Dead or alive: American vengeance goes global

Michael Sherry*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


After 11 September 2001, the Administration of George W. Bush dismissed any criminal-justice model, put forth by various voices at home and abroad, for understanding and combating terrorism. This was ‘war’, the President insisted on 17 September, as he did repeatedly - directly, implicitly, and by analogy-in his 20 September address to Congress and on many later occasions, with American war in Afghanistan and later Iraq making that claim true. The criminal-justice model persisted, however, not least in Bush's more colourful rhetoric. As he commented on the 17th regarding Osama bin Laden, ‘There's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, “Wanted: Dead or Alive”’. On the 20th came his odd analogy, ‘Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime’. On 11 October, drawing on crime-fighters’ lingo, he announced a ‘Most Wanted Terrorist list’ as part of his effort to ‘round up’ - both cowboy and cop words-‘the evildoers’.’ In word and action, he kept blurring the neat line between war and crime he asserted. To be sure, war and crime have long overlapped in deed, law, and rhetoric. Hence the term ‘war crimes’ and the recognition in international law that starting a war may be a crime (as some foes accused Bush of committing by invading Iraq). American leaders on occasion had figured the fascist and communist threats as criminal enterprises, and Al Qaeda had abundant attributes of such an enterprise and few of conventional war-making. But Bush's fondness for the crime-fighting mode was more persistent and ingrained.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationForce and Legitimacy in World Politics
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780511622021
ISBN (Print)9780521691642
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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