Terrorists are Bad

Let's try another angle: Nobody likes terrorists, right?

I mean, those of us who aren't terrorists can all agree that, you know, terrorism is Bad and terrorists are Bad People, right?

I see most of you nodding but a few of you — that bunch there in the back — look worried. You're probably wondering if this is some kind of trick question.

It's not. Or at least not in the wingnut sense of pretending-everybody-I-disagree-with-is-a-terrorist-and/or-lover-of-terrorists (such as).

But the answer does depend, of course, on how we define "terrorist" — and that can be trickier than it seems at first, which may be why, four years into our country's "Global War on Terrorism," we still seem to be using the term with little more in mind than some vaguely Potter-Stewart-ish "I know it when I see it" definition.

Part of the reason a more specific, more useful definition is difficult to suss out is that different actors have an interest in keeping this term as vague as possible. Terrorists want to keep the definition unclear because they like to pretend they're not terrorists. And governments like to keep the definition unclear because they like to pretend that all of their enemies are terrorists.

This blurring of definitions has crossed over to muddle the meaning of the word "guerrilla" as well. Simple terrorists, again, like to pretend they're actually guerrilla fighters. And regimes battling actual guerrilla fighters like to pretend they're fighting simple terrorists. (This latter is unhelpful — and militarily disastrous — in that it seems to have contributed to those regimes surprised befuddlement whenever they encounter what they've taken to calling "asymmetric warfare," which ought to be entirely predictable.)

McSidenote: I have a familial stake in maintaining the distinction between guerrilla warfare and terrorism. My great, great, great, great grandfather was a captain in the New Jersey Militia while that state/colony was under British occupation. The asymmetric warfare conducted by this militia was directed, ultimately, by Gen. George Washington, who later became the namesake for a city filled with people who seem to think that this is a novel, 21st-century strategy.

Despite all this disingenuous mislabeling, the hallmark of terrorism remains clear: Terrorists kill civilians. And you're not allowed to do that.

See, for example, the precise and helpful definition of terrorism in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d):

The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

The Navy Library helps clarify that term "noncombatants":

For purposes of this definition, the term "noncombatant" is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty. … We also consider as acts of terrorism attacks on military installations or on armed military personnel when a state of military hostilities does not exist at the site.

More on this later.

  • aunursa

    I was referring only to those [Iraqi insurgent] groups fighting the occupation forces.
    There exist insurgent groups that only attack the foreign forces and never target Iraqi civilians or Iraqi government authorities?

  • aunursa

    “You’re Not Allowed To Kill Civilians” is a straw man argument.

  • aunursa

    However, many people seem to think that our killing of 30,000 Iraqi civilians is somehow more justified than Al Qaeda’s killing of 3,000 American civilians solely because the death of civilians was not our end goal, unlike Al Qaeda. But I imagine that bin Laden could use a similar rationale: his INTENT was to strike a blow at a military building (the Pentagon), and the people on board the plane were, regrettably, collateral damage.
    Please don’t insult our intelligence. You don’t seriously believe that bin Laden would consider the people on board the plane to be (regrettably) collateral damage. The only reason that the terrorists chose those routes was that fewer passengers meant fewer potential obstacles. If there were no such concern, they certainly would have chosen planes with every seat taken so as to increase the number of dead.
    And while Al Qaida’s plot guaranteed the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the airplanes alone, American (and other) militaries not only don’t target civilians, but when they are required to take actions that DO endanger civilians, they attempt to minimize the number of civilian casualties.

  • Jesurgislac

    Duane, I see you have given up trying to argue sensibly (presumably on the basis that you always lose) and gone over to personal attacks.
    I actually prefer Aunursa to you: I disagree with Aunursa’s POV, but at least s/he doesn’t go in for personal attacks.
    Aunursa: American (and other) militaries not only don’t target civilians, but when they are required to take actions that DO endanger civilians, they attempt to minimize the number of civilian casualties.
    Cluster bombs on cities, Aunursa. There is no way to minimize civilian casualties when you drop a cluster bomb on a city street. A military who turn city streets into minefields intentionally are intentionally killing civilians.
    There exist insurgent groups that only attack the foreign forces and never target Iraqi civilians or Iraqi government authorities?
    See the link to resistence and collaboration under a military occupation. Living under a foreign military occupation (that, let’s not forget, kills, jails, tortures and murders people): living with armed resistance to the military occupation and to the locals who collaborate with the military occupation: attempting to keep your life and your family going: the only thing left to say is you’re not allowed to kill civilians. The US aren’t allowed to do it, but they do: the Iraqis aren’t allowed to do it, but they do. Both sides are deliberately killing civilians, both sides have committed atrocities: none of this was avoidable, except by not getting the US into the position of military occupation in the first place.

  • Jesurgislac

    Bugmaster: Doesn’t matter. Incinerating a city when a single squad of marines could’ve done the job is poor, stupid warfare, but it’s still warfare. Not terrorism. As I said, it’s the intent that matters.
    So, providing Osama bin Laden’s intent was to destroy the WTC and the Pentagon – to attack the center of the US financial empire and the center of the US military empire – which, you know, I am fairly sure it was – you’re okay with that, because it’s warfare. It’s intent that matters, and it’s not relevant that bin Laden’s intent to bring down the WTC and the Pentagon would, as surely as the US’s missile attacks on Fallujah, kill thousans of civilians.
    Basically, this just gives a free pass to practically any atrocity, Bugmaster, so long as it’s committed by your side. Because you just believe your side when they claim “Sure, we bombed Fallujah. But our intent was to kill insurgents! Never mind that we turned back civilians into the city we intended to destroy, and wouldn’t let them leave: never mind that we attacked homes and hospitals and shot at ambulances: our intent was to kill insurgents only, and we tell you that was our intent and you believe us, so all the civilians we knew we were killing and all the homes we knew we were destroying – none of that counts. Right? Mind control: it absolves your side of everything.

  • Bugmaster

    Basically, this just gives a free pass to practically any atrocity, Bugmaster, so long as it’s committed by your side.
    When did I say that ?
    As you said, Bin Laden’s objective was to bring down the WTC, which was full of civilians. Hence, he’s a terrorist. Seems pretty clear-cut to me. Actually, this brings me to my next point.
    Terrorists aren’t subhuman, but they are alien to us in one important respect. They wholeheartedly believe that every man, woman and child in America and Israel is, at worst, a literal spawn of Satan; or, at best, an [sub]human enemy of Islam (or whatever ideology you prefer) who needs to be eradicated. This is what separates terrorists from us, and no amount of diplomacy will ever change this situation. Terrorists do not discuss the ethics of warfare on their forums. Gradual cultural and genetic drift may eventually unify our two cultures (or it might not), but this is a process that will take hundreds of years.
    I’m all for bulbul’s suggestion to “learn from past experience” etc. However, unlike bulbul, I do not presume to be anywhere nearly competent enough to judge the pros and cons of military strategy and tactics. I wouldn’t expect a four-star general to code my CMS framework for me, and, similarly, I don’t presume to dictate to him how to command troops in battle. I honestly do believe that, sometimes (note: not all the time ! “sometimes” doesn’t mean “always” !), cluster-bombing is the only viable strategy. I am also all for developing new strategies; but, meanwhile, we should use what we have available.
    In war, people get killed. We should strive to minimize the number of people that are killed, on both sides. If cluster-bombing a missile site prevents terrorists from launching rockets into major cities, killing thousands of civilians in the process… then, it’s pretty much guaranteed that either one side or the other will suffer civilian losses. Who is a terrorist and who isn’t is, in this case, not even all that important. Minimizing casualties is what’s important, the rest are just labels.

  • Jesurgislac

    As you said, Bin Laden’s objective was to bring down the WTC, which was full of civilians. Hence, he’s a terrorist.
    And the US military’s objective was to attack Fallujah, which was full of civilians. Hence, the US military are terrorists.
    They wholeheartedly believe that every man, woman and child in America and Israel is, at worst, a literal spawn of Satan; or, at best, an [sub]human enemy of Islam (or whatever ideology you prefer) who needs to be eradicated.
    Ah. So that’s why the IRA were planting bombs in London, and that’s why the contras were blowing up schools in Nicaragua. Fancy. I never knew: because “they wholeheartedly believe that every man, woman and child in America and Israel is, at worst, a literal spawn of Satan”.
    Do you not see any problem with so wholeheartedly identifying terrorism with Islam, and Islam with terrorism?
    I honestly do believe that, sometimes (note: not all the time ! “sometimes” doesn’t mean “always” !), cluster-bombing is the only viable strategy.
    So, you believe that sometimes, “the only viable strategy” is to deliberately kill civilians. That makes you, by your definition, at least a virtual terrorist.
    The example of cluster bombing “a missile site” isn’t the one I offered: it was cluster-bombing a city/town street, as the US military have done in Iraq (and did in Afghanistan, adding new minefields to a country that needed nothing less).

  • Jesurgislac

    Put another way, Bugmaster: your argument amounts to that terrorists are bad because they think bad thoughts, and the US military is not bad because they think good thoughts. You’re arguing that killing civilians is a viable strategy, so long as you think good thoughts while you do so.
    Oddly enough, that’s the justification terrorists use, too.

  • bulbul

    Beth,
    I’m sorry, I’m the one who is missing something.

  • bulbul

    Terrorists aren’t subhuman, but they are alien to us in one important respect. They wholeheartedly believe that every man, woman and child in America and Israel is, at worst, a literal spawn of Satan; or, at best, an [sub]human enemy of Islam (or whatever ideology you prefer) who needs to be eradicated.
    I’m trying to guess how much time elapsed before you realized what was wrong with this and added the ‘or whatever ideology you prefer’ bit. Because originally, this was solely about Islam and terrorism, wasn’t it? In any case, in the light of this, I stand by my previous statement.
    Oh and you are wrong, both when it comes to ‘islamic terrorists’ and when it comes to other ‘terrorist’ groups. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have made the news in the past few days. Are you telling me that they believe that every man, woman and child in America and Israel is, at worst, a literal spawn of Satan; or, at best, an [sub]human enemy of their ideology?

  • PK

    Bugmaster: Honestly, I don’t know what Fred is trying to accomplish. Yes, we all agree that murder is bad, and that war is hell, and that terrorism needs to stop. So… what next ? Fred, what actual measures do you want us to take ?
    Exactly. Fred, your CD is scratched. Please skip to the next track.

  • Jesurgislac

    Bugmaster: Honestly, I don’t know what Fred is trying to accomplish. Yes, we all agree that murder is bad, and that war is hell, and that terrorism needs to stop. So… what next ? Fred, what actual measures do you want us to take ?
    I don’t know what Fred wants you to do, Bugmaster, but given that you’ve been consistently arguing all down the thread that it’s okay to kill civilians so long as you think good thoughts while you do it, then plainly we don’t all agree that murder is bad, or that terrorism needs to stop, since you’re okay with murder and terrorism so long as your own side is doing it: so perhaps actual measures you could take would be to figure out how you can convince yourself that it’s not okay to kill civilians, no matter how many good thoughts you think while doing it.
    PK, ditto.

  • Bugmaster

    I don’t know what Fred wants you to do, Bugmaster, but given that you’ve been consistently arguing all down the thread that it’s okay to kill civilians so long as you think good thoughts while you do it…
    Do I have an evil twin that’s hacking my blog comments ? Or what ? Because I still don’t recall saying that.
    Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have made the news in the past few days. Are you telling me that they believe that every man, woman and child in America and Israel is, at worst, a literal spawn of Satan; or, at best, an [sub]human enemy of their ideology?
    I don’t know much about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, so I can’t comment; I was commenting primarily on our most recent adversaries, who are Muslims. However, I think that any culture that treats an entire country as being populated with nothing but enemies — enemies of Islam, or of Christianity, or of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever — who must be killed… Such a culture is incompatible with ours on a very basic level. They will routinely target civilians for murder, and that makes them terrorists. However, note what I said earlier: the label “terrorism” really doesn’t mean much. From the point of view of the suicide bombers, they are the freedom-fighting holy martyrs.
    So, you believe that sometimes, “the only viable strategy” is to deliberately kill civilians. That makes you, by your definition, at least a virtual terrorist.
    Sure, if it makes you feel better. As I said earlier, I believe that sacrificing your own soldiers needlessly is stupid at best, criminal at worst. Soldiers’ lives are important, despite what you seem to think — just ask their families. Military commanders have to constantly make tradeoffs between civilian lives and the lives of their own soldiers, and yes, sometimes this results in airstrikes. If you believe that the only possible tradeoff is, “sacrifice as many soldiers as it takes to save a single civilian”, then you’re incompetent at best, a criminal at worst. If you do not believe this, then you and I are on the same page.
    I think the mistake you’re making is thinking that we can somehow wave a magic wand of +5 Ethics, and destroy military objectives, which are housed in the middle of residential areas, with no civilian casualties. Unfortunately, such a wand does not exist.

  • Jesurgislac

    Bugmaster: Do I have an evil twin that’s hacking my blog comments ? Or what ? Because I still don’t recall saying that.
    I guess so. Your evil twin said here that “it’s the intent that matters” – so providing the people deliberately killing civilians are thinking good thoughts, it’s okay to deliberately kill civilians.

  • Jesurgislac

    Soldiers’ lives are important, despite what you seem to think — just ask their families.
    And while you’re at it, ask the soldiers if their families lives matter, or if it’s acceptable to kill their families in order to save the soldiers’ lives. That’s the trade-off you’re proposing: soldiers lives matter, so kill families to save them.

  • Angelika

    I find it very hard to draw a line between terrorism and ‘acceptable military methods’. We all tend to fight with the means at our disposal, whether that is a bomb strapped to the body or a missile fired from a safe distance. I suspect, a many suicide bombers would prefer to fight for their causes as normal soldiers and return to their homes and families after the fight, if there were a convential army to join with any chances of success.
    Most people agree – and this includes civilians, soldiers and terrorists – that killing a fellow human is not good. However, as this discussion shows, many people also consider that the evil of killing a human (or several thousands of them) can be considered preferable to allowing an even greater evil to happen or might be condoned in order to serve a greater good (like political independence or a better social order or access to natural resources etc.). – Of course, most people also prefer, if bad happenings are unavoidable, that they rather happen to unknown people for whom they don’t care that much. -
    However, the solution to the dilemma is not to try to establish guidelines on how many casualties are okay for which cause and to be caused by which choice of weapon. Rather it would be helpful to consider, what actually the goals of the fighting groups are – and then try to search for alternative (unbloody) ways to reach said goals. (I’m not saying, that an alternative is always easily found and implemented – but looking at the situation in Iraq a viable alternative for the USA would have been to invest intensively in alternative energy sources rather than sending thousands of soldiers into their deaths in order to lay hands on the Iraqi oil.)

  • pharoute

    If you, a soldier in uniform, deliberately target and kill an unarmed person (aka a civilian) while not otherwise actively engaged in combat, that is murder. In a perfect world you’d be tried and convicted of such in an appropriate (military) court of law.
    If you, a soldier in uniform, suddenly come under fire from the general direction of down the block and to the right and you return fire in the general direction of down the block and to the right and unarmed person running for cover takes a couple, that is alas life in a war zone.
    If you, a former member of a disbanded army, using your knowledge to plant a roadside bomb to blow up a vehicle/patrol of an occupying force, that is an insurgency. Expect a military response.
    If you, a former member of a disbanded army, using your knowledge to plant a car bomb in front of another sect’s house of worship, that is terrorism. In a perfect world you’d be tried and convicted of such in an appropriate (civilian) court of law.
    Basically to me it seems these threads have been dancing around a couple of points:
    1) Terrorists/terrorism (al qaeda/tamil tigers/IRA) is a crime that should full under a civilian police response. This of course is predicated on there existing an effective civilian justice system.
    2) Dropping bombs indiscriminately (and just cause it’s laser guided doesn’t mean it’s not an indiscriminate bombing) increases the resolve of the people being bombed.
    3) Rules of war go out the window during actual wartime.
    4) Occupying a country that is rife with division (Religious/Tribal/Ethnic/Geographic) is a very bad idea.
    My 2/100ths

  • Beth

    Bulbul,
    In any case, in the light of this, I stand by my previous statement.
    I’m afraid you have a point. Looks like I may have been missing something after all.
    Angelika,
    I find it very hard to draw a line between terrorism and ‘acceptable military methods’. We all tend to fight with the means at our disposal, whether that is a bomb strapped to the body or a missile fired from a safe distance.
    You’re confusing means with target. The suicide bomber’s a terrorist, not because he uses a vest instead of a missle, but because he uses it to kill civilians. Someone who carries out a suicide attack against an enemy tank is not a terrorist; someone who fires a missle at a restaurant with no military value is.
    Is that line a little clearer now?
    I suspect, a many suicide bombers would prefer to fight for their causes as normal soldiers and return to their homes and families after the fight, if there were a convential army to join with any chances of success.
    Yes, and I suspect that many US military leaders would have preferred it if the people of Fallujah had simply handed over the insurgents and welcomed our troops as liberators and would have asked them to if they’d thought they’d have any chance of success.
    Once again, “the only way” fallacy rears its ugly head.
    Pharoute,
    Overall, that looks like a good summary, but I’m not really comfortable with this:
    If you, a soldier in uniform, suddenly come under fire from the general direction of down the block and to the right…
    Would you be as quick to shoot if you were a police officer patrolling your own neighborhood?
    I’d also point out that #2 is equally true whether you drop the bombs or strap them to your body.

  • bulbul

    However, I think that any culture that treats an entire country as being populated with nothing but enemies — enemies of Islam, or of Christianity, or of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever — who must be killed… Such a culture is incompatible with ours on a very basic level.
    Congratulation, you have now officially proven that your knowledge of the real world is no par with that of the current US president. The major proof: you believe that a minor part of one of the world cultures actually represents the entire culture.
    You also seem to believe that there are cultures on this planet who treat entire countries as being populated with nothing but enemies. I am wondering what is the origin of that belief. Are you that familiar with said cultures?

  • Angelika

    Is that line a little clearer now?
    Not really. Because the means we have to fight also tend to limit the targets we can hit. Armies tend not to operate in a social vacuum. They are supported by the people, who would reap the benefits of an eventual victory or suffer the consequences of a defeat. If there doesn’t seem to be a way to overthrow a military power by directly attacking soldiers/building or equipment thereof, but there seems to be a chance to reach the goal by attacking the the greater social network by which said military power is supported, it seems to be the logical option to go for that approach. Very conventional approaches like bombing bridges, roads and powerstations go for the same strategy. In that context also the restaurant has a military value to it – because the hope of the one sending the missile is, that it would up-set the people supporting the superior military force enough to consider to draw-back from the conflict. (I agree with pharoute, though, that the approach is not a really effective one – and I’d vastly prefer people not to use it.)
    Once again, “the only way” fallacy rears its ugly head.
    I did not claim, violent actions against unarmed civilians were the only way there is for the people who choose to use this strategy – but I assume for a lot of people, it is the only way they see. And I don’t even think, most of them like it.

  • Bugmaster

    That’s the trade-off you’re proposing: soldiers lives matter, so kill families to save them.
    Yes, this is exactly what I said. Note that this is a trade-off, which means that it’s possible to lose more soldiers to save more civilians, and vice versa, and a wise man would continuously strive to minimize needless death. It’s like pharoute said: if a soldier comes under attack, and returns fire, there’s a chance he might hit a civilian. It sucks, but that’s war for you.
    You also seem to believe that there are cultures on this planet who treat entire countries as being populated with nothing but enemies. I am wondering what is the origin of that belief. Are you that familiar with said cultures?
    Yes, intimately. I used to live in the USSR, when it was still the USSR. And, while not everyone in the USSR bought into the official propaganda, most people really did believe that every man, woman, and child in America was out to oppress them. And, I can definitely understand a culture where (as reported recently) children are raised practically from birth to hate Jews, Americans, and pretty much every other non-Muslim. USSR was pretty twisted (still is, really); so is North Korea, and so is Iraq, Iran, Palestine, whatever.
    Angelika is right — the only alternative to war is to seek alternative means to resolving conflicts. Unfortunately, this is often simply impossible. When rockets are raining down on your head, it’s too late for fostering long-term diplomatic solutions.

  • bulbul

    I used to live in the USSR, when it was still the USSR. And, while not everyone in the USSR bought into the official propaganda, most people really did believe that every man, woman, and child in America was out to oppress them.
    Well, let’s ignore the fact that first you talked about killing, but now you switched to oppressing. I used to live in Czechoslovakia when it was still Czechoslovakia, USSR when it was still USSR and Hungary when it was still a socialist republic. I know for a fact that hardly anyone ever bought to government propaganda, almost everybody listened to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, almost everybody knew someone who had either been to or had relatives in the West and NOBODY believed that Americans, West Germans, the French or the Swedish were trying to kill us, oppress us or steal our candy. We kne w very well it was our own government who was screwing with us and we didn’t believe a word that came out of their mouths/presses. In other words: you are full of shit.
    And is it just me or did you just compare the common people of the Soviet Bloc to islamic terrorists?
    USSR was pretty twisted (still is, really); so is North Korea, and so is Iraq, Iran, Palestine, whatever.
    Ladies and gentlemen, international politics 101 according to Bugmaster.

  • Duane

    War and killing is a lot like drinking and driving.

  • Jesurgislac

    Yes, this is exactly what I said.
    Okay: just so long as you’re clear that you’re for deliberately killing civilians in order to minimize harm to combatants. So, you’re okay with the al-Qaeda tactic of attacking the WTC and the Pentagon at a cost of only 19 of their combatants, regardless of the fact that this killed 3000 civilians. That’s a strategy you’ve just endorsed: to minimize the number of combatants killed at the expense of civilians killed.

  • none

    Angelika,
    I just came back from shooting up the halal restaurant down the street. Don’t worry, it was perfectly justified. See, I lack the weapons to hit bin Laden, and I’m hoping killing random Muslims will encourage him to give himself up. I was put off at first by your unique brand of morality, but now that I’ve embraced it, I see just how emotionally satisfying it really is.

  • Bugmaster

    And is it just me or did you just compare the common people of the Soviet Bloc to islamic terrorists?
    Oh, absolutely. They are both people who are born and raised under an oppresive regime which controls all education and media; outputs anti-Western propaganda daily; and imprisons or kills all dissidents. Do you think this is inaccurate ?
    Naturally not everyone buys into the party line (it really depends on where you live and what your social status is); however, most people in the USSR did. I don’t know much about Hungary, so I can’t speak for it.
    Okay: just so long as you’re clear that you’re for deliberately killing civilians in order to minimize harm to combatants.
    Oooh, and you were so close… Too bad.
    What I’m saying that every military decision is a tradeoff between losing civilians and losing your own soldiers. A “tradeoff” means that you can trade one for the other, not that you are committed to maximizing one at the expense of the other. Dropping a cluster bomb on a city because there might be a single gunman there is stupid and immoral. Throwing a grenade around the corner because there’s gunfire coming from there is not, especially when the alternative is to watch every soldier in the detachment get shot.
    Also, remember that al-Quaeda sees everyone in the US as an enemy combatant (if you believe their proclamations, of course). According to them, our country contains no civilians. So, by your own logic, their actions are justified, because killing soldiers is ok — right ?

  • pharoute

    Beth: hmm not exactly mainly because I view the police as a special group of civilians not as military personnel. A police officers first duty is to protect; a solider’s is to engage the enemy. Thus police bring in negotiation teams; a solider a morter barage. But that’s a perfect world response: police nowadays are just as likely to call in the armored RV instead of the negotiators.
    Also ‘hear, hear’ regarding point #2.

  • aunursa

    I actually prefer Aunursa to you: I disagree with Aunursa’s POV, but at least s/he doesn’t go in for personal attacks.
    I appreciate that.
    You’re arguing that killing civilians is a viable strategy, so long as you think good thoughts while you do so.
    Many terrorist groups act in a manner that makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stop them without putting civilians at risk. If we institute a policy that prohibits our military from taking any action that will or might endanger civilians, then the likely result will be the death of many more civilians (by the unchallenged terrorists) than without such a policy.
    Therefore the issue is not whether “it’s okay to kill civilians” or “it’s not okay to kill civilians.” The issue is whether it’s okay to target civilians.

  • bulbul

    Naturally not everyone buys into the party line (it really depends on where you live and what your social status is)
    Strange use of the present tense right there if you ask me…
    Oh, absolutely. They are both people who are born and raised under an oppresive regime which controls all education and media; outputs anti-Western propaganda daily; and imprisons or kills all dissidents.
    And how many Polish citizens have flown planes into American buildings or strapped on a dynamite belt?
    I’m starting to believe you are the prime example of those people who can’t let go of Cold War thinking and only replace Commies by Jihadists. Names may change, but the enemy is this monolithic mob of subhumans who hate our freedom.
    Do you think this is inaccurate ?
    Inaccurate is hardly the word.

  • bulbul

    Get off Angelika’s back, anonymous. The way I see it, she is both considering the whole terrorism thing from a tactical point of view AND trying to empathize with those who believe in “the only way”. And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Especially as far as empathy is concerned. Especially here on Fred’s blog.

  • bulbul

    If we institute a policy that prohibits our military from taking any action that will or might endanger civilians, then the likely result will be the death of many more civilians (by the unchallenged terrorists) than without such a policy.
    Once again, “the only way” fallacy rears its ugly head. This time in disguise.
    The issue is whether it’s okay to target civilians.
    Sigh.
    No, it’s not. Please refer to previous installments of this series.

  • bulbul

    Also, remember that al-Quaeda
    It’s late (or rather early) and I’m cranky, so please please please PLEASE:
    It’s al-Qaida. Or al-Qa’ida, if you want to earn extra good points with me.

  • dr ngo

    However, I think that any culture that treats an entire country as being populated with nothing but enemies — enemies of Islam, or of Christianity, or of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever — who must be killed… Such a culture is incompatible with ours on a very basic level. They will routinely target civilians for murder, and that makes them terrorists.
    Let me refer you to John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986), which documents in depressing detail how Americans came very close to taking just this attitude toward the Japanese (and vice-versa, to be sure) during the Pacific War. Deplorable as it may be, this kind of thinking is NOT “incompatible with our [culture] at a very basic level.” It is ours, at most a generation or two ago.

  • Jesurgislac

    Thank you, Aunursa. Let’s hope that we can continue to vehemently disagree on these important issues without descending to personal attacks/abuse.

  • Matt McIrvin

    “by subnational groups or clandestine agents”
    Nicely phrased, that. When it’s done by a nation instead of a subnational group or clandestine agent, then it’s not terrorism, it’s strategic bombing.

  • aunursa

    The issue is whether it’s okay to target civilians.
    Sigh.
    No, it’s not.
    Yes, it is. If you have an idea for how to flush out combatants that hide their soldiers and armaments among civilians, I’d love to hear it. And I know a few countries that would as well.

  • Jesurgislac

    Aunursa: If you have an idea for how to flush out combatants that hide their soldiers and armaments among civilians
    Looking at the slaughter in Iraq and Lebanon and in the Occupied Territories, a far more urgent step is how to stop armies from thinking it’s okay to kill a crowd of civilians because one of them may be a combatant.
    Or just claiming it, as when the IDF fires missiles at a hole in the ground to kill people hiding there: or when the US air force attacks a wedding party and then claims they must have been insurgents – 17 men, 11 women and 14 children: or when the Israeli airforce bombs a residential building and claims that they know that in the past attacks have been launched “from that area” so they think they’re entitled to kill any civilians who may be living nearby.
    The first rule is: you’re not allowed to kill civilians You’re forgetting that. Treating war as if it were a canned hunt, where the Israeli military should be able to “flush out” their targets, is dehumanizing and degrading to the hundreds of civilians they have killed in the last six weeks alone.

  • bulbul

    If you have an idea for how to flush out combatants that hide their soldiers and armaments among civilians
    Well, for starters, stop feeding us bullshit about combatants hiding among civilians.
    For the rest of my argument, refer to the “only way” fallacy discussed above and Jesurgislac’s latest post.

  • aunursa

    Mitch Prothero’s article in Salon was refuted here. It cites numerous sources, including a New York Times article that quoted a resident of the village of Ain Ebel, as well as various UN documents, that all verify that Hezbollah does use human shields, as well as preventing civilians from leaving their villages, and hiding weaponry in mosques, . As for the the rest of the argument, the Jesurgislac post didn’t actually answer the question of how to flush out combatants that use civilians as human shields.
    Treating war as if it were a canned hunt, where the Israeli military should be able to “flush out” their targets, is dehumanizing and degrading to the hundreds of civilians they have killed in the last six weeks alone.
    That doesn’t make sense. The entire point of requesting an idea for how to flush out the terrorists is to find an alternative to less precise methods that tragically do result in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Far from dehumanizing the non-combatants, such a method would result in their safety.
    The first rule is: you’re not allowed to kill civilians
    No, that’s not any rule, much less the first rule. There is no rule that “you’re not allowed to kill civilians”; nor is there a rule that “you are allowed to kill civilians.”

  • Eoghan

    A bit late to the thread but FWIW, this is my definition of terrorism.
    I agree that it is intent that matters, but not in the same way as some previous posters. There are two ways to defeat your enemies; degrade their ability to fight or degrade their will to fight. Degrading their ability involves killing soldiers, blowing up ammunition depots, cutting lines of supply and communication etc. Degrading their will to fight can involve making occupation too costly to be worth the effort, or making the enemy so terrified that they submit to your demands from fear of more attacks. Terrorism falls into the latter category.
    So an act of terror is one whose goal is to degrade the enemy’s will to fight through fear of a repeat attack.
    A further distinction can be made between terror acts such as bombing a restaurant and terror acts such as having your occupation military round up all the inhabitants of a village and execute one in four of them. In both cases the goal is to instill terror and force the enemy to submit to your demands from fear of a repeat but the tactics are different enough to demand different words. In common parlance the first is a terrorist act, the second is part of a reign of terror. This distinction is not for moral purposes, both acts are abhorrent, but rather for discussion of causes and solutions. Let’s say then that a terrorist act is a clandestine act, while a reign of terror is overt.
    Note that by this definition, it doesn’t matter whether the target of an act of terror (be it terrorism or reign of terror) is civilian or military. Attacks on civilians can be expected to inspire more terror since the military should be less prone to fear but attacks on military targets (e.g. the Cole, the Marine barracks) can be considered terrorist acts. Also note that terrorism is not by definition evil, though in practice most terrorist acts are evil for other reasons (such as killing civilians).
    A terrorist act therefore is a clandestine action whose goal is to force acceptance of your demands through fear of repeat attacks.

  • aunursa

    Eoghan,
    How would you distinguish a terrorist attack against a military target from other attacks on military targets? I fail to see the distinction between a clandestine and an overt attack on a military target?

  • Eoghan

    Aunursa,
    a clandestine attack on a military target would be, for example, casually driving an unmarked car close to a military base and detonating the bomb inside it; or piloting a small boat close to a warship under the guise of seeking assistance and then blowing it up.
    An overt attack would be, for example, ordering a unit of tanks with clear markings to attack the base; or firing a missile from a modern fighter/bomber at the warship.
    Clandestine attacks can be used to degrade an army’s ability to fight as well as an enemy’s will to fight. Only the latter could be validly called terrorist attacks IMO. Using clandestine agents to blow up a key ammunition dump prior to a major military attack does not count as terrorism by my definition since the goal is to hinder the enemy’s ability to fight, not to make it terrified.

  • bulbul

    Mitch Prothero’s article in Salon was refuted here.
    Some refutation. Mr. Laskin has obvious difficulties with differentiating between Hizbullah the political party and charity organization and Hizbullah fighters. He even has the stones to chastize Prothero for doing so. Not to mention how he misrepresents some of his quote and spends half the time talking about how Hezbollah uses UN posts as shields.
    And I won’t even get into the whole “far-left” and “genocide-minded” thing…
    For the record: I ain’t sayin’ the boys of Hizbullah are a bunch of angels. Hell, the Arab League says they’re not. But neither are they a bunch of genocidal maniacs some (most?) in the press portray them to be.
    No, that’s not any rule, much less the first rule. There is no rule that “you’re not allowed to kill civilians”; nor is there a rule that “you are allowed to kill civilians.”
    No, of course not. The first rule is “Israel is always right”.

  • pharoute

    Having worked in various customer service positions dealing with the public, the belief people really live by is “Rules are for other people.”

  • aunursa

    No, of course not. The first rule is “Israel is always right”.
    Funny, the implication from many commentaries and comments in newspapers, websites, and blogs is that the first rule is, “Israel is always wrong.”
    The irony of the above straw-man (one that is quite commonly hurled at defenders of Israel) is that Israel’s supporters often find fault with various actions or policies of the Jewish state. But opponents of Israel appear to be ignorant of such nuances, given the increasing popularity of the “Anyone who criticizes Israel is labeled anti-Semitic” libel.


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