Urban Survival Guide

Urban Survival Secrets for Terrorist Attacks

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Like war, terrorism, the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, is a political act. The term dates back to the Reign of Terror (1793— 1794) during the French Revolution, but hostage-taking and other acts of terrorism preceded that period. Among the most prominent terrorist groups in early times were the Jewish Zealots of Roman Judea, the Moslem Assassins of the Ottoman Empire, and the Indian Thugs.

Terrorists on the right and the left of the political spectrum have seldom been successful in their expressed aim of overthrowing the government. For example, despite the fact that they caused a popular uprising, the activities of the Jewish Zealots of the A.D. first century led to the mass suicide at Masada, the destruction of the Second Temple, and the Diaspora, or scattering of the Jews outside Palestine (Shurkin, 1988).

During the twentieth century, terrorism has been practiced by Russian revolutionaries, European anarchists, Irish nationalists, members of the Indian independence movement, Latin American revolutionaries, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Bombings, kidnapping, hijackings, and other acts of random violence by terrorists have led to killings, but their primary aim has been to frighten, anger, and otherwise emotionally arouse citizens and government leaders.

Terrorism may be either international, in which case it crosses international borders, or domestic, when it is limited to a particular country. An example of the former was the midair bombing of an American commercial flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. An example of the latter was the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Among other recent acts of terror affecting the United States were the taking of hostages in the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran, in 1979; the bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983; the kidnapping of foreigners by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon; and the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. France, Great Britain, India, Israel, Japan, and Peru have also suffered from terrorist acts in recent years.

The reactions of governments to terrorist acts have included counterattacks, negotiations, and even total surrender to their demands. An example of counterattack was the retaliatory bombing raid on Libya conducted in 1986 by the United States in response to Libyan protection of terrorists who were reportedly involved in the airplane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The decision as to what to do when terrorism involves the taking of hostages is a difficult one. Every approach—direct force, protecting the lives of the hostages at all costs, refusing to deal with terrorists under any circumstances, negotiating under a total news blackout-hasits downside, and there is no general agreement among experts as to which approach is most effective (Baron & Byrne, 1987; Jenkins, 1983; Merai, 1985; Pruitt &Rubin, 1986). The direct approach, which the Israelis used in freeing the hostages at Entebbe, worked fairly well in that instance, but in other instances it has resulted in a large loss of life. Some sort of negotiation would seem to be a more reasonable course, but it is seen as rewarding terrorists and may be viewed by the public at large as surrendering to their demands and encouraging other would-be terrorists. Even conducting negotiations between terrorists and authorities under a total news blackout, which denies terrorists the reinforcement and role-modeling resulting from open press coverage, has its drawbacks. Authorities, and public officials in particular, are faced with extreme pressures to do everything that they possible can to have hostages released, pressures that may prove to be irresistible when the hostages and their families make tearful, poignant pleas for their release in the media.

The official position of the United States Government has been that it does not negotiate with terrorists. However, as seen in the Iranian arms sales and other "arrangements" by representatives of the government, private agreements affecting terrorism and terrorists are sometimes made. Whether these arrangements represent violations of the letter of the law or only its spirit has been the subject of congressional debate and much discussion in the public press.


Crime and war are important matters covered by the laws of all nations, but there are many less conspicuous issues concerning property, contract, tort, and constitutional law. Despite our cherished freedoms and rights, our lives are governed and controlled by laws from the very moment of our birth. Certificates, licenses, permits, contracts, deeds, policies, and other legal documents pervade our day-to-day existence and regulate our behavior. As soon as we are born, our birth is registered on a birth certificate. As we mature and come of age, we may be issued a driver's license, a marriage license, an employment contract, a property deed; eventually, we make a will and finally have a death certificate issued with our name on it. Laws designed to protect us and society in general govern what we do in both our public and private lives. Attending school, taking a job, traveling abroad, paying duties and taxes, and other behaviors concerned with our education, employment, investments. and family lives require awareness of and some familiarity with the laws pertaining to those behaviors.

The Bill of Rights and other documents describe in detail what is permissible and what is not permissible under federal, state, and municipal laws, what we can and cannot do with impunity. Ignorance of these laws is seldom accepted as an excuse for breaking them. Violations of certain laws, such as minor traffic offenses, are forgiven to some extent on their first occurrence and by children, the mentally handicapped, and the elderly. However, repeated misdemeanors and even one-time felonies usually lead to some form of legal punishment, the exact nature of which depends on the particular state or municipality in which the crime occurred.

People of all ages are a concern of the law, but two groups have been the subjects of special attention—the very young and the very old. Although it has not always been so, today most children are seen as unable to take proper care of themselves and therefore requiring special protection and consideration under the law. This is particularly true of children with physical or mental problems and disabilities, so-called "special children." In addition, the high rate of juvenile delinquency and the increasing number of children committing "adult crimes" have led legal authorities to focus not only on teenagers but also on younger children as well. This is a book on adult development, so the topic of children and the law will not be considered further here. The reader is referred to the many texts on child development and legal psychology for more information (e.g., Wrightsman, 1994b).

Like children, the elderly have legal rights and needs that in the past have often gone unrecognized. Several matters concerned with the legal needs of the elderly were discussed earlier in this book, including benefits under Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; age discrimination in employment; elder abuse; consumer fraud: nursing home care, and living environments. Other legal matters affecting many older people are commitment, competency and guardianship, living trusts, wills, probate, and taxes. The remainder of this chapter is concerned with these matters.

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