THE LESSONS OF TERROR by Caleb Carr

THE LESSONS OF TERROR

A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again

KIRKUS REVIEW

Novelist (Killing Time, 2000, etc.) and military historian (The Devil Soldier, 1991, etc.) Carr evaluates terror as a tactic, with an eye toward the US response to Osama bin Laden.

The lesson of terror, the author posits, is straightforward: it doesn’t work. Although terrorism seemed shockingly new on September 11, Carr argues that it’s but a variation on an old theme. Americans were quick to proclaim the attacks “acts of war,” and it is through this lens that Carr views terrorism. It is, he suggests, simply another way that warring parties have targeted noncombatants—a practice as old as war itself. More important, terrorism is a practice based on a misconception. Rather than intimidating an enemy into submission, it builds resentment that can last for generations. Carr offers many examples: Roman massacres of Germanic tribes under Augustus led to the raids by those same tribes nearly 500 later; William Tecumseh Sherman’s willingness to let northern troops plunder southern houses made reconciliation more difficult; and Israeli paramilitary groups inspired Palestinian terrorist organizations. The analysis is focused and evenhanded—each example demonstrates that terror leads to more of the same. Nor does Carr exempt the US from his critique. American policy, he claims, has often advocated civilian death in pursuit of its goals, and he cites the use of atomic weapons on Japan, napalm in Vietnam, and airstrikes in Kosovo. Carr, of course, is not the first to critique such methods of war, and he is as concerned with intellectual responses to what the Romans termed “destructive war” as he is with examples of its use. The problem is that he fails to consider the essence of what it was that troubled thinkers like Augustine and Hobbes. To both, wartime atrocities pointed to something more than a flaw in military strategy; terror was and remains a tactic that pushes the boundaries of reason: it is the point at which military objectives blend with bloodlust.

A narrow but useful look at terror.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-50843-0
Page count: 260pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2002




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