The war on terror as a discourse assumes that terrorism is an essential threat of global proportions, is mostly perpetuated by Islamist networks, and requires a strong international response. This discourse had tremendous impacts on both domestic and international politics. Consequentially, a large number of studies analyse the assumptions underlying and the policies legitimised by the war on terror discourse. However, existing work mostly focusses on one or a few cases, predominantly in the global north. This article introduces a novel dataset containing information on the war on terror discourse in the school textbooks of 36 countries, representing around 64% of the world's population, for the period 2003-2014. Based on this dataset, I present the first comprehensive analysis of the global diffusion of the war on terror discourse. The study finds that the discourse has by no means globalised but is mostly limited to wealthy countries in Europe and North America. There are hence clear limits to the USA's soft power and the hyper-globalisation of terrorism discourses. Factors like terrorism intensity, armed conflict and authoritarian regime have little predictive power. This is despite clear incentives for challenged (authoritarian) regimes to adapt the war on terror discourse. Contrary to common assumptions in critical security and terrorism studies, the war on terror discourse is hardly associated with an emphasis on terrorists' irrationality and hatred or with the marginalisation of socio-political grievances.