Terrorism

Jeff Bone jbone@jump.net
Thu, 10 Jan 2002 12:36:37 -0600


--------------00562080B6A7A1D9B12583A8
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit



"S. Alexander Jacobson" wrote:

> The freedom fighter acts to gain the support of
> the people (deligitimate the regime).  The
> terrorists acts to make the people fear future
> actions and cause their government to do things
> that appease the terrorists (prevent future
> terrorism).

Okay, look, let's just agree to disagree.  IMO, the freedom fighter acts to cause
destruction of the regime; the support of the people is a subgoal, not the goal
itself.  (Indeed a single act can be designed to further both aims.)  Terrorist acts
as mentioned above have the same aim:  undermine some controlling establishment.  I
see any difference in kind as being largely a matter of sophistry, moral / ethical
naivety, or --- most importantly --- cultural myopia.

In the particular context of 9-11, it is important to understand that a completely
different cultural tradition and ethics of warfare applies to and has influenced a
long history of conflict within the Arab world.  [1]  We here on this list cannot
even agree --- as presumed members of a shared Western culture --- on the difference
if any between a freedom fighter and terrorist.  In light of such, it's ludicrous to
believe that we can immediately apprehend the motivations and strategic thinking of
the perpetrators of 9-11, much less meaningfully apply our trite little labels.

That's the real point I'm driving toward, here:  in order to understand terrorism it
is IMO important to view it as a considered part of a larger geopolitical / military
strategic plan on the part of the adversary.  Calling such acts "cowardly," "evil,"
etc. minimizes them and, in the process, encourages underestimation of the
adversary.

> As I said before, terrorism only makes sense
> against democracies.

Really?  I guess in non-democracies, we just call it a "coup."

> Marty's point about foreign soil is that
> terrorists view the people they bomb as not "their
> people."  Notably, the IRA bombs in London.  The
> American Revolutionaries didn't.

This kind of bias --- *where* terrorists vs. freedom fighters commit their acts ---
is perhaps a better basis for drawing distinctions.  However, a cursory examination
of the real world and this falls apart:  was McVeigh a freedom fighter or
terrorist?  IMO, it's a meaningless question, but by (some) of your criteria he
would be a freedom fighter, while by other of your criteria he would be a terrorist.

Per the American revolutionaries question, simply consider violence against non-com
Tories, etc.  I unfortunately don't have easy access to my reference materials about
this, but IIRC there have been a number of rather widely-discussed pieces of
historical research in the last couple of decades (and presumably before, but I seem
to recall a fair bit of recent stuff) about this.  Granted it's not on "foreign"
soil, but that's only part of the formulation you / Marty have offered.

Anyone feel like offering links?  Three of my favorite books on the American
revolution are [2]-[4], but I don't recall any particular treatment of violence
against non-com civs by irregulars and independents.  [5] is a general piece on
terrorism-as-war and an evaluation of the effectiveness of such a strategy --- from
World Policy Journal a few years ago

There's also been a long-running controversy in military philosophy on what
constitutes a Just War, whether one is possible, whether one is strategically
viable, etc.  Worth checking into, I've read some short pieces about this but have
no links handy on that at the moment.

$0.02,

jb

[1] Islam and War : A Study in Comparative Ethics by John Kelsay
[1] Angel in the Whirlwind by Benson Bobrick
[2] Patriots : The Men Who Started the American Revolution by A. J. Langguth
[3] The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn
[3] http://www.geocities.com/hollywood/boulevard/2739/carr.html

--------------00562080B6A7A1D9B12583A8
Content-Type: text/html; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

<!doctype html public "-//w3c//dtd html 4.0 transitional//en">
 

"S. Alexander Jacobson" wrote:

The freedom fighter acts to gain the support of
the people (deligitimate the regime).  The
terrorists acts to make the people fear future
actions and cause their government to do things
that appease the terrorists (prevent future
terrorism).
Okay, look, let's just agree to disagree.  IMO, the freedom fighter acts to cause destruction of the regime; the support of the people is a subgoal, not the goal itself.  (Indeed a single act can be designed to further both aims.)  Terrorist acts as mentioned above have the same aim:  undermine some controlling establishment.  I see any difference in kind as being largely a matter of sophistry, moral / ethical naivety, or --- most importantly --- cultural myopia.

In the particular context of 9-11, it is important to understand that a completely different cultural tradition and ethics of warfare applies to and has influenced a long history of conflict within the Arab world.  [1]  We here on this list cannot even agree --- as presumed members of a shared Western culture --- on the difference if any between a freedom fighter and terrorist.  In light of such, it's ludicrous to believe that we can immediately apprehend the motivations and strategic thinking of the perpetrators of 9-11, much less meaningfully apply our trite little labels.

That's the real point I'm driving toward, here:  in order to understand terrorism it is IMO important to view it as a considered part of a larger geopolitical / military strategic plan on the part of the adversary.  Calling such acts "cowardly," "evil," etc. minimizes them and, in the process, encourages underestimation of the adversary.

As I said before, terrorism only makes sense
against democracies.
Really?  I guess in non-democracies, we just call it a "coup."
Marty's point about foreign soil is that
terrorists view the people they bomb as not "their
people."  Notably, the IRA bombs in London.  The
American Revolutionaries didn't.
This kind of bias --- *where* terrorists vs. freedom fighters commit their acts --- is perhaps a better basis for drawing distinctions.  However, a cursory examination of the real world and this falls apart:  was McVeigh a freedom fighter or terrorist?  IMO, it's a meaningless question, but by (some) of your criteria he would be a freedom fighter, while by other of your criteria he would be a terrorist.

Per the American revolutionaries question, simply consider violence against non-com Tories, etc.  I unfortunately don't have easy access to my reference materials about this, but IIRC there have been a number of rather widely-discussed pieces of historical research in the last couple of decades (and presumably before, but I seem to recall a fair bit of recent stuff) about this.  Granted it's not on "foreign" soil, but that's only part of the formulation you / Marty have offered.

Anyone feel like offering links?  Three of my favorite books on the American revolution are [2]-[4], but I don't recall any particular treatment of violence against non-com civs by irregulars and independents.  [5] is a general piece on terrorism-as-war and an evaluation of the effectiveness of such a strategy --- from World Policy Journal a few years ago

There's also been a long-running controversy in military philosophy on what constitutes a Just War, whether one is possible, whether one is strategically viable, etc.  Worth checking into, I've read some short pieces about this but have no links handy on that at the moment.

$0.02,

jb

[1] Islam and War : A Study in Comparative Ethics by John Kelsay
[1] Angel in the Whirlwind by Benson Bobrick
[2] Patriots : The Men Who Started the American Revolution by A. J. Langguth
[3] The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn
[3] http://www.geocities.com/hollywood/boulevard/2739/carr.html --------------00562080B6A7A1D9B12583A8--