One brief disclaimer. The bad and ugly strategies will be grounded in historical use. I am not claiming them to be "the best" way. I am just stating how similar tactics have been used in the past.
I will start with the ugliest tactic: the U.S. war against the Plains tribes. When westward expansion brought American and immigrant settlers into the Plains of what would become the central United States, those people encountered the indigenous people groups.
There were multiple tribes that did not possess that land but called it home. The tribes migrated north and south, following herds of bison. The tribes moved among one another. Sometimes it was peaceful. Sometimes it was not. Inter-tribal fighting was common. Raids and attacks were common. Times of peace would be negotiated but it was usually less peaceful than it sounds. But they also could understand the greater good. They knew when fighting was necessary and when it was pointless.
When these tribes encountered new people settled on the lands they were used to having unlimited access to, they treated the settlers the same way they treated other tribes. If it was pointless to fight, they left in peace. If they felt threatened or felt that their resources were threatened, they would raid or attack a homestead.
After enough attacks, the government saw that future interests in the region needed to be protected. The Plains Indian War began. This effort to pacify the region relied on three tactics: take away the greatest resource (bison), take away the freedom (reservations), and take away their culture (enculturalization). These tactics were carried out over the second half of the 19th century. It was a brutal effort to eradicate the lifestyle of the tribes (hostile and friendly) that lived in the central Plains of the territories of the U.S.
And the ugly truth is that it worked.
In a war against terrorists, this is an ugly tactic that could work. But for it to be effective, the nations that are declaring this war would have to diminish their humanity to accomplish it. They would not be able to separate combatants and non-combatants. All the people would have to be sequestered into designated lands with no resources. They would have to be committed to raids on population centers where there would be innocent women, children, elderly, and infirm with terrorists among them. The way of life and culture of these people would have to be completely subjugated to another culture. Native language would have to be replaced by an agreed upon common language. History and religion would have to be re-educated. Family structures would be required to disband and follow what is legislated. Don't allow people to keep their names, especially if it had any connection to their ancestors or their way of life.
The bad tactic could be seen as viable since it is what is popular right now: indiscriminate bombing. A technological advance of the 20th century warfare was the use of aircraft to offer support to ground troops. But what became a support role was used to great effect in World War II, bombing of population centers and prime resource targets. In Germany and England, bombing raids were used to "soften" the opposition. It was used to remove potential stockpiling of weapons or personnel. It was used to destroy infrastructure. It was used to strike terror into the hearts and minds of the population. On both sides.
Bombing of large areas of jungle was also a tactic of the U.S. in Vietnam. The destruction of foliage was necessary to eliminate cover for the movement of enemy forces and resources.
Allied forces have used it to great extent against the militants in the Middle East. From the caves in the mountains of Afghanistan to the plains of northern Iraq, bombing has been used in similar fashion to what was done in the 20th century.
But this has proven ineffective.
Sure, it shows immediate results. We bomb a terrorist training camp and those are fewer trained terrorists we have to deal with down the road. We bomb a command post and we disrupt the communication lines connected to that post. We bomb a caravan of vehicles that are carrying supplies and this week they don't have what they need. But what are the long term results?
In Germany, bombing raids demoralized the citizens, but they also bonded together to watch over and take care of one another. In England, the Nazi bombing raids of Southern England developed a stronger bond among the people.
Bombing has an immediate effect on people: fear. But it has another effect: unity. And we have seen that continued bombing of prime targets has produced little effect in stopping terrorist attacks on larger targets. It, in fact, seems to accompany the increase of attacks.
The good tactic is one that is important to the military today: winning hearts and minds. I think this is the path to winning this. But it is one that very few people want to take. Stop and consider how many peace-loving people there are in the world. People who want to improve the quality of life for all people in the world. Terrorists win by convincing potential converts of the evil ways of their enemy. Terrorists win by drawing attacks against them and saying, "This is how they treat us." If we want to win this, it is time to change tactics.
What would happen if every church, every mosque, every synagogue, every ashram, every temple sent teams of "missionaries" into the places terrorists have the loudest voice, the biggest audience? What if we sent those people there to improve the quality of life of those who live there? What if we sent them there to build peaceful relationships, breaking down stereotypes, removing walls of distrust and alienation? What would happen if we started to treat people like people and not as potential enemies?
This is a way that can make a difference. But it would take too much effort to do this. We would have to overcome fear of injury, death, and the unknown. We would have to lay aside our own ideologies in order to partner with people who are vastly different. We would have to renounce any claim to superiority or success when someone else's method worked better. We would have to be humble and self-giving when we it is too natural to seek our own glory and needs.
We would have to follow a path that demands too much of us. It's just too easy to be bad and ugly when being good would win the war.