The Emergence of Terrorism and the Problematization of Violence

The Counter-Insurgency Matrix of Terrorism

The concept of “terrorism” is not immediately found in the settled form it takes today, in the vicinity of the concepts of enemy, threat and network with which it articulates the grand narrative of “terrorist networks as political and strategic enemies of states.” Terrorism—initially as plain word and then as concept and category (see below)—did not spring up out of nothing in the 1950s. It emerged in the context of doctrinal reflection on what at the time were called “irregular” wars, referring to armed confrontations in which US military forces were thwarted by guerrilla movements (said to be) characterized by extreme mobility, reticular forms of organization and a capacity for surprise. Irregular warfare confronted the military with a very concrete practical problem—asymmetry in combat. This consists in an imbalance between the means—powerful—and structure—rigid—of conventional forces, on the one hand, and the unconventional methods of irregular warfare used by guerrilla movements, on the other. Here we have the specific problem on the basis of which the more general problem of violence was going to be problematized anew.

In the US Army’s Field Manuals of the 1950s and 1960s, the word terrorism refers to a guerrilla “weapon” (the use of fear to secure the support of local populations) or combat tactic in an account whose general formulation (enonce) William Colby—successively head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Far Eastern Division (1962-68), deputy to the commander of CORDS (Civil Operations and Rural Development Support) in Vietnam, and Director of the CIA (1973-76)—rendered perfectly some years later:

There is another level of security at which this new kind of war must be fought. In Vietnam, there is a secret Communist network within the society which tries to impose its authority on the people through terrorism and threat. This network, or as it is called in Vietnam, the VC infrastructure, provides the political direction and control of the enemy’s war within the villages and hamlets.12

The word terrorism, whose reference is restricted to fear here, thus emerges in a lexical field also containing the concepts of security, network, threat and enemy, which would gradually find their point of equilibrium in that of “terrorism.” And the latter would break the mold not only of the conceptual matrix which Clausewitz’s theorization of war had made the first principle of military savoir faire but also of the very structure of savoirs of security as a whole.

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