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.

  • bulbul

    Despite all this disingenuous mislabeling, the hallmark of terrorism remains clear: Terrorists kill civilians. And you’re not allowed to do that.
    Fair enough. So what about the members of the Mahdi Army or Bard Corps or other insurgent groups in Iraq who kill US, British, Polish and Slovak soldiers? Terrorists or guerilla fighters?

  • bulbul

    Despite all this disingenuous mislabeling, the hallmark of terrorism remains clear: Terrorists kill civilians. And you’re not allowed to do that.
    Fair enough. So what about the members of the Mahdi Army or Badr Corps or other insurgent groups in Iraq who kill US, British, Polish and Slovak soldiers? Terrorists or guerilla fighters?

  • Toby

    Seems to me that part of the problem with the term ‘terrorist’ is that it’s become an evaluative category: in order to judge someone a terrorist, you must already have judged that person to be a bad person.
    (This means you can’t really make arguments of the form “Bob is a terrorist; therefore Bob is evil”, because no one would accept the premise without already accepting the conclusion, i.e. the argument begs the question.)
    The term ‘terrorism’ is basically never consistently used according to clear definitions of the sort cited in the original post. It would be more useful if it were. But then we might have to engage in such nastiness as wondering whether sponsors of terrorism might be found closer to home, and nobody wants to do that.

  • Dave Lartigue

    There are also those who wish for the term “terrorist” to be vague so that people they like are NOT included. For example, if one defines a terrorist as “someone who kills civilians in order to induce fear and achieve a political goal”, then you have to include some anti-Abortion activists in there, as well as a lot of far-right hate groups and militia folks like Tim McVeigh. There are those who do not wish to see such people labeled as terrorists because such people often vote for them.
    http://www.cq.com/public/20050325_homeland.html

  • Jesurgislac

    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?
    Well, no, Fred, and you know it.
    The instantly-comes-to-mind instance of terrorism being considered Good and terrorists being considered Good People is the US funding of the contras in Nicaragua. Unless you are making the argument that all those involved in the US sponsorship of these terrorists were also terrorists, you know damn well that at least some of “those of us who aren’t terrorists” frequently argue that terrorism isn’t really bad and some terrorists are good people.
    Though in point of fact *grin* what this usually comes down to is like the definition of “traitor” that runs: “I do not know what being a traitor means. No man considers himself a traitor: this makes it hard to find out.”
    Even defining terrorists simply as “Terrorists attack civilians” isn’t as simple as that. The US military targets civilians; are the US military terrorists, or only those who take part in attacks targetting civilians?

  • cjmr’s husband

    But Contra’s weren’t terrorists, Contra’s were “Freedom Fighters”! Reagan said!
    (George Carlin explained that term best: If fire fighters fight fires, and crime fighters fight crime, what do freedom fighters fight?)

  • Duane

    (George Carlin explained that term best: If fire fighters fight fires, and crime fighters fight crime, what do freedom fighters fight?)
    What are the Foo Fighters fighting?

  • cjmr’s husband

    foo

  • Perry

    “The term foo fighter was used by Allied aircraft pilots in World War II to describe various UFOs or mysterious aerial phenomena seen in the skies over Europe and the Pacific theatre.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foo_fighter

  • John

    I pity the foo who gets fought by Mr T!
    (sorry, I had to)

  • Bugmaster

    Actually, lots of people kill civilians. Policemen kill civilians, sometimes by accident, sometimes not. Soldiers kill civilians. Bad drivers kill civilians all the time, whether they’re sober or not. Doctors, occasionally, kill civilians.
    Not all people who kill civilians are terrorists. All people who deliberately target civilians for murder are terrorists. Of course, since the majority of Muslims in the Middle East sees everyone in Israel as an enemy combatant, they are not terrorists in their own eyes.
    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 ?

  • Jesurgislac

    Bugmaster: All people who deliberately target civilians for murder are terrorists.
    Now, does that include or exclude the US military when they deliberately target civilians for murder? As, in my example, when they drop cluster bombs on a city street?

  • Axiomatic

    The US Army has a Get Out Of Terrorism Free card.

  • Mark Poole

    ‘Terrorism’ is one of those terms like ‘democracy’ that generally get to be defined to mean what those in power want them to mean.
    It is true that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. This is not to endorse absolute moral equivalency. But all murder of innocents is evil, whether the perpetrators be Hezbollah guerillas, Palestinian suicide bombers, US or Israeli gunships, suburban serial killers, street corner drug dealers or powerful multinational companies.
    More often than not the distinctions made over who is or is not a terrorist are pure sophistry.

  • Malachi

    Worse yet, your ancestors may be freedom fighters, but it’s important to remember that America is a country founded on terrorism. In fact, America is a textbook example of successful terrorism.
    Consider, for instance, the Boston Tea Party–that’s a prime example of truly effective terrorism.

  • Kathryn from Sunnyvale

    Consider, for instance, the Boston Tea Party–that’s a prime example of truly effective terrorism.
    Do we distinguish between economic terrorism- actions against civilians or civilian agencies that causes loss of property and fear of loss of property- and ‘violence against persons’ terrorism?

  • Jay Denari

    The Navy’s definition of “noncombatant” clearly fudges the line between guerrilla and terrorist… as, I’m sure, it intends to. Since when are a foreign occupying army’s members NOT fair targets for those seeking to kick that army out?!? If they’re walking around unarmed, they’re idiots.

  • Anonymous #4

    It is the intent of the actor, not the act itself, that makes it good or bad.
    The thing which distinguishes terrorists is their intent, evidenced by their indiscriminate killing of civilians and military targets contrary to international norms, to cause terror.
    Terrorists are not distinguished from guerillas by who they kill (civilian or military), they are distinguished by why they kill.
    Our storied forefathers did not intend to cause terror among the British. They were explicitly intending first to defend their rights as citizens under the crown, and then, when that defense was seen by Britain as insurrection, to preserve their life and liberty in self-defense.
    [Consider that if someone calls you a traitor, falsely, and the penalty for treason is death, protecting yourself from death is self-defense.]
    I understand that Fred believes strongly that killing civilians is always and by everyone wrong. But since his view is not widely held, discussing its implications is merely a thought experiment, though a diverting one.
    If Fred’s view were correct, identifying “bad guys” is easy: just look for someone doing violence without a justification that satisfies classical just-war theory.
    Since modern warfare and terrorist activity will invariably involve the death or injury of non-combatants, and either side undoubtedly had the option of doing nothing before using violence, stringent application of just war theory results in every civilian death being a notice of a war crime. We could call this the “civilian in the rubble test.”
    This test is great for TV, but useless as a guide to action, because application results inevitably to the error of moral equivalence.

  • KCinDC

    a city filled with people who seem to think that this is a novel, 21st-century strategy
    Careful there. The elected officials the rest of the country sends here and their various staff and advisers may be numerous, but they’re not the people who fill the city.

  • Jesurgislac

    Anonymous#4: The thing which distinguishes terrorists is their intent, evidenced by their indiscriminate killing of civilians and military targets contrary to international norms, to cause terror.
    As in the Shock and Awe attack that opened the US’s aggressive invasion of Iraq in March 2003. That had no purpose other than to cause terror, and indiscriminately killed civilians; by your argument, that makes the US military terrorists.

  • Anonymous #4

    Actually Jesurgislac, your point is the exact opposite of my argument, but is consistent with Fred’s view. Within the framework of my argument, the purpose of shock and awe was to induce the collapse of the opposing military force, after the requirements of international notice of the commencement of hostilities was in place. Therefore, under my “intent-focused” standard, the US action was permissible, whereas under Fred’s view it is not.
    More generally, without knowing why the US engaged in shock and awe, it would be impossible (under my analysis) to know if it was just or not. Your assertion, “had no purpose other than to cause terror” is, to say the least, debatable.

  • Bugmaster

    Anonymous #4 pretty much said what I wanted to say. Dropping cluster bombs on a city just because you want to kill all those pesky arabs is terrorism; dropping cluster bombs on a city because that’s the only way to take out a hidden missile depot is warfare. I realize that this is a pretty thin distinction, but that’s what happens when two countries are fighting each other to the death. It would be really nice if we had a way of only killing enemy combatants and sparing civilians, 100% of the time, but, barring some sort of a sci-fi nanotech scenario, this is not going to be a reality any time soon.

  • aunursa

    All people who deliberately target civilians for murder are terrorists.
    That’s not specific enough. Serial killers deliberately target civilians for murder; however they are not considered terrorists (although they do generally inspire terror in the public.) Terrorists are those who deliberately target civilians (in most cases for murder) for a political or idealogical purpose.
    People who bomb abortion clinics and kill abortion doctors are terrorists. People who attack animal research facilities and stalk their employees and their employees’ neighbors are terrorists.
    Terrorism is defined by the intended target (civilians, usually but not always random civilians) and the purpose (advancement of a political/idealogical cause).
    Terrorism is not defined by the rightness or wrongness of a cause. In other words, the cause itself is irrelevant to whether the action constitutes terrorism. The only issue is whether it is a political or idealogical cause (as opposed, to, say for example, the personal gratification of a serial killer.)

  • bulbul

    dropping cluster bombs on a city because that’s the only way to take out a hidden missile depot is warfare
    How many missiles? What kind of missiles? How much of a threat are those missiles? How big a city? How many civilians?
    Refer to Beth’s comment in the other thread and her “guy with a nuke on a playground” scenario.

  • bulbul

    Oh and one more thing re dropping cluster bombs on a city because that’s the only way to take out a hidden missile depot is warfare
    The use of the phrase “the only way to take out” reminds me of all the ticking bomb scenarios where some claim torture would be acceptable. Bullshit, all of it. There is no such thing as “the only way”. “The easiest way” is very often marketed as the only one, but I sure as hell ain’t buying that.

  • bulbul

    Terrorism is not defined by the rightness or wrongness of a cause.
    Ah, but it is. Though essentially fighting for the same cause (trying to drive out occupation forces) and using the same tactics, Iraqi insurgents are considered terrorists while De Gaulle’s Maquis were not. Except by the Nazi army and SS.

  • Jesurgislac

    Anonymous4#: More generally, without knowing why the US engaged in shock and awe, it would be impossible (under my analysis) to know if it was just or not. Your assertion, “had no purpose other than to cause terror” is, to say the least, debatable.
    Given that the stated purpose of Shock and Awe was to cause terror, I’m not sure why you think that’s “debatable”. That was the purpose given by the US for the campaign.

  • Jesurgislac

    Anonymous4#: More generally, without knowing why the US engaged in shock and awe, it would be impossible (under my analysis) to know if it was just or not. Your assertion, “had no purpose other than to cause terror” is, to say the least, debatable.
    Given that the stated purpose of Shock and Awe was to cause terror, I’m not sure why you think that’s “debatable”. That was the purpose given by the US for the campaign. There was no other purpose given for it – if you want to claim there was, that’s debatable.

  • aunursa

    Iraqi insurgents are considered terrorists while De Gaulle’s Maquis were not.
    Did the Maquis routinely and deliberately target innocent civilians?

  • bulbul

    Did the Maquis routinely and deliberately target innocent civilians?
    I said insurgents. There are many armed groups in Iraq, some of which are engaged in a campaign of terror against other religious and/or ethnic groups. I was referring only to those groups fighting the occupation forces.

  • Jesurgislac

    Did the Maquis routinely and deliberately target innocent civilians?
    Did the Maquis routinely and deliberately target innocent civilians?
    Yes, some maquisards did. And some did not. And more well might have, had the war ended in a victory for Germany and German-only towns and German-only roads were being built across France.
    There’s a discussion here on the moral issues of collaboration and resistance to a foreign occupation (not in France, in Belarus: but I believe that the issues raised are somewhat common to all countries living under armed occupation).

  • bulbul

    Thanks for the link, Jesurgislac. Belarus is a particularly good example of all the complexities of living under occupation and might very well be the closest thing to current situation in Iraq. Especially when it comes to first welcoming then fighting the occupiers.

  • Jesurgislac

    What I am for, if I am for anything besides Fred’s admirably-phrased stricture You’re Not Allowed To Kill Civilians, is for “us” – Americans, Brits, Israelis if you include Israelis in “us” (they simg in the Eurovision Song Contest, so…) – to lose that sense of moral superiority over “them”. There is a dreadful trap (which Fred has explicitly not fallen into) of assuming that these moral judgements are always directed at the “other”, at “them”, not at “us”. And pointing out that these moral judgements equally apply to Americans or Brits or Israeli military forces who kill civilians deliberately – as all three have done – as it does to terrorist organizations who have killed civilians deliberately.
    I think it’s more important to direct these moral judgements at organizations which we can affect directly. None of us (I trust) reading this is directly or indirectly responsible for the actions of a terrorist organisation. All of us are at least indirectly responsible, as citizens, for the actions of our nation’s military, whether or not we have ever been or are now part of that military force.
    The moral judgements are equal: it is as wrong for Hezbollah to kill Israeli civilians as it is for Israel to kill Lebanese civilians. The obligation to apply them comes with the ability to enforce results. A terrorist organization is by definition out of control of anyone but the leaders of the organization: a national military is, or ought to be, ultimately under the control of the nation’s government, and therefore finally under the control of that nation’s citizens, if it’s a democracy.

  • Duane

    - to lose that sense of moral superiority over “them”
    Yeah.. that is almost as annoying as assuming there is a monolith “us” whereupon you can project such nefarious motives.

  • Jesurgislac

    Duane: Yeah.. that is almost as annoying as assuming there is a monolith “us” whereupon you can project such nefarious motives.
    Fine, Duane. If you have never, not once, caught yourself thinking – when you heard of soldiers of your own country killing civilians – that there must have been some excuse or but they were justified because – then you are surely excluded from the “us” versus “them” situation I was talking about. But I don’t exclude myself that “us” versus “them”: I am apt to think of excuses for soldiers of my own country, even though in fact I fundamentally agree with Fred: you’re not allowed to kill civilians – and I usually figure out the root of the excusemaking. But the impulse to make excuses for my own people – it’s there, Duane, it’s there, and if you’re claiming you’re wholly free of it… well, I don’t actually believe you, given preceding comments you’ve made making excuses. ;-)

  • Bugmaster

    How many missiles? What kind of missiles? How much of a threat are those missiles? How big a city? How many civilians?
    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.
    As I’d also said, this distinction is pretty thin, and useless in practice. But I find the entire “you are not allowed to kill civilians, so if you kill one, you’re a terrorist, so lay down your arms now” philosophy also fairly useless in practice. Pacifism only works if everyone is a pacifist, which is not the case in our world.

  • Beth

    Propagandists often use words like terrorist in a content-free way, but do we really have to follow their lead, and pretend the word has no actual meaning? “Terrorist” is not synonomous with “guerrilla”, nor is it synonomous with “army”. It is distinguished from both by its choice of target. Terrorists target civilians, while non-terrorists choose targets with military value. This isn’t always a sharply defined line, since “military value” can be a matter of degree, but there are some targets that clearly have a military value and others that clearly do not.
    There are probably doctors who, through carelessness, kill as many people as the average serial killer. That doesn’t mean that there’s no real difference between doctors and serial killers. It doesn’t even mean that an extremely careless doctor is a serial killer. There’s not much reason to prefer one above the other, but they are still distinctly different.
    The moral judgements are equal: it is as wrong for Hezbollah to kill Israeli civilians as it is for Israel to kill Lebanese civilians.
    Certainly it’s equally wrong to kill any civilians, regardless of nationality, but that doesn’t mean that all operations that kill civilians are equally wrong. To me, the morality of a given operation depends on weighing its realistic benefits against realistic expectation of harm. Choosing a military target is no guarantee that the action is pardonable, but choosing a target with no military value pretty much guarantees that it is not.
    There is no such thing as “the only way”.
    This is, I think, an essential point. We see a lot of “the only way” fallacies on both sides of the I/P conflict. Advocates of Israeli militancy may see moral value in minimizing ‘collatoral damage,’ but take it as gospel that any action that arguably meets that standard is “the only way” and is therefore righteous regardless of the damage to civilians, regardless even of long-term harm to the very national security it was intended to protect. Advocates of Palestinian militancy try to dismiss condemnation of their tactics on the grounds that, lacking modern weaponry, the Palestinians have no choice but to send young men with bombs to blow themselves up in buses and restaurants. The absence of a military target and the resulting civilian deaths are both irrelavant. It is “the only way,” and that alone justifies everything.

  • BetaUnit

    If terrorism, then, must be defined as the indiscriminate killing of civilians to induce terror in a people, I’m not even sure that bin Laden’s tactics fall neatly in that category. After all, his most notable targets in the last ten years have been U.S. embassies, a naval destroyer, the Pentagon, and, of course, the World Trade Center. These were not random targets filled with civilian families on vacation, but political, financial and military hubs of American power. Now, I am not in any way defending the actions of Al Qaeda, nor claiming that they wouldn’t murder vacationing American families if the opportunity arose, nor forgetting that the passengers on board the planes were arbitrarily selected for death. 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.
    All I mean by this is to show the lunacy of rationalizing murder in a hundred different ways, as if the “good intentions” of the bomb thrower somehow become absorbed by the bomb itself, and spread through the flesh of all whom the bomb rips to pieces, bringing an untimely death infused with nobility, morality, and warm fuzziness. “Terrorism” is a word, nothing more, and has no objective meaning. Like “jerk” or “asshole”, it serves not human understanding, but only its user’s agenda, as it has done for hundreds of years.

  • bulbul

    How many missiles? What kind of missiles? How much of a threat are those missiles? How big a city? How many civilians?
    Doesn’t matter.
    This is what I would normally refer to as “pi?ovina”. Seeing as this word cannot be translated into English, “horseshit” will have to do for now. Your understanding of the difference between warfare and terrorism has brought many a military leader before a war crimes tribunal.
    But I find the entire “you are not allowed to kill civilians, so if you kill one, you’re a terrorist, so lay down your arms now” philosophy also fairly useless in practice.
    The thing is, Bugmaster, no one is advocating this philosophy here.

  • bulbul

    but do we really have to follow their lead, and pretend the word has no actual meaning
    Speaking as a linguist, I fear that most of the time we have no choice. Words acquire their meanings as a result of a concensus. A sufficiently strong propaganda machine can take any word and turn its meaning upside down and inside out and it’s tough enemy to fight.

  • bulbul

    As I said, it’s the intent that matters.
    So what you are saying is “you are not allowed to TARGET civilians”.

  • Duane

    Fine, Duane. If you have never, not once, caught yourself thinking – when you heard of soldiers of your own country killing civilians – that there must have been some excuse or but they were justified because – then you are surely excluded from the “us” versus “them” situation I was talking about. But I don’t exclude myself that “us” versus “them”: I am apt to think of excuses for soldiers of my own country, even though in fact I fundamentally agree with Fred: you’re not allowed to kill civilians – and I usually figure out the root of the excusemaking. But the impulse to make excuses for my own people – it’s there, Duane, it’s there, and if you’re claiming you’re wholly free of it…
    Shorter Jesurgislac: Blah blah blah.
    well, I don’t actually believe you, given preceding comments you’ve made making excuses. ;-)
    Who really cares what you believe? You just make shit up and ascribe it to people. Instead of arguing against what someone is actually saying, you invent a strawman and rail against it. And if the “debate” goes long enough, you start pulling nefarious motives for everyone out of your ass.

  • Bugmaster

    Your understanding of the difference between warfare and terrorism has brought many a military leader before a war crimes tribunal.
    As I said, the difference is fairly minor. From the strictly ethical standpoint, it’s the intent that matters. Military leaders constantly have to make tradeoffs: between civilian deaths and the deaths of their own soldiers, between the lives of their soldiers and the success of the military operation, etc. Terrorists, on the other hand, kill civilians because that’s a goal in itself for them. How can you tell a really stupid, incompetent military leader from a terrorist ? I don’t think you can; at least, not without a lengthy investigation.
    The thing is, Bugmaster, no one is advocating this philosophy here.
    Ok, what are you advocating, then ? What is your practical advice, besides common-sense things such as “don’t start random wars for no reason” (common-sense to us, not to the current administration), and “try to avoid killing civilians if you can” ? I think that many people on this thread really do advocate pacifism, because as soon as I bring up my opinion that soldiers’ lives aren’t worthless, I get labeled a bloodthirsty terrorist. Fred does have that disclaimer about surgeons and scalpels, but he doesn’t really explain how it applies to warfare; all he does is keep repeating his YNATKC slogan.
    I would also go one step further, and claim that a military commander who sacrifices a thousand of his own soldiers just to let one civilian survive is incompetent at best, criminal at worst. You are not allowed to kill civilians, but you’re not allowed to needlessly sactifice your people, either.

  • bulbul

    What is your practical advice
    Using the squad of marines you mentioned. Establishing and using intelligence networks. Learning from past experience. Doing some motherlovin’ thinking, developing some motherlovin’ strategies, like any half-decent military commander should.
    I would also go one step further, and claim that a military commander who sacrifices a thousand of his own soldiers just to let one civilian survive is incompetent at best, criminal at worst
    Honestly, where do you come up with these? Is there a special college where they teach false dichotomies and extreme examples?

  • bulbul

    Terrorists, on the other hand, kill civilians because that’s a goal in itself for them.
    I hate to repeat myself, but there it is again – another “pi?ovina”. Do you think that Usama or whoever came up with the 9/11 plot just woke up one day and said to himself “I’m gonna have a qahwah saadah and shawarma for breakfast, than I’ll smoke some sheesha and finally I’ll kill some Americans”? No. Terrorists have political and/or ideological goals. Killing civilians is a way to achieve those goals.

  • Garnet

    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.
    If you can do the job with a squad of Marines who’ll kill a couple folks, and opt to go with a high-powered air strike that levels half a mid-sized city, then I think your ‘intent’ is quite clear. Just because you’re fighting in a nation’s military as part of a larger war effort doesn’t mean you can’t still be a terrorist.

  • Beth

    A sufficiently strong propaganda machine can take any word and turn its meaning upside down and inside out and it’s tough enemy to fight.
    Call me a dead-ender, then. I agree the chances of winning aren’t high, but I’m enough of an Orwell fan to fear the destruction of words and the concept behind them.
    Terrorists have political and/or ideological goals. Killing civilians is a way to achieve those goals.
    I think you’re splitting hairs. True, the attack was intended to serve a larger goal, but the the operational goal of hitting the WTC was to kill civilians. If not one Iraqi civilian had been killed by those cluster bombs, it would have been a miracle, but it wouldn’t have been a disappointment. Civilian deaths were necessary for 9/11 to be a complete success.
    The word we’re defining here is not ‘evil’ but ‘terrorism’. Maybe we should just lay down our arms and give in to the tide that is making the two synonomous, but since this kind of war doesn’t involve any civilian casualties (or even military ones), I don’t see the harm in fighting on for a little longer.

  • bulbul

    I think you’re splitting hairs.
    No I am not. I am pointing out an error in Bugmaster’s Terrorists, on the other hand, kill civilians because that’s a goal in itself for them. The way I see it, it was just another attempt to show terrorists as subhumans who have no other goals then to kill people. But they do. Only psychopaths kill just for killing’s sake. To what extent these two categories overlap could be a subject of a debate, but to claim that terrorists of whatever nationality and religious persuasion have no other goals than killing is simply naive.
    I agree the chances of winning aren’t high, but I’m enough of an Orwell fan to fear the destruction of words and the concept behind them.
    Same here. The only thing that scares me more is that the even the smartest people (present company exempt) around me do not seem to notice this epidemic of semantic erosion and every time I try to point it out to them I get the old line about “splitting hairs” or “playing games with words”.
    Maybe we should just lay down our arms and give in to the tide that is making the two synonomous
    Never! :o)

  • Malachi

    “Our storied forefathers did not intend to cause terror among the British. They were explicitly intending first to defend their rights as citizens under the crown, and then, when that defense was seen by Britain as insurrection, to preserve their life and liberty in self-defense.”
    The sons of liberty were explicitly dedicated to psreading terror among teh king’s servants. They didn’t kill many people as far as I know (perhpas they’re ethical terrosist) but they assaulted the persons and properties of judges and other officials in order to weaken the kigns government, just like modenr anti-abortion activists stalking aborition workers.
    The Boston Tea Party was an attempt to anger the crown, which succeed. it was violence against property conducted for a political goal: american independence. They succeeded. Because of the tea party, the king closed the port, which brought lots of new englanders into the raks fo the revolutionaries. Much like the way our current attemtps to stamp out insurgents create mroe insurgents.
    In short, we’re fighting the revolutionary war again–from the wrong side.
    There is one–and only–argument against calling teh tea Party an act fo terrorism. Since the East India company was owned by the cornw and nobility, it was arguably a governmental/military target. Nowadays, an attack on Haliburton would be terrorism, but mdoern corporations didn’t exist then, so there’s perhpas a little leeway there.

  • Beth

    bulbul,
    Our difference is in our interpretation of Bugmaster’s words and intent. I thought the paragraph was meant to contrast the operational goal of terrorists (to kill civilians), with that of military leaders (some legitimate military objective). Presumably both types of operations serve a larger purpose — I wouldn’t think much of a military leader who fought battles just for the heck of it either — but unless I’m missing something, Bugmaster’s only purpose was to define “terrorism”.


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