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Reframe the term:terrorism


The location of this term in the context of other ideas

The connotation of the word "terrorism" is horrific. That fact should not blind us to the fact that techniques used to sow discord, disarray, confusion, etc., and to cause the effectiveness of the enemy to be blinded have been used by all nations that have gone to war and/or have sought to drive off those who have invaded their own territory.

The denotation of "terrorism" is: the use of any technique that will cause or tend to cause incapacitating fear in the minds of one's enemies. It falls in the middle of a spectrum of techniques that range from:

  • total destruction of one's enemy (genocide, salted earth, scouring the territory of a nation with nuclear weapons, etc.),
  • warfare that gives no quarter and insists on unconditional surrender,
  • warfare that is waged by superior or approximately equal forces with the goal of taking over territory (e.g., Napoleon's attack on Russia),
  • warfare that is waged by superior or approximately equal forces with the goal of destroying the fighting capacity of the enemy (General MacArthur's "Operation Killer" by which he advanced upon and retreated from the Chinese forces that had joined the fight after U.N. forces got too close to the Yalu River with the sole intent of killing large numbers of enemy soldiers without at that time having any concern for holding onto any territory into which his army drove in pursuit of the destruction of the Chinese Army),
  • guerilla warfare by which means superior forces are harrassed by concentrations of troops at unpredictable locations with the intent of causing attrition of the larger army and incidentally decreasing the surety of their control of the territory they hold,
  • terrorist attacks intended primarily to drive a wedge between the superior forces and the people whose territory they are attempting to control and to degrade the morale of those superior forces,
  • sabotage and propaganda blitzes that depend for their effectiveness primarily on the native population being already disaffected and therefore easily tempted to rebel.

The conditions under which the rational commander will use terrorism

If country U is invaded by and/or under the control of country V, the techniques that country U employs to rid itself of V will depend on the relative strengths of the two nations. Under conditions when U is supremely out-gunned by V, and V clamps down ruthlessly on all signs of resistance, U may choose to use no force. The response of the Chinese nation to conquest by the Manchurians was to assimilate them into the Chinese culture over a long time period. Under conditions when U is invaded by V and their forces are approximately equal, battle lines will be firmly established and little more than spying and occasional acts of espionage will occur behind enemy lines. Under conditions when U is badly out-gunned by V, so that direct "set piece" battles would result in the destruction of the weaker army (as in the "Charge of the Light Brigade"), it would be foolish not to do what the American colonial forces did to fight against the neatly marshalled British troops -- fire at them from behind rocks and trees at times and places of the Americans' choosing. Somewhere in the middle of these several kinds of conditions, country U is successfully invaded by country V, country V spreads its forces thin in an attempt to control all of the territory originally governed by the central government of U, but the resistance forces of V continue to be active. Such were the conditions in France and other Western European nations that were conquored by Germany during World War II. In that case, resistance was severely hampered by the numbers and the ferocity of German troops. A more favorable condition for resistance fighters existed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. (Especially important in this regard is the work of William Corson, Vietnam Betrayed, in which he analyses the failure of U.S. forces to respond appropriately and effectively to Viet Cong resistance.) If World War II had gone the other way and the U.S. had been occupied by German and/or Japanese military units, it is hard to believe that U.S. citizens would have failed to have done everything possible to rid ourselves of foreign domination.

Twenty-first century evolution of the techniques and uses of terrorism

For most of its existence as a nation, the U.S. was effectively buffered from the use of terrorist tactics by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. If Germany, Japan, or China had been able to disrupt the U.S. internally during times of war then they would have done so. In fact, there was concern about people of German ancestry during World War II (and to a lesser extent during World War II), a concern about people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, etc., and witch hunts for Communists with connections to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Fortunately, the guerillas have to depend on the good will of some of the ordinary citizens in areas where they hope to go into action. Mao Ze-dong made an analogy between his guerrilla forces and fish, and the local populations and water. The fish require the water to survive, so the fish must not do anything to make the water inhospitable to them. In the case of any potential German, Japanese, or Soviet partisans, they must not have found water in which they could swim here.

Now conditions have changed because of the ease of travel and transport, and the mass to destructive capacity ratio of modern weapons. The guerrilla of nation U who finds himself vexed by the presence of the forces of nation V in his home territory can attack V soldiers or civillians on the territory of U -- where collateral damages are almost inevitable -- or s/he can travel to the home territory of those V soldiers.

Propagandistic use of the term "terrorism"

Terrorism is a technique, a methodology. It is widely known and knowledge of it cannot be destroyed. A more rationale goal would be to minimize the frequency with which this technique gets used on us. Here are some things to think about in this regard:

  • the bogus term:war on terror implies that you can actually war on an abstraction - this program is indefensible and the first thing you must do is get the Republicans, the neo-cons, the authoritarians to abandon this term, which is a mask for or reinterpretation of:
  1. The metaphorical quality of this term was acknowledged by its author, President Bush in an interview with Matt Lauer before the 2004 convention. When asked whether the war on terror can be won, he responded negitively, recognizing that unlike a real war this was similar to the war on drugs or poverty, that really defines a goal. The next day he issued a retraction, but he had provided the actually limits on this metaphor, and the inappropriateness to use it as a "war emergency" that justifies some variation of martial law. Link to interview:
  2. the claim:Saddam was killing his subjects which is usually the fallback way to justify the invasion, and may be defined as terrorism of some sort, though it's clearly more an issue of a dictator's use of state power on his own people, and is more akin to torture than to legitimate military action.
  3. regional threats posed by Iraq or Iran to Israel, which is a question of the use of terrorism against Israel by partisans opposed to Israeli control of disputed areas. The methodologies and motivations may be similar, but we risk muddy thinking by assimilating the two into a global picture. For one thing, it may not be in the interests of the U.S. to equate all interests of Israel with U.S. interests.
  4. nationalism - something like 95% of all people involved in terrorism are motivated by a national liberation cause, according to some studies. Motivation should not be confused with methodologies used in goal-directed behavior.

The term "war on terrorism" can be a euphemism for:

  1. oil war - is the "terrorism" coming from places where there's no oil being fought over?
  2. U.S. support for dictators in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and historically in Latin America, which has bred lots of insurgent, guerilla, terrorist focused groups
  3. 2003 Invasion of Iraq which has nothing to do with 911 or anything, it was seemingly personal vendetta of Bush against Saddam
  4. CIA secret long-term kidnapping and torture under the Bush administration -- Is the goal to diminish the use of terrorism as a technique of warfare? If so, are the means chosen going to be effective? Or do act counter-productively?
  5. warrantless eavesdropping and the erosion of the Bill of Rights. Here we are dealing with a simple subterfuge, giving one thing the more attractive name of another thing. The goal of terrorists (guerrillas) is frequently to push members of their opposition into beahvior that will arouse the people against them. Destroying personal freedoms in the U.S. fits exactly with the terrorists' goal as it weakens the allegiance of citizens to their own country.
  6. racial profiling of Muslims. Again, this behavior is counter-productive and it must please bin-Ladin immensely to see the U.S. creating enemies on its own soil.

Associated concerns:

  • value of life - the money the state can spend to save a human life in a less consuming country is an average of 1/15 that which the state spends for that in a G7 country; the systems we have that continue that situation can lead very directly to situations where people whose lives are limited by this global inequity might accept that their lives are not very valuable and choose to demonstrate that they can at least kill dozens of people (or hundreds) by giving up their own lives in suicide attacks - this actually does prove that the people they come from should have their lives valued higher if only to prevent this kind of attacking
  • property damage - some groups like PeTA are called "term:terrorist" by ridiculous definitions used by the FBI, even though they have never harmed a human being nor advocated doing so intentionally, and their whole ethic of animal rights abhors attacks on the body - so if someone is talking about property damage alone they just can't be talking about terrorism
  • fear - obviously people get scared of all sorts of things, even terrified - does that mean that anyone who scares them is a terrorist? Obviously not, separate the fear from the reality, and try to people to see that the whole goal of attacking them is to cause fear and over reactions (like oh say the 2003 Invasion of Iraq which took out [{Osama bin Laden]]'s rival)
  • DEA terror - is the "terrorism" related to the illegal drug trade? If so what is the provocation of the US, or involvement in local politics in the drug-producing country, that is motivating the reaction?
  • global warming - will more Americans be killed by terrorists or by hurricanes this year? Isn't the whole terrorism debate a giant distraction against the real serious problems?
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