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The phrase "War on Terrorism" was first widely used by the Western press to refer to the attempts by Russian and European governments, and eventually the U.S. government, to stop attacks by anarchists against international political leaders. (See, for example, New York Times, April 2, 1881.) Many of the anarchists described themselves as "terrorists," and the term had a positive valence for them at the time.

When Russian Marxist Vera Zasulich shot and wounded a Russian police commander who was known to torture suspects on 24 January 1878, for example, she threw down her weapon without killing him, announcing; "I am a terrorist, not a killer."[1]

The phrase gained currency when it was used to describe the efforts by the British colonial government to end a spate of attacks by Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine in the late 1940s. The British proclaimed a "War on Terrorism" against Jewish groups such as Irgun and Lehi, and anyone perceived to be cooperating with them.

The Jewish attacks, Arab attacks and revolts, and the subsequent British crackdown hastened the British evacuation from Palestine. The phrase was also used frequently by US President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, to describe his campaigns against Libya and Nicaragua.[2]

On September 20, 2001, during a televised address to a joint session of congress, President George W. Bush launched his war on terror when he said, "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." Bush did not say when he expected this would be achieved. (Previous to this usage, after stepping off the presidential helicopter on Sunday, September 16, 2001, Bush stated in an unscripted and controversial comment: "This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while." Bush later apologized for this remark due to the negative connotations the word crusade has to people of Muslim faith. The word crusade was not referred to again).[3]

US President Barack Obama has affirmed the use of the sense of the term, if not the term explicitly, in his inaugural address on January 20, 2009, noting "Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."[4]

Operative definition in US foreign policy[edit | edit source]

File:NOAA photo of WTC Lower Manhattan.jpg

The World Trade Center, one of three sites on which the September 11 attacks took place.

The United States has defined terrorism under the Federal Criminal Code. Chapter 113B of Part I of Title 18 of the Code defines terrorism and lists the crimes associated with it.[5] In Section 2331 of Chapter 113b, terrorism is defined as:

"...activities that involve violent... <or life-threatening acts>... that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State and... appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and ...<if domestic>...(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States...<if international>...(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States..."

With respect to defining his policy of "War on Terror", President Bush stated that:

"...today's war on terror is like the Cold War. It is an ideological struggle with an enemy that despises freedom and pursues totalitarian aims....I vowed then that I would use all assets of our power of Shock and Awe to win the war on terror. And so I said we were going to stay on the offense two ways: one, hunt down the enemy and bring them to justice, and take threats seriously; and two, spread freedom."[6]

British objections to the phrase "war on terrorism"[edit | edit source]

The Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service in the United Kingdom, Ken McDonaldBritain's most senior criminal prosecutor — has stated that those responsible for acts of terror such as the 7 July 2005 London bombings are not "soldiers" in a war, but "inadequates" who should be dealt with by the criminal justice system. He added that a "culture of legislative restraint" was needed in passing anti-terrorism laws, and that a "primary purpose" of the violent attacks was to tempt countries such as Britain to "abandon our values." He stated that in the eyes of the British criminal justice system, the response to terrorism had to be "proportionate, and grounded in due process and the rule of law":

"London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered...were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London there is no such thing as a war on terror. The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws, and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement."[7]

At the time that the "War on Terror" became a national catchphrase in the US, many British people cynically compared the US' new found spur against "terrorism" with its previous actions regarding what they regarded as tacit support for anti-British political violence in Ireland .[8]

In January 2009, the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, wrote "ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken" and later said "Historians will judge whether [the notion] has done more harm than good".[9][10]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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