An Evaluation of “A Case History on the Killing of Rats and Terrorists”

     In his essay, “A Case History on the Killing of Rats and Terrorists,” Kenneth Janda contends that the only way to eradicate terrorism is by eliminating the complex conditions which cause it. This conclusion is themed around an otherwise colorful analogy which compares rats to terrorists, arguing that an inability to eliminate rats through outright killing means that terrorists cannot be eliminated this way either, and so addressing the causes of terrorism is the only effective means of action because addressing the causes of rats (e.g. their food sources) is the only effective means of eliminating rats. Janda transitions into a discussion of the failure of Americans to understand the causes of terrorism and cites the real reasons he believes may be responsible for terrorism. Primarily, though, Kenneth Janda is unable to establish that dealing with terrorism requires dealing with its causes and he relies largely on unsupported assertions to advance his contention that the results of terrorism are complex.

     Janda’s case begins with an analogous argument which compares rats to terrorists. He claims that the two are similar in that “both are widely feared and dispersed, both move underground surreptitiously, and both can’t be exterminated by killing them.” His early focus in the essay is demonstrating, briefly, that rats cannot be exterminated by killing them and thus, he transitions, neither can terrorists. The analogy does have issues in that rats are feared only by some for various reasons (e.g. phobias, damage to structures) while terrorists are feared as a threat to one’s immediate life. Similarly, the comment about moving underground is very different between rats and terrorists: rats live in a variety of habitats (which may literally be underground) while this statement assumes a different kind of underground: that terrorists shroud themselves in secrecy; barring the above-board drone-strikes that the United States has committed against foreign countries, which could easily be described as terrorist, the two comparisons are dissimilar. What’s most important to note is that “rat” refers to the physical species while “terrorist” refers, not to a human, but to a class of human who commits acts of terrorism. Thus, fighting “terrorists” is as much about fighting the causes of terrorist acts as it is fighting the individuals who perpetuate them. The author does argue this position, but this conclusion does not follow from their analogy. Janda, in supporting his conclusion that rats cannot be exterminated by killing them, states that history has demonstrated these events to be in vain and similarly states that Robert Sullivan, an author of “Rats,” says that eradicating rats requires the removal of their source of food over outright killing. No historical examples are cited to support this point and so a non-descript reference to “history” is meaningless. Similarly, it’s questionable as to why Robert Sullivan should be regarded as an authority on the methods of rat extermination. Anything to establish Robert Sullivan as a relevant authority on the matter is unmentioned. As such, Janda fails to even establish the base of his analogy (that rats can’t be exterminated by outright killing and should therefore be exterminated by a removal of their food source). Even if he could his premise on eradicating rats, it still wouldn’t warrant any similar conclusion being drawn about terrorists. Fortunately this otherwise colorful analogy, which serves predominantly to add a themactic backdrop to his conclusion, is not the basis of his argument. He asserts another independent argument to make his case, and even his base position that terrorists should be eliminated by fighting the causes of terrorism—though it cannot be supported by the analogy—could still easily be made on the basis of common-sense.

     Kenneth Janda, in support of his primary conclusion (that terrorists need to be eradicated by eliminating the causes of terrorism), both explores specific failures to understand the causes of terrorism and core reasons which he believes are more likely to be the cause. When discussing the failures to understand the causes of terrorism, he uses a modus tollens argument about the public statements from George Bush. George Bush stated multiple times in his commentaries that terrorism resulted from hatred of American freedoms (this was implied as an exclusive cause). Janda notes that terrorist activities are carried out against the citizenry of Middle-Eastern states as well, so hatred of American freedoms cannot be the sole reason. Now, contextually speaking, George Bush was speaking about the terrorist activities committed against the United States. This argument, though its conclusion may be true, commits the fallacy of false equivocation. Terrorism, as used by George Bush, really refers to terrorism that is committed against the United States, while it is broadened in the second premise to refer to terrorism in general. Afterward, he notes that the position that American freedoms cause terrorist activites may have some merit as the freedom of expression within the United States leads to media-based material that is fundamentally conflicting with Islamic faith. He uses both of these points to establish that the causes of terrorism are more complex than Americans assume. This may well be the case, and his exploration of American foreign policies in the subsequent portions of his would seem to bolster this conclusion, but his argument to support why it has been misunderstood is fallacious. Furthermore, George Bush should not be regarded as representative of the American people. Stating that the causes of terrorism are poorly understood is a general statement (it’d be different if he were arguing that George Bush didn’t understand the causes of terrorism), so demonstrating this by examining George Bush is fallacious because it’s not representative of the American people. Later in the essay, he does still attempt to advance his conclusion that Americans are ill-equiped to understand terrorists, which could be fairly treated as being synonymous with the causes of terrorism (as it is the cause that makes the terrorist). He attempts to support this by citing a study that indicates that of 1.8 million American graduates in 2003 only 22 took degrees in Arabic. This statistic, regardless of its accuracy, is a semi-attached figure, meaning that while it seems like it’s applicable to the issue, the ability of Americans to understand Arabic no more allows them to understand Islamic terrorists and terrorism than understanding English allows them to understand politics, psychology, and Christianity. Overall, while the conclusion that the causes of terrorism are complex may have merit, it is fallaciously demonstrated in failures to understand this point.

     The author attempts to conclude his position with a discussion of American policies that he implicitly believes may be responsible for terrorist activities. He cites American governmental policies of supporting foreign authoritarian governments out of self-interest, supporting Israel over Palestine in Israeli and Palestinian conflicts, and the corrosive-nature of widespread America media in eroding foreign cultures and supplanting their values with American ones (this is noted as especially problematic with traditional societies), all as possible causes of terrorism due to their tendency to evoke animosity toward the United States. When introducing these possible reasons, he unfortunately states that “reporters” have provided these reasons without actually citing specific sources, leaving the politically-uninformed reader unsure as to what he may be referring to. Specific authorities on the matter or specific references of these policies would be required to support his case, and while they may well be true, they amount to little more than hearsay when presented in this manner. This argument, in combination with his argument about American failures to understand the causes of terrorism, are used to support his contention that the causes of terrorism are quite complex. He does add, as an additional point of commentary, that a person doesn’t necessarily need to eliminate the causes of terrorism at all costs, but they should at least be better understood. In connection with the author’s cited statistic of the amount of American graduates who studied Arabic, he cites the words of an air-force cryptographer and a director of a language project funded by the Department of Defense: “Five billion dollars for an F-22 will not help us win the battle against terrorism. Language that helps us understand why they’re trying to harm us will.” On the surface, this seems to sound like the exact position of the author, but what is exactly meant by “language” is ambiguous without context. This passage follows right after the citation of American graduates who studied Arabic, so is the author still attempting to reinforce that an understanding of the Arabic language is necessary to understanding terrorism, or is the author now interpreting “language” as referring to the causation of terrorism and using this to support their main point? Regardless of what the case is, it is not clear why this individual should be regarded as an authority on matters of politics, religion, psychology, or other relevant matters. He may sound like an authority merely because he is cited as being funded by the Department of Defense, but affiliations mean nothing as electricians and janitors can also work for the Department of Defense. Overall, Janda is able to use these two points to establish, albeit shakily, that the causes of terrorism are complex, but he is unable to reasonably establish that dealing with terrorism means understanding and working to eliminate these initial causes.

     Kenneth Janda struggles to establish his conclusion that terrorism results from complex issues and that the effectiveness in dealing with it depends on understanding and eliminating its causes. While both of these positions may be true, the reasoning in the essay used to establish them is incredibly weak or non-existent, with the argument for eliminating causes falling largely to the human inference of how causality works rather than his colorful analogy about rat extermination. He is able to establish, to some degree, that the causes of terrorism are complex, but an almost total lack of specificity in his sources or in references that support his statements leaves his position as little more than hearsay without independent information being brought in by the reader. Credibility may be granted to him on the basis of his doctorate in political science, but barring his assumed experience and knowledge, the essay itself does almost nothing to inform the reader of anything that the reader would not already need to know in order to trust. The arguments used in the essay are largely nondeductive, such as the analogous arguments or the usage of authorities, and many are invalid because they employ fallacious reasoning, such as false equivocation or the usage of semi-attached figures. This is to say nothing of questionable ethical assertions like, “few U.S. citizens would object to killing terrorists,” which remained outside of the scope of the argumentative analysis. Ultimately, the essay itself is ineffective because its core contention about fighting the causes of terrorism rather than the results is largely supported by the reader’s common-sense about causality (after a failed analogy) and its core supporting contention about the causes of terrorism being complex is only held afloat by the doctoral degree of the author after an utter lack of specificity in references and sources prevent anything useful from being gleaned.


Janda, Kenneth. “A Case History on the Killing of Rats and Terrorists.” Chicago Tribune, 4 July 2004. Accessed 7 August 2016. Web.


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