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What is the War on Terror?

By G. Wiesen
Updated: May 17, 2024

The war on terror is the term used to describe military efforts to eliminate terrorist activities and funding of terrorist cells by governments throughout the world. Though these efforts have often been multinational in scope, with the United States (US) and the United Kingdom as well as other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), much attention regarding these military matters has centered on the US and the US armed forces. The war on terror typically describes a number of different military operations in various locations, though primarily the Middle East, and was declared by US President George W. Bush following the attacks against America on 11 September 2001.

Since the term is often used to refer to a number of different military operations in various regions, the term “war on terror” is often used in a non-specific way and may have different connotations or meanings depending on the speaker and context of usage. Typically, it refers to the specific military efforts in the Middle East, most commonly those in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks on the US in 2001. Though it has also been used to refer to any efforts by any agency to prevent terrorist attacks or infiltrate terrorist organizations.

The primary efforts of this war are aimed at finding and eliminating terrorist groups, ceasing funding to terrorist organizations from various nations and organizations, and promoting environments in other countries that will not encourage the development of terrorist organizations. The initial target of many of these efforts was al-Qaeda and the Taliban that was often connected to funding and assisting the organization. Many critics have voiced concerns regarding these goals, however, and instead suggest financial support to local governments and assistance to local police groups to better deal with terrorist cells, rather than direct military action.

According to President Bush’s declaration, the war on terror “…will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” Due to the fairly vague and open-ended nature of this statement as a declaration of war, many critics have viewed the war on terror as a potentially perpetual military effort used to justify any other goals or political policies. Critics of the war have often seen the use of terrorism as a scare tactic to push other military and political objectives forward beneath an umbrella of fear and “non-specific” threats.

Following the presidency of George W. Bush, President Barack Obama ceased usage of the term “war on terror” and the Department of Defense began to officially refer to ongoing military operations as an “Overseas Contingency Operation” (OCO). President Obama also requested that Pentagon staff use OCO rather than the previous language. This change in nomenclature, along with several statements made by the president and his officials, seemed to be an attempt to aim war efforts more toward terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, rather than at an abstract concept like “terrorism.”

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Discussion Comments
By SilentBlue — On Feb 03, 2011

@JavaGhoul

I am skeptical about these claims. If a religious group is small, it is seen as a cult. If a patriotic group is small, it tends to be seen as terrorist. The gist here is that our world operates on the principle of right by might, and might is propagated by numbers. If a group grows, there is less that people can say against it. We have a bias of numbers.

By JavaGhoul — On Feb 01, 2011

Terror is an ideological rebellion which propagates ancient trends toward bloodshed. It is made up of small groups which are willing to kill for the sake of what they value, and obey no rules. This is a threat to the ways of life of many nations, and to peace on the earth.

By dbuckley212 — On Jan 30, 2011

@Tufenkian925

I think that history is written by the winners, and if these groups were to be the winners, they would be viewed as heroes in the future. In the same way, one could say that the American Revolutionaries were terrorists, but since they won, they are revered. If they had lost, it is likely that they would be seen in the same manner as the Southern Confederacy is seen in the Northern States today.

By Tufenkian925 — On Jan 29, 2011

Fights against terrorist groups in Europe, such as the ETA and IRA, have been going on for centuries now. The rebellion of European minorities and oppressed groups is nothing new in the world. These independence groups get recruits while they are young, influencing young minds to grow up and train other young people. The rewards are adventure and exhilaration in the form of bloodshed. Needless to say, the longevity of members of these groups is not great.

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