Defining Terrorism




Istvan Simon writes: I partly agree  with David Krieger. On the one hand, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were examples of terrorism on a massive scale. But it should be also pointed out, that the concepts of today cannot be applied fairly to the decisions of yesterday, and that president Truman took the fateful decision believing that by so doing he would be saving lives, as the alternative was a long and extremely bloody war with a determined Japan. I completely disagree with Mr. Krieger on collateral damage. Collateral damage is absolutely regrettable, but it is not terrorism. In collateral damage unarmed civilians are neither targeted nor killed on purpose.It happens because war is a terrible business and once started the deaths of innocents are unavoidable as they are caught in the fighting. Collateral damage is unavoidable, but modern weapons try and do successfully minimize it. The number of deaths caused by collateral damage in the Iraq war was no doubt large, but probably smaller than the number of deaths suffered on a single day of fighting on the beaches of Normandy, and much much smaller than the number of deaths caused by the conventional bombing of German cities in World War II.

David Krieger explains: I was referring in my first sentence to the definition of terrorism put forward by Istvan Simon in his criticism of Buchwald, not to Buchwald's definition of terrorism.
Paul Pitlick (PP) writes:Your discussions about terrorism has been interesting.  I think the Bush administration doesn't have a clue about a proper response to the post-9/11 world (although it's only post-9/11 to the US; terrorism was going on in Israel, Russia, the Philippines, etc. before 2001), and have simply transposed a cold-war mind-set to a new enemy. Having said that, I have a comment, a question, a hypothetical, and a suggestion.

1.  Comment: Istvan Simon called for:  a new military force which would have the mission of going after terrorists to physically eliminate them, or arrest them, anywhere that they may be in the World. Such a force, acting when possible in concert with the constituted authorities abroad, and when that is not possible,or practical, acting  on their own, in spite of such authority, is needed in the fight against terrorism. PP: Israel already does this, and has for many years. While the rate of bombings in Israel would probably be worse without this policy, let's just say that it hasn't prevented young men and now, women, from strapping on bombs, entering populated places, and blowing themselves up.

2.  Hypothetical(s): RH: This recommends preemptive or preventive action. Suppose the US thought that a group in Mexico was plotting terrorist action, the Mexican government disagreed, so the US launched an air attack on the hideout of the alleged terrorists.  Would  that be a good idea? PP: Suppose Russia decides that although the root cause of Chechen situation is a nationalist/religious/separatist movement, the tactics are now evolving from the tactics used by the Palestinian against the Israelis.  Furthermore, let's hypothesize that the Russians feel that "Palestinian problem" is  caused by the fact that Israel is a ruthless theocracy run by their religious extreme right, and the Palestinians have simply been responding to their lack of a future and continued theft of their land (this view is not shared widely in the US, but in other parts of the world, there's a horse of a different color).  Let's hypothesize further and say that the Russians then threaten and/or attack Israel, using this concept of pre-emption.  What do you think the the US would do? 

If you don't like my example, let's say there was a "link" between the IRA and the Chechens, and the Russians then decide to attack England or Ireland because the English and/or Irish obviously haven't been able to handle this problem by themselves.  Or there is probably some way where China might threaten and/or attack Taiwan, for something the Chinese might consider terrorism, but the US doesn't. Or pick another place where events could develop where a country with a real army threatens or attacks an American ally.     I think you'll probably get my point.  Although the above are all hypothetical, the reasoning isn't all that different compared to the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq, confusing Al-Queda with Saddam Hussein, etc.

3.  Question:  A terrorist is one who murders innocents on purpose, based solely on their religion or nationality. Wouldn't the fire-bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Israeli army destruction of homes of relatives of suicide bombers, etc., be considered acts of terrorism?

4.  Suggestion:  The people who have been submitting messages seem bright, well-informed, etc., etc., with their own perspectives.  Why don't you try to get 5 or 6 or 7 (not too many more) people who represent different perspectives into a room, and try to have them develop some reasonable definitions of terrorism, manifestations, strategies against, etc., etc.  You would probably do a lot better job than our current national leadership has done, and as far as I can see the hoped-for replacements aren't doing any better.  Both parties are looking for "gotcha" moments, rather than truly discussing the problems. 

RH: WAIS has had conferences on various topics, Perhaps it could hold one on terrorism.


Your comments are invited. Read te home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:   http://wais.stanford.edu/ E-mail to hilton@stanford.edu. Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: September 27, 2004