Essay on History of terrorism in America

terrorism / America / Al Qaeda / violence

Jenkins (2006) provides an excellent review of the history of terrorism in America. This historical review can serve a reliable foundation for developing a whole set of theoretical assumptions as for the roots, the motives, and the meaning of terrorism, as well as reinterpreting terrorism as a form of political violence. “There have been many dark moments in America’s history. Almost everyone’s short list includes the destruction of the World Trade center towers on September 11, 2001; the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II; the Civil War; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, etc.” (Jenkins, 2006). When compared to the wonderful theoretical research by Vetter and Perlstein (1991), Jenkins’ report seems more realistic and a less theoretical (but more practical) picture of the consequences, which terrorism may cause in contemporary America.

Several factors confirm the realism and objectivity of Jenkins’ analytical findings. First of all, the author uses simple wording to determine the common elements of terrorism throughout the centuries: the loss of lives is the integral element of any terrorist act and is one of the indirect terrorism goals; and whatever criticism we may apply to our political authorities, we feel dismayed as soon as these authorities become the victims of a terrible terrorist attack. Second, terrorism in Jenkins’ review is nothing else but the loss of our eternal values: and as long as we fear of poverty and suffering, we are equally afraid of terrorism as the source of the abovementioned social and physical sufferings, poverty, and related consequences. Third, Americans tend to perceive terrorism as the insult to public honor, national identity, religious beliefs and other critical values (Jenkins, 2006). Ultimately, the minds and souls of the American people always tie the notion of terrorism to the notion of courage among those, who have dared to do the right thing, when others seemed to be descending into darkness. As a result, terrorism in America is depicted as a complex set of controversial notions that are familiar to the majority of the American people, but are distorted as soon as we face another terrorist threat.

            Is terrorism always a challenge? Yes, it is. Does terrorism always seek victimization and death? Yes, it does, but this victimization and death should be always combined with publicity that turns terrorism into an act of political violence. More than 30 years ago, Jenkins was confident that “terrorists wanted a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead”. With time, those assumptions have proved to be eroding, and terrorism has turned into the notion, where “watching” was always combined to “dying”. Over the course of the last 30 years, the scale of global terrorism has drastically increased, and Jenkins provides several explanations to this phenomenon. First, terrorism have become increasingly brutalized; second, terrorism has gradually turned into a commonplace practice, and escalation was required to maintain the growing public attention to terrorist acts; third, political terrorism is gradually replaced by religious attacks that lack moral boundaries. As a result, terrorism no longer seeks the means to make people watch; on the contrary, it is more important that many people watch how many others die. In his book, Jenkins (2006) emphasizes the relevance of quantity as a new terrorist concept – the concept that might have been irrelevant a decade ago.

            After the tragic events of 9/11, Jenkins evaluates the critical elements and factors of modern terrorism through the prism of Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda and Osama Ben Laden are forever carved into the history of American terrorism, and Jenkins implies that the research and exploration of the American terrorism is impossible without using Al-Qaeda as the basis for theoretical and practical investigation. Jenkins emphasizes the importance of Al Qaeda’s ideology as the key to our anti-terrorist failures: “America’s biggest failure is on the political front. The United States has not silenced or blunted the appeal of al Qaeda ideology. Even as we have degraded its operational capabilities, its message continues to spread” (Jenkins, 2006). Here, the author undertakes an attempt to reevaluate the modern technological implications of terrorism, changing the traditional vision of terrorism as physical violence, and turning it into information war. Throughout the book, Jenkins emphasizes the tragedy of the modern media age, where secular societies are poisoned by the Muslim ideologies, which do not have any physical or geographical boundaries.

            The book is excellent in a way it gives some hope for a better future. Terrorism is not the end in itself; nor is it an unlimited threat to the American nation. Jenkins optimistically suggests that our stoicism and realism in acceptance of risks may help us survive under the growing pressure of terrorist threats. “It will come from our fierce determination, despite the risks, to defend our liberties and protect our values, for which we have fought many wars” (Jenkins, 2006). However, it is not very clear whether we will be able to break the chain of political attitudes, which necessarily generate violent attitudes. Jenkins refers to these political attitudes as the possible keys of political violence. Modern terrorism cannot be explored without the objective evaluation of political implications. One thing is clear: Jenkins seems too optimistic about our inner strengths and defenses – at the age of information wars we will need something stronger and more relevant than the mere desire to win.


Jenkins, B.M. (2006). Unconquerable nation: knowing our enemy, strengthening ourselves.

RAND Corporation. 


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