"...military history alone can teach us the lessons that will solve the dilemma of modern international terrorism....whenever and wherever such tactics have been indulged, they have been and are still destined to ultimately fail: this is the central lesson to be learned, and the chief cause of hope that can be taken, from the often troubling history that fills the following pages."

—Caleb Carr, The Lessons of Terror, New York: Random House, 2002.

Go to "An Autumn of War"

Carr writes: "Sherman's great sweep through the south was limited, progressive warfare at its best...there was every possibility that, had gratuitous destruction been avoided, it could have achieved something even greater than victory: meaningful peace."

Carr writes: "Frederick [the Great] devised the most powerful statement and proof yet that wars were best fought for realistic political goals by soldiers whose restrained behavior would limit the impact of conflict on civilians and thereby maintain or even win those citizens' loyalty."

Caleb Carr is a popular novelist and less popular historian. That's a shame because The Lessons of Terror is a provocative book that should be widely read and discussed.

First, Carr writes, we must understand terrorists as soldiers whose actions must be met with a military response.

What is terrorism? It is "warfare deliberately waged against civilians with the purpose of destroying their will to support either leaders or policies that the agents of such violence find objectionable."

Secondly, we must understand that terrorism is a form of warfare that has never succeeded. This is both a hope and a warning. Carr writes:

Warfare against civilians, whether inspired by hatred, revenge, greed, or political and psychological insecurity, has been one of the most self-defeating tactics in all military history....One clear assertion repeatedly presents itself: the nation or faction that resorts to warfare against civilians most quickly, most often, and most viciously is the nation or faction most likely to see its interests frustrated and, in many cases, its existence terminated.

The hope may be clearer than the warning: if America resorts to terror tactics we will ultimately defeat ourselves. Winning the war and losing the peace will only mean more conflict and misery to come.

Thirdly, therefore, we must wage war as we never have in our history.

America has led the world in many things, Carr argues, but not in progressive warfare. We've waged unlimited, total war many times (which Carr believes actually prolongs a war and may "lose the peace" that follows). We've shaped defensive policies (such as the Weinberger doctrine) but Carr calls for a new offensive policy.

Such a policy of progressive war will require a great deal of courage and imagination. And such a policy Donald Rumsfield seems to be pursuing in the early stages of the war in Afghanistan. Caleb Carr concludes:

It may be difficult for many to accept that military reform—philosophical as well as organizational—can play such an enormous role in social transformation; yet the lessons of terror attest to this truth and light the way along the only path that represents enlightened belligerent action. Those lights have been similarly lit for other nations and several other global hegemons, who have chosen to ignore them and to wander in the darkness that is unlimited war. In our own case, there will certainly continue to be voices that will try to dissuade us from those most essential principles of progressive war: refusal to target civilians, constant offensive readiness, the ability to achieve surprise, an emphasis on discriminatory tactical operations, and the strength to act alone, if necessary, in order to vigorously attend to our security. Such strategies, tactics, and policies have been confirmed by two thousand years of hard experience, experience that must finally overcome prevarication that passes for caution. Surely we have the wisdom to respect the efforts and the sacrifices that have been made during those centuries, as well as enough self-interest and charity to lead not only our nation but our world out if its current crisis, and steer it clear of similar calamities in the future.