NUCLEAR TERRORISM AND THE HUMAN HERD

By Louis Rene Beres

Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti's Man Pointing gesticulates ominously. Emaciated, skeletal and tormented, it is an artistic expression of humankind's steady march toward suffering and annihilation. Like the sculptor's gaunt and unnaturally elongated figure, each and every one of us has become a prospective victim. Today, each and every one of us is threatened by nuclear terrorism.

Where is Giacometti's man pointing? Does he point, dreadfully, toward the masses of victims, or, judgmentally, to the perpetrators? Does his extraordinarily extended finger indict an entire species, or - rather - does it cast responsibility upon certain individuals? Understood in terms of nuclear terrorism, especially the threat now posed to the United States, the very long finger assuredly points in both directions. In the final analysis, the problem of all terrorism, including nuclear terrorism, is a problem of human behavior, not politics or technology, and human behavior is always the result of individual needs and collective expectations.

More than almost anything else - sometimes even more than the drive to avoid death - human beings need to belong. This need can be expressed more or less harmlessly, as in recent instances of World Cup soccer hysteria, or it can be expressed grotesquely in genocide, war and terrorism. The underlying dynamic is always the same. In all cases the individual person feels empty and insignificant apart from his/her membership in the Herd. Sometimes that Herd is the State. Sometimes it is the Tribe. Sometimes it is the Faith. Sometimes it is the Liberation Organization. But whatever the particular Herd of the moment, it is the persistent craving for membership that brings the terrible downfall of individual responsibility and the terrifying triumph of the collective will. It follows that unless we learn soon how to temper our overwhelming desire to belong, political schemes to prevent and control nuclear terrorism will miss the point. Hence, these schemes will only tinker at the margins of what is truly important.

How desperately we all want to belong. How significant is this desperation to understanding of nuclear terrorism? The philosopher Nietzsche can be helpful here. Aware of substantial harms that can be generated by the immense attractions of membership, Nietzsche declares with remarkable prescience: "To lure many away from the herd, for that I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me. Zarathustra wants to be called a robber by the shepherds."

The dangers of nuclear terrorism stem in large part from the combining of insecure individuals into herds. Not every herd is terroristic, of course, but terrorism cannot take place in the absence of herds. When individuals crowd together and form a herd, the destructive dynamics of the mob are released, lowering each person's moral and intellectual level to a point where even mass killing may become altogether acceptable.

To begin their investigations of nuclear terrorism, scholars and policy makers must look closely at human meaning. To prevent nuclear terrorism against the United States, herds - terrorist groups - must be shorn of their capacity to bestow meaning. Even before this can happen, however, individuals who turn to terrorist group membership must first discover much more private sources of belonging. An underlying cause of terrorist crimes is always the continuing incapacity of individuals to draw authentic meaning from within themselves.

At its very heart, the problem of nuclear terrorism is always a problem of individual meaning. Ever anxious about drawing such meaning from their own inwardness, human beings draw closer and closer to the herd. In all too many cases the herd spawns hatreds and excesses that make certain forms of killing desirable. Fostering a ceaseless refrain of "us" versus "them," it prevents each person from becoming fully human and encourages each person to celebrate the death of particular "outsiders."

Each of us contains the possibility of becoming fully human, an empathetic possibility that could reduce corrosive loyalties to the herd and prevent nuclear terrorism. It is only by nurturing this possibility that we can now seek purposeful remedies that focus only secondarily on technological and political remedies. The ultimate task, for counter-terrorism professionals, is to encourage all people to discover the way back from the herd, toward themselves; otherwise, humankind will continue to fly with the lethal ideals of a delirious collectivism, with a life of conformance and fear that can make even nuclear terrorism seem normal.

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LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). Beres is Professor of International Law, Department of Political Science, Purdue University He is the author of many books and articles dealing with terrorism and counter-terrorism, including TERRORISM AND GLOBAL SECURITY: THE NUCLEAR THREAT. Professor Beres has examined nuclear terrorism for more than a quarter-century in connection with the Nuclear Control Institute, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Defense Nuclear Agency (DOD), and the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center/U.S. Army Special Operations Forces.
E-Mail: BERES@POLSCI.PURDUE.EDU



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