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Nonfiction in Brief

April 10, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

REVOLUTIONARIES AND FUNCTIONARIES The Dual Face of Terrorism by Richard Falk (E.P. Dutton: $16.95) Astutely sensing that Americans are more likely to question their assumptions about foreign policy in the aftermath of Iran-Contra, the author, a Princeton professor, suggests that terrorism is not simply an act of "desperation and depravity (by) dispossessed individuals." Cool, rational government "functionaries" can commit terrorism too, Richard Falk contends, and often with no more restraint or rationality, as a comparison of the South African government with the relatively pacifist African National Congress (ANC) suggests. Falk singles out the United States for special scrutiny, for "we commit ourselves ardently to the very kinds of political violence we deplore if used by those who are seen as pursuing goals hostile to our foreign policy interests."

Refreshingly, Falk isn't another academic lambasting past mistakes. He keeps this book focused on practical concerns--how to mitigate terrorism, ensure safety for world citizens and protect U.S. national security. Most of Falk's theories should win broad support for their sensibility--but not all. Falk strays onto more controversial ground in deeming it "legally and morally justified" for members of the PLO and ANC to resort to "political violence" vis-a-vis Israel and South Africa. Falk's conviction that world nations must come to a common understanding of what constitutes terrorism is well-founded, but such a conference is unlikely to occur as long as the notion of overthrowing nations is sanctioned. And yet, while Falk doesn't have all of the answers, "Revolutionaries and Functionaries" does a service for America, showing that acts designed to help our country often only weaken it, fomenting anger among foreigners who see little distinction between our "mercenaries" and their "terrorists."

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