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No event in American history touched the nation or the world more than the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. The destruction caused by 19 hijackers who flew three of four planes into buildings (the fourth never reached its target thanks to passengers who overwhelmed the hijackers), and the loss of more than 3,000 lives, drove home to the United States the true horrors of terrorism.

Yet, terrorism on American soil is not unknown. In fact, the same World Trade Center that was destroyed in 2001 had been the victim of a terrorist attack in 1993. Miraculously, only six people died in that attack, but the damage to the Twin Towers was significant. Moreover, not all terrorism is caused by foreign operatives. The destruction of a government office building in Oklahoma City in 1995 was the work of a former U.S. soldier. And so-called “ecoterrorists” have destroyed buildings and businesses in the name of saving the environment.

The American Heritage College Dictionary defines terrorism as “the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence to intimidate or coerce societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.” Most terrorists are determined to use force and violence almost always without warning and often indiscriminately. Most governments and societies neither condone terrorism nor capitulate to it; yet, attacks still occur. For that reason, society must find ways to protect itself. The question of how to do this is not easy to answer, but failing to address it will not make terrorism go away.

Inside Terrorism