Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Calling

I gave Brian Williams a pass last week. When, in response to the rumors that Iran's newly "elected" president was a former American Embassy hostage-taker, he opined: What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today: The first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries... and might have been called "terrorists" at the time by the BRITISH CROWN, after all... I chalked up the resulting furor to our tendency to forget that Brian Williams is not a sooper-genius political scientist, he's a pretty boy who's spent a bundle on elocution lessons so he can get paid to sit in front of a teleprompter reading the news out loud.

Sitting here with one window open on video of a red metal wreck that used to be a double-decker bus, and another streaming audio of Tony Blair (shaken, but somehow stirring) I'm not so generous. What does it matter? George Washington didn't pay the Sons of Liberty and the Green Mountain Boys to blow up Thames pleasure boats and Cheapside hackney coaches full of women and children. Iran, through Hamas and al-Quaeda, does the 21st century equivalent. George III was a nutty old coot, but I'm pretty sure even he could have discerned the difference.

21 comments:

Hunter Baker said...

Yes, there's the little point about the American Revolutionaries not being terrorists and actually meeting the British on the field of battle in declared hostilities.

Tlaloc said...

"Yes, there's the little point about the American Revolutionaries not being terrorists and actually meeting the British on the field of battle in declared hostilities."

Not really true, they did indeed engage in geurilla actions which we'd call terrorist. Look especially at the terror campaigns against american tories who were not infrequently the subject of wrongful arrest, arson, and murder.

Other than the level of technology this is no ethically different than insurgent attacks in Iraq that target Iraqis who work with the occupation.

Burwell said...

The "rules of war" have certainly changed from the American Revolution to the present. I believe Rob Long wrote a satirical piece of what modern "dissenters" (M. Moore, N. Chomski, etc.) would have said were they around at the AR and held the same positions. It was humurous, and pathetic.

I cannot remember who said "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" but they were mistaken. Shaking off the bonds of an oppressor is one thing, viciously slaughtering civilians (women and children!) is another.

Anonymous said...

But it's okay when it's the unavoidable collateral damage caused by your so-called "smart" bombs, right?

James Elliott said...

I'm afraid, Burwell, that your contention doesn't quite grasp the complex nature of guerilla/terrorist warfare.

Since we are on the receiving end, we tend to view terrorism as a criminal and pointlessly destructive act. Unfortunately, it is far from pointless.

Terrorism's purpose is exactly what it says: to sow terror. When faced with an enemy of overwhelming power, traditional warfare goes out the window. If attacking the enemy's power base is out of reach, you must then attack its will to use that power. In a representative democracy, you do this by attacking the most vulnerable to force the population to exert pressure on its representative governors.

You drew a line between fighting oppressors and attacking women and children. Your scope of view is too narrow. Al-Qaida has two objectives: In the short term, they want the West out of the Middle East. In the long-term, they want to restore the Caliphate and institute sha'ria law.

Right now, they're working on their short-term goals. The West is something of a boogeyman for the Middle East. Historically, you have a large clash of cultures, exemplified by the Crusades, the Turkoman expansions into Europe, the fight over the Iberian peninsula, and most notably colonialism (still fresh in the colonies' minds). More importantly, now that clash of cultures takes place in the form of globalization, which involves economic expansion and cultural sharing. Globalization, they feel, creates a dilution of their way of life.

The United States is the large and mighty standard bearer of globalization. This makes it the principal target in al-Qaida's war on globalization. Great Britain is another excellent target with its history of colonialism, strong place in globalization, and military might.

Greater difficulties arise when people start to confuse nationalist movements, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, with al-Qaida motivations just because they share the same religion and tactics. But that is neither here nor there.

The point, Burwell, is that to successfully combat terrorism, it is important to understand its causes.

The analogy of the American Revolution and al-Qaida terrorism is, on a tactical level and from their cultural point of view, apt. The American Revolution gave us our way of life. Al-Qaida thinks it is fighting to preserve its way of life. Both were faced with its time's greatest military force. Guerilla/terrorist warfare is a natural tactical choice.

To understand is not to endorse, Burwell. I know it's hard and even offensive to have to consider any similarities between our cultural heroes and our current antagonists, but nothing is served by ignoring them. It doesn't make us any safer, just makes us feel better.

Burwell said...

Wow, what a condemnation. I am assuming that the "you" in the post was the 2rd person plural, not the 2nd person singular. I am not "smart" enought to invent a dumb bomb, much less a smart one.

So what intelligence was the homicide-bombers acting on that indicated that the British military was dressed in civilian clothes and submersing themselves into the general London populace?

Now, as to the "collateral damage" you speak of. If those who were being sought (practicioners of terror) would identify themselves, like an Army or other military force, then the civilian casualties would not be as great. Even the Republican Guard wore uniforms, remember. But it is the definition of bravery to hide among innocents and thus cause suspicion and worse to fall on those who least deserve it.

Burwell said...

Mr Elliot,

I appreciate your response. I was speaking somewhat tongue-in-cheek in the first post, and to some degree also in the second. And I am hardly offended by your analysis, in fact, I agree with most of it. I do not mind asking difficult, even uncomfortable, questions that I may not have the answer to.

James Elliott said...

Burwell, man, you're digging yourself a hole here. Collateral damage is acceptable because we can't always tell who the bad guys are?

That same logic goes thusly: American and British intelligence and law enforcement agents wear plain clothes. They are the enemy. Therefore, I must blow up everyone wearing plain clothes, even if some of them are not agents of the state.

Your logic is the same logic that allows Palestinian Hamas apologists to justify the bombing of school buses: Since Israel has mandatory service, those school children will one day be in uniform and be the enemy. It's a pre-emptive strike that might claim some "collateral casualties."

Were you aware that only a small portion of the American Revolutionary forces were in a standing army? Most of them wore civilian clothes, too. In fact, because of this, the British would conduct large-scale suppression tactics that harmed many innocents. Just some more collateral damage because the Americans didn't have the decency to stand up in uniforms.

Should we then condemn our founding revolutionaries? By your logic, we should.

James Elliott said...

I should point out that my second post was in response to Burwell's comment to Anonymous, not his polite response to me.

Burwell said...

Mr Elliot,

Again, you raise some excellent points. Israel has mandatory conscription, therefore the death of an Israeli child would appear to be the death of future soldiers. However, when put into practice, the argument is nullified, because said child never grows old enough to become a soldier, and therefore is 'innocent' (assuming that military service is what makes them guilty). Thus we are faced with killing children, not soldiers.

It is understood that terrorism exists to spread terror. I can think of how jittery I was after 9/11, and I live no where near NYC or DC. I was hyper-alert like many others. However, I have many Middle Eastern friends, and that has enabled me to see beyond the geographical stereotyping. As far as "terror"-ism is concerned, the DC snipers were also effective in spreading terror, and in by that definition, were terrorists.

I agree with your assertion that to understand terror it is important to understand its causes. However, I do not subscribe to the theory that it is merely political or economic, or a combination of the two. Maybe for some, but not for all. I also believe much of it is spiritual in nature, and goes a lot deeper than most people give it credit. Let me say here that I do not equate Islam and terror, because other religions have had their share of terrorists- IRA, Knights Templar, etc.

Hunter Baker said...

I continue to find the Al Qaeda -- American Revolutionaries comparison inapt. We formally declared hostilities and prosecuted a war against the enemy in which we repeatedly met them on the field of battle.

We employed some new military tactics, but at no point did we engage in asymmetrical warfare as the terrorists now do.

Kathy Hutchins said...

I also don't buy the American Tories as Iraqi collaborators analogy. In every colony, the decision to join the rebellion was made by the most liberal democratic processes in place anywhere in the world at that time. I don't think harassment of Tories was anywhere the policy of the local government, and I don't buy that it was "not unfrequent." In Maryland, I know of one case in Annapolis during the entirety of the war -- a ship owner was found to be smuggling British goods to evade the boycott, his ship was burned to the waterline, and he and his family were allowed to depart for Canada. No, it's probably not right, and would have been better to deal with him judicially rather than by mob. But it's not really the same as being blown up outside a police station because you want to be a cop in a free self-governed Iraq, now is it?

Tlaloc said...

"I continue to find the Al Qaeda -- American Revolutionaries comparison inapt. We formally declared hostilities and prosecuted a war against the enemy in which we repeatedly met them on the field of battle."

I wouldn't call the comparison between al qaeda and the American revolutionaries very apt but it's true that the tactics used by the American Revolutionaries were indeed at times terrorist tactics. Again read up about the American Tories and how they faced attacks and persecution in order to terrify them to either abandon their sympathies or to flee the country.



"We employed some new military tactics, but at no point did we engage in asymmetrical warfare as the terrorists now do."

Again historically you're mistaken. The American Revolutionaries certainly didn't focus on what we would later call terrorism but then again they didn't have to. They could field conventional military forces strong enough to engage in some standard warfare (for the time).
Had they been more constrained in resources and manpower it's quite possible they would have conducted a wholey terrorist campaign.


The dirty secret is that terrorism is really no ethically different than any other form of warfare. All involve terror. All kill civilians. But we have the vastly superior conventional forces and so we claim everyone should fight by the rules that mean we'll always win. When they don't we cry foul. Its an act, a show, nothing more.

Tlaloc said...

"I don't think harassment of Tories was anywhere the policy of the local government, and I don't buy that it was "not unfrequent.""

Neat. Read the history and then you'll be able to speak from a position of knowledge instead of guessing based on how you wish our history had played out. Some samples follow:

http://bad.eserver.org/reviews/2005/johnthepainter.html


"The Middlesex farmers, after driving out the Tory (royalist) owners of large estates, and thus obtaining more land through the activities of the minute-men and their allies from neighboring colonies, were glad enough to trade with the rebel camp, which, indeed, contained many of their own people."
http://www.sidis.net/TSChap21.htm

"The county committees early in the contest had prevented the formation of a Tory party by promptly repressing loyalists and driving them from the country. The convention and Committee of Safety more or less warmly cooperated in this work, and the executive created by the new constitution, the council, found that the enforcement of the laws against Toryism was one of its most important labors."
http://www.ls.net/~newriver/va/varev7.htm

"It extended protection to the unfortunate Tory, Ralph Wormeley, Jr., who claimed that he had been disturbed by a mob while living on parole on his father's estate in Frederick."
same site actually that site is quite interesting and gets into some of the ways the local justice was perverted to be far harder on tories than citizens sympathetic to the revolution and the ways that tories were driven out of their homes in order to sieze their lands.

S. T. Karnick said...

"The dirty secret is that terrorism is really no ethically different than any other form of warfare. All involve terror. All kill civilians. But we have the vastly superior conventional forces and so we claim everyone should fight by the rules that mean we'll always win. When they don't we cry foul. Its an act, a show, nothing more."

Certainly you cannot pretend to see no difference whatever between warfare aimed primarily at warriors and warfare aimed primarily at civilians. There is a huge difference between the two.

War is never a good thing, but there are moral choices to be made even in war. Deliberately attacking people who are not actively involved in a war effort is barbaric. It is wrong. Going further in that direction to the point of concentrating your efforts on attacking people not actively involved in a war effort is unspeakably foul. The weakness of your side's resources and forces is no excuse. There is a difference between war and terrorism. Both are bad, but terrorism is morally indefensible in all cases.

Tlaloc said...

"Certainly you cannot pretend to see no difference whatever between warfare aimed primarily at warriors and warfare aimed primarily at civilians. There is a huge difference between the two."

Warfare aimed primarily at warriors like the firebombing of dresden? Or the Nuclear destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima? Come on Karnick, if you've read the history of warfare you should know it's never bothered to focus only on the warriors.

In the first gulf war our military targetted drinking water facilities in an attempt to erode the publics will to fight. The pentagon admits this. It's no different bombing a resevoir so people die of thirst than car-bombing a cafe.




"War is never a good thing, but there are moral choices to be made even in war. Deliberately attacking people who are not actively involved in a war effort is barbaric. It is wrong."

And it is done all the time by our military, the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese, well pretty much everyone who has a standing military. What does that tell you?



"The weakness of your side's resources and forces is no excuse."

Easy for you to say as a comfortable american who has never lived under a foreign hostile military occupation. Our forefathers had evidently a different view.



"There is a difference between war and terrorism. Both are bad, but terrorism is morally indefensible in all cases."

There is a difference between war and you romantic idealized version of war which of course exists only in your fantasies and David Drake novels. Real war is exactly equivilent to terrorism. I'd much rather see none of either but it's damn hypocritical for a warmongering nation like ours to get so venemous about terrorists.

S. T. Karnick said...

"Real war is exactly equivilent to terrorism." You keep saying this, but absolutely none of what you say constitutes proof of this proposition. I'll let the readers decide what to believe.

Tlaloc said...

"You keep saying this, but absolutely none of what you say constitutes proof of this proposition."

I gave you examples of how in war militaries target civilians. Isn't that what terrorists do, and so isn't that an equivilency that I showed?

S. T. Karnick said...

"I gave you examples of how in war militaries target civilians. Isn't that what terrorists do, and so isn't that an equivilency that I showed?"

No. Your argument drawing further conclusions from that datum commits the fallacy of special pleading, the fallacy of exclusion, the fallacy of composition, and the fallacy of too broad definition.

Tlaloc said...

perhaps you'd like to elucidate on your objections.

Anonymous said...

When the chosen of Allah see their nations as unsuccessful and uncompetitive in the modern world, they feel that someone must be to blame. The natural order has been stood painfully upon its head. They feel desperately wronged and confused. They have a great need to strike out. Terrorism is the easy option and will certainly continue into the future. It does not stem from logic so there is no logical answer or strategy. Argueing the rights and wrongs of the stuation is equivilent to blowing into a paper bag. we should pay a tribute to the islamic groupings which is equivilent to the amount we would have paid to fund anti-terrorism. They would then feel better about themselves and better about the non-moslem communities, and terrorism would decrease.