The twentieth century all but gave birth to the concept and idea of terrorism, at least towards America. Why was the twentieth century such a prime century to host the breeding of terrorism towards the United States? The book Terrorism and the Media, by Brigitte L. Nacos shows exactly why how how terrorism plays on our society.
Our country is the leading nation in the world, this is precisely what acts of terrorism play on. There are different types of terrorism, Nacos tells us, as well as different types of perpetrators. Nacos focuses on innocent Americans not in high positions. A major point that Nacos reminds us of, is the fact that it is generally not the grievances of the perpetrators that the public is against, it is the means they use.
This book was intended to show the relationship of terrorism to the media and how it thrives on it. Nacos begins with the example of the World Trade Center Bombing in 1993, the largest terrorist attack on American soil up to that point. This attack dispelled the myth that large terrorist attacks could not be staged on U.S. soil.
Nacos continues, however, with numerous examples of incidents abroad involving Americans: the killing of 258 Americans at the Embassy in Beirut, the murder of a navy diver in the hijacking of TWA flight 847, the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and the subsequent killing of 270 passengers aboard, and many more. Nacos uses all these examples to show that in adding up the damages, costs, and number of victims, terrorism ends up being merely a nuisance numerically when one considers the number of deaths occurring in the U.S.
Yet the significance, says Nacos, “ does not lie in the number of lives taken or in the amount of destruction inflicted; it lies in the number of lives threatened and in the amount of fear and terror generated”. This is where the media comes into play according to Nacos; The way the media, the public, and decision-makers react to violence determines the power terrorists have to “ advance their objectives”. Nacos argues that terrorism is most effective when the violence is staged outside of the target country. The goals of terrorists can be classified into three categories: tactical or short term, strategic or long term, and universal or overlapping.
Tactical being specific to one certain incident, strategic are unique to certain types of groups, and universal simply satisfies both of the preceding. As the times have changed and the coverage of the media has grown more shocking and more perverse, so have the acts of terrorists to keep up and to keep the public shocked. Terrorists must “ heighten the threshold of violence” to guarantee substantial press coverage. In a letter to the New York Times the group responsible for the World Trade Center bombing wrote “ the American people are responsible for the actions of their government and they must question all of the crimes that their government is committing against other people.
Or they-Americans-will be the targets of our operations that could diminish them”. This is a prime example of a terrorist group directly using the media to carry out their objectives. This group directly targeted every citizen of the U.S. Although the chances of another threat affecting any random citizen, it is the fear of such an incident occurring that drives them. Violence seems to be the best means for terrorism because it is a surefire route to media coverage. These violent incidents are only beneficial to the group if media coverage is widespread, according to Nacos. Therefore the media seems to be terrorism’s “ lifeblood” and “ oxygen”.
Nacos tells us that many believe that if media coverage of such incidents were to cease, so would terrorism as we know it. Nacos tells us that terrorists are generally in search of three different goals, – “ to get attention, recognition, even a degree of respectability and legitimacy”. It has been said that these are the precise objectives that the media accommodates. Generally, when terrorist attacks occur against Americans, the public looks to the president, who is, of course, in charge of management of the situation.
But this support also relies on the roles of other government officials and decision makers and their “ evaluations of the presidents performance as reported by the media”. Nacos’ final chapter reflects back on her findings throughout the book. She acknowledges that terrorists certainly have been at least partially successful in achieving their goals and if this is true, what should we do as a society to suppress it? Many countries have enacted laws that restrict the coverage of terrorism, but this is highly unlikely to occur in this country. However, with the knowledge that terrorism is simply a play on our emotions and reactions, terrorism should be easily eliminated from our existence.
Perhaps government officials should work on educating the general public as to why and how terrorism works; this might help the problem at one of the roots.
- Nacos, Bridgitte. Terrorism and the Media. Columbia University Press. New York1994