This paper questions the claim that British militarized security strategy in Northern Ireland offers a model for the global ‘war against terrorism’ by exploring the critically important (though neglected) ‘Falls Curfew’ episode. Part one explores the relationship between law, legitimacy, and the role of the military in democracies experiencing violent conflict. Part two examines the operationalization of the law on military intervention during the curfew, drawing on archival material and employing empirical studies. Part three draws overall conclusions, relating the contribution that the curfew made to the escalation of the conflict to its operational aspects and legal underpinnings. Failings are identified, and some general lessons drawn out about the dangers of a ‘war’ model in complex and violent political disorders.