Terrorism: When Specific Terror Isn’t

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Mon, Oct 20 - 9:00 am EST | 3 years ago by
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    Lines of Departure - Specific Terror

    We talked last week about random terror, the current enemy’s preferred technique. We also touched on specific terror, which is altogether a much more effective proposition than random terror. Attempted specific terror is when the terrorist goes after a particular person, and/or that persons family, friends, or some especially dear thing like money or, perhaps, reputation. Not all attempts, by any means, are effective.

    Moreover, it’s sometimes really hard to tell what is random terror and what is specific terror. In addition, some things one might normally think of as specific terror won’t fall into the classification – in other words, are still just random – if the action is something the target isn’t enough afraid of to be significantly swayed by it.

    A set of examples: The Red Army Faction, also called the “Baader-Meinhof Gang,” in perhaps forty incidents and attacks over a period of 28 years, possibly never managed to commit an effective act of specific terror. In those forty attacks I count seven mostly fatal incidents with police or customs agents that were not just random, they weren’t even planned or intended. There was also a bombing attack on the German Police that wounded five, killed none, and, near as I can tell, swayed nobody. There were several German police officers I am sure deliberately killed in the 1977 kidnapping of Hanns Martin Schleyer, but the police were not the specific targets of the attack.

    There were a number of bombing attacks against us during the RAF’s campaign, which managed to kill some half a dozen people. Oh, yeah, that was going to sway us, having just come out of Vietnam where we’d been losing over a thousand a month, and that much in a week, at least once. In addition, there were two attempted vehicular ambushes, one of General Frederick Kroesen and one of Al Haig. Both failed. If their objective was to sway us, they certainly succeeded in getting Haig, Kroesen, and subsequent four stars in Germany to vary their schedules more. As far as meeting any higher goals the Baader-Meinhof Gang may have had… well… it seems not.

    In a diversionary bombing attack, in aid of a ground assault on one of our facilities their bomb failed to function properly and they were rather trounced in the subsequent attack. It always comes as a shock when Germans display this kind of incompetence.

    Or worse that incompetence. I’ve heard from some Germans that the German Army is the soul of Germany and that, until they go into the armed forces, the typical German boy is rather wimpy. This coincides with my own observations. It also helps to explain why, when three RAF types – upper middle class sorts, typically, and the kind who generally avoided the German Army like the plague – attacked USAF Sergeant John Toffton, he seems to have beaten the ever loving crap out of them.

    Other bombing attacks didn’t do much either.

    There were about seven RAF attacks that seemed to fall into the category of specific terror, at least insofar as they had targets and killed who they intended to, German government officials or captains of industry and finance. I mentioned Hanns Martin Schleyer, above. There was also an attempt to bomb a German judge, but that only succeeded in wounding his wife. Two embassy staff were murdered in Stockholm.

    Between September of 1977 and April of 1991 the RAF managed to assassinate or kidnap and murder five economically significant people, including Schleyer. Germany, however, has a lot of captains of industry and finance and certainly enough replacements waiting in the wings to make up for losing one of them every two and a half to three years. Moreover, beyond buying the armored Mercedes-Benz, installing home and office security systems, and hiring some more guards, why shouldn’t the upper crust Germans have simply played the odds, as, in fact, they did?

    That’s one of the disconnects between what practitioners might think of as effective specific terror and what potential targets might think of as effective specific terror. Yes, the RAF certainly selected specific targets. However, as I’ve mentioned before, for a lot of these folk, pure sociopaths pretending to have a moral conscience, the rest of us are just props in the plays they stage. They haven’t a clue about us as actual thinking, feeling, moral entities; we’re not human to them. So they never seem to get past the point of their selection of targets to contemplate whether the targets feel they’ve been selected.

    And so, when businessman X, leading Grosse Dicke Deutsche GMBH Nummer Fuenf, thinks about the odds of being targeted, he thinks, “I’ll take my chances; there are too many more of us for me to worry overmuch about being blown up. But, note to self, put my mistress on paid leave for a while; she’s a weak link in my security.”

    How does the terrorist organization change that? It changes it by becoming larger, very large, so that the perception of their ability to target makes all such targets feel credibly threatened. But a little pissant group like the Baader-Meinhof gang? Barring nukes, bugs, and maybe gas, they cannot create that perception; even if competent, which they were not. They’re just not big enough.

    That, by the way, is one reason why I consider these groups to be inherently immoral. It’s not the methods, per se; we’ve used worse and more indiscriminately. It’s not the cause, even though I find left wing causes execrable, when not simply laughable. It’s that that have no chance of success, none whatsoever, and so all the suffering they inflict is pointless, hence immoral.

    In a related vein, contemplate how easy it is to come up with volunteers for even the most questionable moral cause. Want to conquer Persia for fun and profit? People will be lining up at the Macedonian Army recruiting stations from Pella to Argos. Want to conquer and loot Gaul? “Hail Caesar!” Crush a civilization for the greater glory of Christ? “Hey, Hernando, can I tag along?” And because of that, one can take risks, take losses, and still prevail. One can make major gains, at some loss, and take the loss with equanimity.

    Not so the urban guerillas like Baader-Meinhof, the Symbionese Liberation Army, Bill Ayer’s pals in the Weather Underground, France’s Action Directe, Italy’s Red Brigade, etc. Their appeal is so small they cannot recruit enough to make up for losses, while achieving anything. How low and vile, or simply adolescent and silly, must a political movement be that cannot recruit any serious number of volunteers?

    Next week: Specific terror that works.

    Don’t miss last week’s column: Random Terrorism: Why Do Some Groups Keep Trying It?.

    Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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      • Ori Pomerantz

        “How does the terrorist organization change that? It changes it by becoming larger, very large, so that the perception of their ability to target makes all such targets feel credibly threatened.”

        Not always an option. When it isn’t, could a terrorist organization achieve something similar by becoming more focused, targeting a smaller group?

        To pick a hypothetical example, the Red Herring Army is opposed to all forms of Capitalism and private ownership of the means of production. But the ten nut cases in the steering committee know they affect that large a change. So they decide to focus on nationalizing health insurance by targeting the families of VP and above level people in health insurance companies to get companies to exit that line of business.

        • Tom Kratman

          How many execs? Can they or their companies afford to guard them and their families? Sure they can. Meanwhile, the government is hunting.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          I see – any group that would be low enough on the totem pole not to be able to afford security would probably be large enough that terrorism would be a major effort or have negligible influence.

          A terrorist campaign against Rabbis in Austin wouldn’t be very difficult, but it won’t accomplish much either.

        • Tom Kratman

          Well…there’s a book on driving the Jews out of Mattapan, in Boston, in the course of the (need I say “idiotic”) 60s attempts at “Urban Renewel.” Among the things that happened were one Rabbi getting acid thrown in his face by a black kid. It had its effect.

          That said, the jews were going to be driven out no matter what.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          Yes, driving Jews out of most places is relatively easy. There are things worth fighting for, land tends not to be one of them.

        • http://www.simplesurvival.us/ Cincinnatus

          Unless that land is on the ocean and you have nowhere else to realistically go. Ask the Israelis

        • Rick Randall

          And in the larger scale of things, certainly failed to make a national, or even regional, change of any significance. Set the bar for success low enough, and you can claim victory.

          Which is how Arabs and small terrorist groups can keep deluding themselves into thinking they are effective- “They didn’t utterly exterminate us!” is a pretty low bar, especially facing a modern Western for who isn’t ready to beat their personal best time at “Zero to Jackboots”, and really just wants you to go away and quit breaking the china.

      • Jake Tito

        The only way for a movement to take shape is for the opponents to be hated by the population as a whole. A good example would b
        e the NAZI’s in Denmark.

        • Tom Kratman

          Or at least a substantial minority, not a tiny and insane minority of an already small minority.

      • Justin Watson

        “In a related vein, contemplate how easy it is to come up with volunteers for even the most questionable moral cause. Want to conquer Persia for fun and profit? People will be lining up at the Macedonian Army recruiting stations from Pella to Argos. Want to conquer and loot Gaul? “Hail Caesar!” Crush a civilization for the greater glory of Christ? “Hey, Hernando, can I tag along?” And because of that, one can take risks, take losses, and still prevail. One can make major gains, at some loss, and take the loss with equanimity.”

        That is an uncomfortable fact that doesn’t get acknowledged very much.
        You notice the German officer corps only mounted a credible attempt to kill Hitler once it became apparent he was going to lose the war, and probably do so in a manner that left Germany completely at the mercy of her enemies. I don’t think the Wermacht was unusual at all in how they handled the situation. Aside from morally exceptional individuals like Bonhoeffer or lunatics like the Red Army Faction, most people are going to rationalize themselves into backing what they see as a winning horse regardless of the moral reality of the situation.
        Finally, while I do care about the moral reasoning behind a decision to go to war, but how right or wrong you are seems to me to be irrelevant in the absence of victory.

      • Jason75

        Thank you Tom.

        When you describe the actions of groups like the RAF in this manner they sound completely ludicrous. They have little mass support, they have no achievable aims, and they appear completely incompetent at even attempting those aims.

        Despite those facts they still persist in trying to hurt and kill people for, as near as I can tell, no good reason.

        They’re like a child randomly throwing rocks at windows.

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