We have been fighting state-sponsored terrorism in the world and terrorism on American soil since before we were a nation.
From 1754 to 1763, the Europeans divided up into two camps – the British and their allies versus the French and their allies – in a pan-European war known to history as the Seven Years War. This little war spilled over the Atlantic Ocean, setting the French colony of Quebec against the British colonies. We call it the French and Indian War. Both sides recruited tribes of Native Americans to fight for their side. The tribes did not follow the style of European armies – marching large armies of men to clash with each other in large encounters. Their style of fighting consisted largely of sending small groups of warriors on "hit and run" raids, where farms and settlements were attacked and burned to the ground. By today's standard, we would call this terrorism.
In the latter half of the Eighteenth Century, the southern Mediterranean Sea had a piracy problem affecting both European and American merchant shipping. Known as the Barbary Pirates, ships from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, under the command of the Dey of Algiers. All of the affected nations were forced to pay large ransoms to repatriate their captured ships and sailors. Each year, more and more ships were captured and more and more money was payed out to ransom them.
In 1786, we dispatched a delegation to London to attempt to negotiate a treaty with the Dey of Algiers. They reported that the Dey of Algiers's reason for the hostilities towards Christian nations was inspired by Islam. According to the Dey's Ambassador, their position
was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman (Muslim) who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise. (From The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America ..., Volume 2, page 342)
A treaty was concluded and immediately ignored by the Dey of Algiers and his compatriots. Eventually, the U.S. Marines were sent under President Thomas Jefferson. This little war is commemorated even today in the phrase "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Corps hymn and in the Mameluke sword that Marines wear on parade and at formal events.
Not much has changed in 350 years. We are still fighting home-grown terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism and terrorism from Islamic fundamentalists. The names and titles of the terrorists and the names of the nations sponsoring them have changed. Their primary weapons are still the same – the bomb and the gun. With the increasing effectiveness of the gun, they seem to have dropped the scimitar from their arsenal.
Since the Eighteenth Century, we have attempted a policy of appeasement with terrorists and pirates, paying out huge sums of money for the return of our people and their possessions. We learned, or should have learned, that appeasement does not work. It only encourages them. The only language thugs like this understand is spoken at the muzzle of a gun. Attacking terrorist and pirate bases may not save those held hostage, but it may prevent the taking of hostages in the future. As the late US Senator and former Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson said:
The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.
Terrorism, like death and taxes, will always be with us. We must make our peace with this fact and learn to live with it. Many voices are willing to trade our hard-earned freedom and liberty for protection from terrorism. They are deluding themselves if they think this trade will protect them. As Benjamin Franklin said:
PAny society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.