Two-thirds of the residents in the areas studied lent no active support to the insurgents. Instead, Wood finds that the backgrounds and motivations of the insurgents were highly diverse, from personal grievances and perceived injustices to liberation theology. Her important conclusion is that, once joining the insurgency, individuals all “took pride, indeed pleasure, in the successful assertion of their interests and identity”—in what she terms the “pleasure of agency.” In short, insurgents “were motivated in no small part by the value they put on taking part in the making of history.”
A unifying set of themes was characteristic of those campesino-insurgents who engaged in and actively supported the insurgency—resentment at the social conditions before the war, aspirations for a different, hopefully more just social and economic order, moral outrage at earlier repression, and pride in what the insurgency achieved. All these themes were muted or absent in interviews with those who did not support the insurgency. This strongly suggests that a new political culture emerged during the civil war among those who supported and joined the insurgency. From diverse beginnings, their political identities were transformed through the struggles of the years of civil war. A new, more explicitly political culture emerged as the insurgent formations constituted themselves and took action, at the same time shaping those involved into new identities as militant activists. “[I]t was participation, rather than other factors,” Wood concludes, “that accounts for insurgent political … culture.”
Insurgency is an emergent phenomenon, in other words. Its shape and dynamic follow no general laws of cause and effect but instead are outcomes of highly complex processes of feedback and interaction. Does the same apply to terrorism as a subset of insurgencies, and in particular to the radical Islamist variety of it that the world now confronts? I am very skeptical of any overall pattern of congruence, as noted earlier, but at the level of a newly emergent organizational structure that generates its own identities and loyalty, this at least deserves serious consideration. Efforts to deal with indigenous practices or occasions of terrorism may need to have the same flexibility of structure, goals, and tactics and a readiness both for sudden, resolute advance and strategic compromise or withdrawal, as was characteristic of other insurgencies like the well-reported one in El Salvador.
In contrast, foreign, internationally moving and communicating networks of fully committed terrorists are an essentially different question. Rootless in a given country of operations, they are relatively unrestrained by gradations and qualifications of support from the population of the host country. Moreover the psychological and socioeconomic impacts they seek are international, with little regard for the interests of the host country. As a result, their growing influence and (perhaps exaggerated reputation for) effectiveness is perhaps the most dynamic and dangerous challenge the world now faces. Experience gained in this project, however, and in the comparative material with which it provided some familiarity, unfortunately provides little or no information that is helpful in dealing with them.