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Dr. Randall Bowdish discusses shock, awe, and terrorism

Dr. Randall G. Bowdish 091713Dr. Randall G. Bowdish, a retired Navy captain with a Ph.D. in Political Science, gave a lecture on “Shock, Awe and Terrorism: Psychological factors behind terror attacks” at The Institute of World Politics on September 17, 2013.

Dr. Bowdish started by examining what terrorism is and how we define it, explaining that there are several interpretations and different ways to look at it. He compared the three definitions given by the Department of State, the FBI and the Department of Defense. His argument emphasized the problematic definition of terrorism, which can even include activities of organizations like the Animal Liberation Front or the Earth Liberation Front. In doing so, Dr. Bowdish underlined the conceptual stretching that can occur when thinking about terrorism.

Dr. Bowdish then described some of the beginnings of terrorism through historic milestones that actually helped the terrorist cause. He talked about the late 19th century anarchists and the use of propaganda; later radio, international newspapers, and cinema played a part. Dr. Bowdish stressed the peculiar evolution of the terrorist way of acting, namely the hostage-taking phenomenon of the 60s and 70s.

He argued that propaganda in our times can really be defined as the “propaganda of the deed,” which bypasses armies and directly targets symbolic places or people. This new approach is said to be entirely part of what he calls “newsworthiness.” The “shock” factor plays a crucial role, sometimes pushing the media too far in showing some crude acts.

Dr. Bowdish discussed the unregulated nature of the internet, where one can learn to build a bomb, and the private ownership of mass media, such as Hezbollah’s “Al-Manar TV.”

Throughout his lecture, Dr. Bowdish made fundamental points about phsychological factors, the power of images, and the psychology of the fear appeal. His explanation of the tool of propaganda and of cognitive dissonance were just a few of the insightful points he made in his lecture.

Lorenzo Vermigli,
Intern, Fall 2013