To understand specific terror, it might be well to think of yourself as the target. You have annoyed someone, or someone – a very large and collective someone, a someone with a cause that matters to him – wants you to do something, or refrain from doing something, and is willing to go to pretty extreme measures to get your cooperation. I am not talking here of some infinitely tiny and ineffectual group that has sent you a note. I mean here a group that has grown large enough to demonstrate over and over again that they mean what they say, they can do what they say they will, they will do it, ruthlessly, and they are competent enough to get away with it. Additionally, you may assume they are hard to identify, and the police are fairly or completely helpless here, perhaps because co-opting the police was their first campaign.
Extreme? Well, we’ll give benefit of the doubt and assume you’re gutsy enough that shooting you is no big deal, and – I am sure you’ll agree – will in no way guarantee your cooperation. Bombing, too, we’ll say, is a case of, “meh?” But what if they never shoot anyone? What if they rarely use bombs? Beheading? “Dude; that’s so Seventh Century! We prefer First Century.”
What if, instead, they’ve demonstrated that they burn or roast or boil alive. They crucify. They do the death of 1000 cuts. They stake over ant hills. What if your neighbor’s 13-year-old daughter was taken on her way from school, raped for the video cameras, and then impaled. “If only he’d done us the little favor we’d asked of him…”
What if they’re really quite clever and understand that you are the target, but that the best way to reach you is not directly through you?
And then you get a note, asking for some small favor, yourself. It’s accompanied by a couple of pictures of your daughter. One shows her hanging by her arms, with her arms behind her, her feet bicycling so fast, just a few inches above the floor, that they’re a blur. The other is a close up of her face, and it is a study in primal agony. The note, of course, directs you not to bother going to the police, because they’re suborned, anyway, and your bad faith will mean a very large sharpened stick up your kid’s vagina until it comes to rest against the roof of her mouth. And it assures you that she’s no longer hanging by her arms, but is awaiting her ultimate fate in a comfy little soundproof closet. Further, it tells you that, once your cooperation is given, she’ll be let go, not much the worse for wear, and they won’t even rape her.
Precedent says they’re telling the truth.
You, of course, stand on principle. You refuse to cooperate. You demand…
My ass; you demand nothing; you do whatever they say. You may be brave. Anyone may be brave. But there are people we love and we cannot stand for them to be hurt. Through human history this decision has been faced over and over and one thousand times over. And nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand (yes, of course, I pulled that number out of my ass; it’s probably a higher percentage), a normal, or even an abnormally brave, human being cooperates.
Security? Yeah… ummm, no. You have an economic life your daughter also depends on. You have to go places and do things. You cannot guard and you are not going to be seen as important enough to guard, in a world of limited resources.
The President’s family; they’ll be guarded 24/7. We could guard every member of Congress, the Supreme Court – to include their clerks, every general officer, every colonel, every mayor of a city over one hundred thousand, every chief of police… and all their family members. But we cannot guard you and yours.
One notes, parenthetically, that during the Vietnam War, we used to sneer a lot, we Americans, at the South Vietnamese. Among the reasons to sneer was the alleged frequency with which they cooperated with the enemy. I am sure it happened. But that’s what they faced, day in, day out. Maybe some of our sneers were misplaced.
That all, however, as I mentioned, is a very extreme form of specific terror. Few would ever experience it. Few would ever have to, because once the terrorist organization has demonstrated that kind of reach and that kind of ruthlessness, often enough, and with impunity enough, they don’t have to take your kid. They don’t have to go after you. They just have to tell you what they want and you will give it to them.
We also tended to sneer at the Latins – our sneering egged on by the press, the same press which has such an important role to play in making specific terror effective – and the vicious dictatorships that sprang up down there in the last century, and at the heavy handed wars they waged, seemingly against their own citizens. College students disappeared! Poets tortured and killed! Legitimate political opposition stifled!
Again, my ass. The Latins were ultimately facing just this kind of problem, aided and abetted – indeed, carried out – by college students, encouraged by left wing poets, at the behest of out of power leftist politicians, and they knew it. I’ve been told by someone in a position to know, that Peru’s Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist “Shining Path” group, liked to tie cords tightly around tongues, the resulting swelling causing slow suffocation. It may not be as graphic as crucifixion, but it has simplicity and efficiency going for it.
The time to stop that kind of terror is, of course, before it starts, before it has the kind of reach that few can feel safe from it, before they’ve infiltrated and suborned the police and military so badly that there’s no recourse in them. That’s also something the Latins understood. Unfortunately, rule of law and stopping that kind of terror do not necessarily go hand in hand. Sometimes – Northern Ireland comes to mind – they do go together. Even so, one notes that the law had to bend over more than once for necessity, even in Northern Ireland and even with the very legalistic British police and military.
Sometimes, however, they don’t. Sometimes, to stop this kind of thing before it becomes unstoppable, you have to disappear the very kinds of people the Latins did. Sometimes, indeed, you have to use the very same kind of terror you’re fighting. And often you must be indiscriminate.
In our particular case, I rather hope it never comes to that. Our most likely candidates for this kind of terrorist problem are ethnic and religious. And with those the problem has such a head start on growing to the level of uncontrollable, and identification of terrorists becomes so difficult, that genocide will at least be considered, and may be carried out.
The law? Silent leges inter arma: Faced with arms, the law is silent.
Next week, the other reliable kind or terror, genocidal.
Don’t miss last week’s column: When Specific Terror Isn’t.
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.