UNITED STATES—We all know that we are against terrorism, and that we want people in responsible positions in government to act decisively to eliminate terrorism. We also know that some of the people in charge have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are, and that all their posturing and hand waving is just noise that will not result in meaningful change.

Because that is what is required in order to reduce terrorism: meaningful change. There are all kinds of meaningful change that are possible. Not all of these are meaningful and effective. An example of change would be that the US and their first world allies, could launch an immediate military escalation into the areas of the world that we presume the terrorists are headquartered. We could kill hundreds, thousands, or even millions, in an effort to cleanse the world of people we think hate us and mean us harm. We have done it before. And because we have done this before, we can learn from those prior attempts at creating meaningful change. They are ineffective, expensive, and will probably make the problems they seek to combat worse.

When I heard what happened in Paris, my immediate reaction was to think that we should destroy a Mosque for every innocent civilian victim of the terrorists. Because I am a self-righteous leftist, I of course would want the mosques to be empty of people before they were bulldozed. But my initial reaction, though understandable from an emotional perspective, really seeks to punish people who are innocent of this wrong.

I remember when Louis Mountbatten was killed, with his 10-year old grandson, in a small rowboat. He was killed by Irish terrorists. Some people’s initial reaction was to advocate nuking Belfast, to settle the problem once and for all. Thankfully that was not what happened, but the planes were armed and in the air before their mission was scrubbed and they were recalled to their bases.

When terrible things happen, our initial reactions are natural and inevitable: like for like, kind for kind, evil for evil. When we are sane and responsible, we think through our reactions and make sane, rational choices that we hope will lead to different outcomes.

What needs to be done is to peel back the layers that cover over terrorism and the movements that inspire terrorism. Why do terrorists arise?  What is the nature of the circumstance that leads someone to suicide for a cause? As President John F Kennedy put it: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable (1).” The people who become terrorists are caring, loving people, just like you and me. They are people who have become convinced that their own country, community, or family is being preyed upon by evil men who must be punished for the crimes they have committed. There is absolutely no way they can expect to get any kind of justice under law to address these wrongs, or to change the circumstance so that justice will prevail, they must either lapse into apathy and accept things as they are, or they must act.

The fact is that a) they are largely correct about getting the sh***y end of the stick from the world economy – the wealth of the first world is rooted in the poverty of the third world. b) their situation is neither as bad nor as irremediable as they have become convinced it is. The actual people who commit terrorist acts have been manipulated and radicalized by people who figure that they have something to gain from terrorism. These local leaders do not want actual meaningful change or improvement, because their leadership is based on the fear and ignorance of those they are manipulating. Happy people with hope are harder to manipulate. They are the local equivalent of Fox News, whose principle focus is to keep people frightened and ignorant, and to prevent them from knowing what is going on. Fox News tries to prevent people from getting together to effect rational and effective change in their situation.

So, how do we address these many difficult and deadly situations?  The best and really only way to address the need for change is to enable change. If you stand up against change, all you do is increase the pressure to make change happen.

First, we in the first world have to be willing to give up some of our perks, privileges, and wealth, in order to engineer a fairer and more equitable sharing of the world’s resources among all the world’s people. We have to make a difference in people’s lives such that the fathers and mothers of today believe that if they get behind this constructive change, their children’s lives will be better. They won’t then have any reason to support the old ways of violence because they already know, first hand, that those ways changed nothing.

I am of course speaking of the 80 percent, or more, of people who are capable of rationality. There’s still a sizable community of people who, largely through religion, are terminally irrational, willfully ignorant, and incapable of intelligent compromise. There is nothing that I can propose that will reach those people. They are, in my view, already lost. Only a tiny minority of these folks are now, or will ever become, terrorists. But without the support of the 80 percent of ordinary people, the terrorists will find it much more difficult to operate. All we can really do about those already lost is try to minimize the harm they can do, and to put them away for life if we catch them before they kill themselves. In the long view, we work toward successive generations of fewer and fewer people who choose hatred and fear over brotherhood and cooperation.

We need to make it very clear that faith and religion are not a free pass, it doesn’t matter what faith or religion. If you advocate violence as a necessary evil, then you are an evil and we should remove you from a position of influence. And I do not mean drone strikes. I mean proper legal investigation, public trials, and very public exposure of the fact that these people were using the people they preach to, for their own base profit. Killing them just makes martyrs.

And, if you really want to make the governments of these nations play ball, we have all the tools we need in our banking system, and have no need to resort to war. These guys don’t want to really play ball? That’s fine, cut off their money, cut off all commerce, including airlines and Internet. Somebody is selling them guns, lock up those people. No nation on Earth can last six months without trade of one kind or another with the rest of the planet. If it is a hardship on their people, it will help their people replace their rulers with people who want a working world they can be a part of. It’ll cost jobs in our part of the world, too, temporarily. And it has to be done by the whole world as a community of man. It cannot be done by this nation or that that group of nations.

We are one planet, we need to grow up and act as a planet. Of course, we must also change the way we manage our planet. If the only real value we recognize is profit, then we will never succeed in reducing terrorism, because terrorism is profitable. Terrorism is a global problem that afflicts the whole body politic of human beings wherever they are on the Earth and until we begin to view it as a cancer that infects everybody, everywhere, we will not be able to effect any solution that is any more lasting than one more in a long succession of band-aides.


By Henry Meyerding