Those who wish to realize change, good or bad, can choose different weapons. There are those who choose the pen and there are those who choose the sword. Brett A. McCrea's new book analyzes the latter category, focusing on how the figurative sword of terrorism is wielded.
Just over seven years since 9/11, books on terrorism that are useful to counterterrorism practitioners, policymakers (at all levels), and students alike are few and far between. Those Who Choose the Sword, presents vital analysis relevant to all three audiences, however this book is literally a must-read for practitioners and policymakers at the local and state levels. McCrea, a veteran intelligence analyst and professor at Wilmington University, has written a book that is unique in its pragmatic and apolitical answers to how terrorist groups conduct targeting and organization. These are two basic and necessary questions – presented here as analytical frameworks – that are all too often overlooked. I have found in my many years studying terrorism and radical Islam that these fundamental issues are often misunderstood and even ignored by the people that need to understand them the most. As McCrea observes, this was his reasoning for writing this book.
McCrea explains early on that he is trying to close a dangerous knowledge gap. He notes that academic work on terrorist focuses on the "what and why" in a high-minded way that is pertinent only to high-level policy makers and other academics. Media reports on terrorism also focus on the "what and why," but are fraught with emotion that clouds informative and useful reporting and analysis. McCrea was troubled by what he saw as a gap between academic study of terrorism and media reporting. In that gap exists the most important actors in counterterrorism – state and local decision makers who are not helped either by existing academic studies or sales-minded media reporting.
McCrea demonstrates that just because the issues he explores are basic to the understanding of terrorism that does not mean they are simple to interpret. His analysis achieves academic precision and detail without being dull. He has based this slim and accessible volume on an in-depth study of terrorist motivations, targeting, organizational theory, recruitment, training, financing, recruitment, training, logistics, propaganda and public statements, military doctrine, and – crucially – insurgency theory. His case studies focus on three organizations, the Irish Republican Army, Hizballah, and Al Qaeda. McCrea's stated purpose, to create two analytical frameworks for decision makers to understand the workings of terrorist groups, is admirably fulfilled.
Perhaps the most impressive element of McCrea's book is the level at which it engages the reader. Each chapter opens with exercises that may ask the reader to draw a simple diagram or explain how one should react when faced with specific circumstances – all providing parallels to activities in our everyday lives that may not seem applicable to counterterrorism, but seen in a certain light, have powerful and practical implications. These exercises manage to be surprisingly illuminating and informative.
McCrea has achieved a winning analysis and format in this fine book. I, for one, would feel safer if I knew this book was on the book shelf of every police force, city councilperson, JTTF, DA, mayor, and governor in America. I also suspect that this book will stimulate needed debate and conversation about how terrorist groups should be perceived and countered.