Not all terrorism experts agree on the definition of terrorism, mostly because, as Rev. Wright argues, it might incriminate the U.S. government. Another trick among such experts to exclude U.S. government actions is to use the term terrorism to apply only to attacks by small, non-governmental groups, rather than the much more potent terrorist attacks by governments. That ploy is a curious twisting of the term terror, because the term originated during the French Revolution to describe the slaughter of the revolutionary French government. Over the centuries, governments have had many more resources than the relatively poor rag-tag groups and thus have slaughtered on a much grander scale. Finally, groups, like governments, sometimes perpetrate terrorist attacks and sometimes commit non-terrorist attacks.
A good analytical working definition of terrorism is the purposeful targeting of civilians in the adversarys country to get them to put pressure on their government to change policy. After all, if a group or government is targeting an adversarys government or military, we probably should call this a war, not terrorist strikes. Of course, the term terrorism is never neutral and always politically charged. Although it may be politically incorrect to say so, by the aforementioned analytical definition, only two-thirds of the successful attacks on 9/11 could be properly labeled as terrorist attacks. Since the goal of al Qaeda was to kill civilians in the two world trade towers, these attacks could rightly be labeled terrorism. The third attack was aimed at the Pentagon, the national command center of the U.S. military. Since Osama bin Laden had declared war on the United States, this attack might be described as a diabolical surprise attack, but not terrorism per se. Similarly, any attackswhether against Israeli military or civilian targetsby Hamas and Hezbollah, groups that do not recognize Israels right to exist, are incorrectly bundled together by the U.S. government and media as terrorist strikes.
By the prior analytical criterion, is Rev. Wrights accusation correct that the U.S. government (notice I did not use the words we or America here) has committed terrorist attacks? Rev. Wright mentioned the attacking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs at the end of World War II. (One might also add the conventional fire-bombings of German and Japanese cities.) The primary goal of these attacks was to purposefully attack the adversarys civilian population in order to damage morale and motivate the enemys citizens to pressure their government to sue for peace. Proponents of such bombing will say that the enemy was nefarious, and in the case of Japan, dropping the atomic bombs obviated the need for a U.S. invasion, thus saving the lives of many U.S. military personnel. Nevertheless, by the analytical definition, these attacks were terrorist strikes that were questionable when the war had already been won, when the United States knew that the Japanese had made overtures to surrender, and when exchanging the lives of civilians to save military combatants was morally dubious. Furthermore, because Japan is an island, instead of an invasion, the United States simply could have blockaded the Japanese into surrenderwhich would have been much more humane, especially if emergency food and medical supplies were allowed to transit the quarantine.
Although Rev. Wright does not mention these added examples, the U.S. also bombed dams in North Korea during the Korean War to flood the fields and starve the population; and President Richard Nixon, during the Vietnam War, carpet-bombed North Vietnam (unlike the graduated bombing campaign of President Lyndon Johnson) and scolded Henry Kissinger that Kissinger was excessively worried about civilian casualties. In the Philippine insurrection after the U.S. liberated the islands during the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. military burned villages and crops, committed many atrocities against civilians, and tortured them.
But what about Wrights implication that U.S. foreign policy causes blowback terrorism against the United States? Again, the facts are on his side. Poll after poll in the Arab/Islamic world indicates that U.S. political and economic freedoms, technology, and even culture are popular in these countries, but U.S. interventionist foreign policy toward the Middle East is not. Bin Laden has repeatedly said that he attacks the United States because of its occupation of Muslim lands and its support for corrupt Middle Eastern governments. Finally, empirical studies have linked U.S. foreign occupation and military interventions with blowback terrorism against the U.S. targets.
The upshot of Rev. Wrights remarks is that if the United States militarily intervened less overseas, the chickens would not be roosting as much in the U.S. henhouse. It is too bad that Rev. Wrights largely correct analysis of U.S. foreign policy is being thrown out with his other wacky and bigoted ravings.
|Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.|