We destroyed ourselves with our dumb 9/11 overreactions. It's essential not to make the same mistake again
What is terrorism? Many are convinced that the word is inherently so vague as to be meaningless. I have never understood this. To me the definition seems singular, and obvious, and it would appear that simply understanding it is the key to avoiding terrible missteps in the aftermath of an attack like the one in Paris.
Terrorism is a tactic in which the primary objective is to produce fear, rather than direct harm. Terrorist attacks are, first and foremost, psychological operations designed to alter behavior amongst the terrorized in a way that the actors believe will serve them.
The 9/11 perpetrators killed about 3,000 people, and did about $13 billion in physical damage to the United States. That's a lot of harm in absolute terms, but not relative to a nation of 300 million people, with a GDP of almost $15 trillion. It was a massive blow to many families, and to New York City. But to the nation as a whole that level of damage was about as dangerous as a bee sting.
You may find that analogy suspect because bee stings are deadly to those with an allergy. But what kills people is not the sting itself. It is their own massive overreactionto an otherwise tiny threat, that fatally disrupts the functional systems of the body. And that is exactly what terrorists hope to trigger—a muscular and reflexive response on the part of the victim-state that advances the perpetrators' interests far beyond their own capacity to advance them.
The 9/11 attack was symbolic. It was not designed to cripple us economically or militarily, at least not directly. It was designed to provoke a reaction...