There have been numerous explanations and definitions of war through theories, such as: Historical, Psychological, Demographic, Marxist, Economical, and Rationalist, among others. In one word; war is any large scale or violent act which many times resolves in the destruction of one’s territory, nation, and lives. War is learned and has evolved through history, these days war is conducted through military campaigns, which includes: armed conflict, intelligence, troop movement, propaganda, aircraft, bombs and missiles.
Terrorism, on the other hand has been described as the threat of violence, or other harmful act committed for political or ideological goals. The main goals of terrorists are to spread fear among the world population and get global attention for their actions in order to accomplish their goals. Almost every country and organization have different definitions for terrorism, therefore, it is still impossible to give an official one. Up to now, the United Nations has not accepted, nor given definition for terrorism.
If we compare these two, we can see that both of them have violence as their main subject, also: armed conflict, bombs and missiles, propaganda and intelligence. War has aircraft and troop deployment, while terrorism has believers and people willing for sacrifice. What makes them different is that war requires mass organization, Governments, countries and thousands of volunteers and military personnel, while terrorism can be performed with just one or two individuals. Maybe the biggest difference is that terrorism sometimes does not choose targets, and as a result, most times, innocent people get hurt and die. War, on the other hand knows its targets, but in war innocent people also die. They are euphemistically called “Collateral Damage”.
Terrorism has something that war has not, and that is the element of surprise. Terrorist attack can be done at any time and any place. While, war has to be declared and organized, therefore, this gives some time for the other side to get prepared or surrender before the first strike.
Here is one very interesting example: one person comes to a shopping mall or school and start shooting people with an automatic firearm, killing ten, and dies at the end. General opinion would be that this person is crazy, a lunatic, and mentally challenged. However, that same person could come to the same shopping mall or school and detonate an explosive, killing ten and dies at the end. General opinion would be that this person is a terrorist. What if the person from the first example is a terrorist just he/she did not have explosives at that time, and instead he/she used a firearm. Judging by this example we allowed ourselves to make a selection and categorize a violent act by weapons used to kill and destroy human life. While there’s no difference, ten people lost their lives, and nothing can bring them back.
So, what is the correct definition for war and terrorism?
War has become so ordinary that it has lost its original meaning, at this moment we have wars for everything; still, war is just another way of conducting harmful and aggressive acts, which brought untold sorrow to mankind and instability on the international stage. Our society came to the point in which we don’t need wars any more. Now, we have plenty of International Organizations and Laws to help secure peace among nations, for instance; the United Nation, Security Council, Diplomacy, and Geneva Convention. In our modern world, war is pointless: it starts with negotiations and diplomacy, followed by military actions, and ends with diplomacy and negotiation. With proper use of real Diplomacy, not Gunboats and Cowboys, wars could be avoided. However, it appears that these days wars do not start with the leader or the ruler of one country; it rather starts with industry which benefits from it. As old saying says “in war there are two kinds of people: ones who profits from it and ones who suffers from it”.
Terrorism is immature and perfidious, but a highly organized violent act without emotions or regret for loss of innocent lives and without respect for International Laws. Terrorism is usually triggered by war and some sort of dissatisfaction, such as: Political disagreements, retaliation, personal disappointment, religion, among others. Terrorists feel like actors, as the more media attention their actions get, the more we are going to see them.
Maybe, the world would be a better place without discoveries and inventions like: gun powder by the Chinese, dynamite by Alfred Nobel and Uranium by Pierre and Maria Curie. With these inventions and discoveries, a new era of war and terror began, an era that destroyed millions of lives, homes, countries and cultures.
Will additional wars prevent terrorism, or will additional terrorism prevent further wars?
It is impossible to tell, since leaders of war and terrorism believe they are doing the right thing, maybe, as we speak a new war and terrorist attack is being prepared somewhere in the world. However, one thing is clear, people suffer every day because of it.
Ivan Simic writes from Belgrade, Serbia