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Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] facism gaining ground in US

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: [Gnu-arch-users] [OT] facism gaining ground in US
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2004 17:53:22 +0900
User-agent: Gnus/5.1006 (Gnus v5.10.6) XEmacs/21.5 (chayote, linux)

>>>>> "Robin" == Robin Green <address@hidden> writes:

    Robin> The point I was trying to get at, though, was the
    Robin> distinction between terrorisms, "theirs" and "ours" -
    Robin> "ours" which is, of course, almost never called terrorism
    Robin> in the mainstream media.

We (the US) actually don't do that much terrorism by that definition.
Intent matters.  Lots of collateral damage, paper thin excuses for
launching at firecrackers, but is the intent to demoralize and
undermine social stability?  I know three of the "boots on the ground"
from the first Bush War in the Gulf.  They uniformly say that
attempting to scare the local population into cooperation was clearly
not going to work---it would boomerang, into even less cooperation and
guerrilla resistence.  I have to figure the current cohort understands
the same thing.  I don't think they're conducting a terror campaign
when they bomb weddings, I think they're spooking at shadows.  When
they go into a mosque and come out with a cache of weapons, that's
arguably not "terrorism", even though women and children died.  If the
mission is to take the weapons from the guerrillas, and they store
them in a mosque, that's a clear military objective.  The guerrillas
_know_ the occupation is coming in; they deliberately mix in with the
women and children not because they expect that to protect them, but
because they know they can use any casualties for propaganda.  I doubt
the casualties are volunteers.

Is the population being terrorized by "mistakes"?  Of course; war is
hell.  As far as I can tell, guerrilla attacks on American military
installations regularly result in zero American deaths, several Iraqi
civilian deaths, one suicide bomber death (usually Iraqi, I assume?)
Collateral damage is by no means limited to American attacks ... and
one wonders if there's a subsidiary terrorist motive: "the Americans
will go away eventually, but we live here, and we don't care who we
hurt".  Taking it from both sides has got to be terrifying.

Can it be "justified" by intent to minimize "incidental" terrorization
of that kind?  That comes down to the legitimacy of the whole
occupation.  I assume you think it's illegimate; then the answer is
no, and Yankee should just go home, minimize America-inflicted
casualties to zero, and any casualties that occur after we leave are
your problem.  If the occupation is legitimate, then I would have
to say yes, because I don't see how you can say war is "legitimate"
unless you take the casualties into account.

If illegitimate, does it matter what you call it?  I say, yes.  It
matters that there be rules that bind on the U.S. too, even if they're
rather easy to satisfy on the face of it.  It's really hard to make
even "easy" rules stick, as you're aware, My Lai being the famous
example in the Vietnam War.  That clearly was a systemic failure
although IIRC the highest the serious inquiry really got was Captain
Medina.  I know the Army now has rules and policy for that kind
situation, but evidently it didn't cover Abu Grieve, and the average
American probably uses Wikipedia definition (2) for terrorism (if we
do it it's OK, if you do it it's terrorism).

    >> No, you're not.  You're awfully close to Wikipedia, definition
    >> 1, which _is_ useful.  The points the first definition lacks
    >> are that terrorism (a) has no military objective at all

    Robin> How do you define "military objective"? Is it something
    Robin> that only a state can have, and not any other kind of
    Robin> organisation?

Of course not.  A tactical military objective is enemy military
installations or personnel whose destruction or repulsion directly
leads to the accomplishment of your political goal.  A strategic
military objective is installations or personnel whose destruction or
repulsion makes the enemy's tactics infeasible, and thus indirectly
helps accomplish your political goal.  I suppose you could argue that
attacks on political leaders/institutions could also be justified, but
I don't much like that---it justifies the Israeli policy of
assassination of PA leaders who they claim participate in terrorist
activity.  Yuck.  I don't know how I would classify a truly civilian
(see below) foreign corporate office or plant.  My tendency would be
to say attacking it would be terrorism, the non-terrorist course is
"Patience, my friend; when you run the country it will be yours."

Whether a non-state can legitimately take military action is a
different question.  Legitimate or not, they often do (I would
interpret 9-11 that way, as you apparently do), and if so the same
definition of "terrorism" should apply.

    Robin> If not, then the 9-11 attackers had a military objective of
    Robin> taking out the WTC and (part of) the Pentagon - and
    Robin> therefore, by the definition you gave above, necessarily
    Robin> were not terrorists?

That doesn't follow at all.  Killing civilians is by definition not a
military objective.  If you want to argue that bin Laden's _political
goal_ is to kill American civilians, any and all of them, ie, total
war, then sure, the only military way to accomplish that is to kill
American civilians, and in some sense not terrorism.  It's genocide.

But I thought bin Laden's political goal was (1) to get the American
military out of Saudi Arabia, (2) to get America out of the Islamic
world in all senses, and (3) to establish a fundamentalist Islamic
governance over all Muslims.  In that case, 9-11 took him not one
millimeter closer to his goals, _except_ that it hurt American morale
and pride, and scared the world to death.  It didn't touch anything in
the Islamic world; no tactical effect.  It didn't make staffing and
supply of American military bases anywhere untenable.  No strategic
effect.  It didn't remove critical command and control functions.  It
didn't, as far as I know, force any large companies to withdraw from
Islamic countries because they couldn't physically staff their offices
and plant.  Any real benefits it had to bin Laden, as far as I can
see, stemmed from the fear and morale loss.  I'm quite comfortable in
saying that destruction of the WTC was purely a terrorist act.

The Pentagon (and the alleged attempt on the White House, the plane
that crashed in Pennsylvania) are ambiguous.  I tend to think of them
as being terrorist, but you would be correct to point out that it's
self-serving to say that an attack on the nerve center of the U.S.
military is terrorism while an attack on a mosque being used as a
weapons depot is not.  I know my reaction at the time was "if you'd
stuck to the Pentagon, you could have gotten away with this".

One practically important example is that a suicide bomb where the
attacked point is a military checkpoint in occupied territory, say, is
not terrorism; it is guerrilla warfare.  The media (at least here in
Japan) _always_ gets this wrong.

    Robin> Think carefully before you answer. (In particular, if any
    Robin> targetting of civilian installations is forbidden, then any
    Robin> US targetting of civilian installations is therefore, ipso
    Robin> facto, forbidden.)

If the sole target is civilians, it's terrorism.  If there is a
military objective, it may not be terrorism.  For example a "civilian"
factory producing enriched uranium or weapons-grade anthrax, or simply
rifle shells.  Cf. the mosque example for an extremely distasteful
case, where I would not call it "terrorism", but condemn it on other

Why are you trying so hard to establish a moral equivalence between
bin Laden and the U.S. government?  I assume you expect that if you
succeed, there will be a revulsion in the US, and the US leadership
you find so distasteful will be removed, and the US will become (at
least over time) a nice domesticated inoffensive country like Sweden,
and maybe even raise its official ODA to 0.7% of GNI.

That's exactly what would not happen.  Have you not understood the
point of Pierce's "we would have accepted it if the US nuked
somebody?"  As he himself admitted, no, he couldn't stomach nukes, it
was just words.  But they are powerful, dangerous words---Americans
_do_ understand "nationality" when it's "us against them", and they
are prepared to think of extremes.  If you manage to draw that moral
equivalence, the majority of Americans would say, OK, the rest of the
world thinks we're the same as bin Laden, so screw them.  We'll do
what we need to do, our way.  That's more or less what happened,
anyway, at the government level, but the feeling in America would be
even more isolationist and unilateralist than usual, and (believe it
or not) the government would actually face constraints on behaving
more calmly.

I suppose you hope that if you can establish a moral equivalence
between "terrorism" and "collateral damage in a military attack",
America will hesitate to engage in military attacks.  Again, you're
wrong.  Equivalence will not raise collateral damage to the level of
horror of terrorism; it will lower the condemnation of terrorist acts
to "merely" an extreme case of "collateral damage".

So what you will have done is taken away my justification for
recommending removal of Rumsfeld just because he's _at best_ the kind
of guy who has trouble seeing the slippery slope from the directive he
signed to Abu Grieve.  Pierce says, OK, he made a mistake in judgment,
things went too far, he didn't establish proper controls.  I say,
bullshit.  A yellow card is not enough.  This is a red card, even a
lifetime suspension.  Somebody has to pay for this.  I nominate DR.

But if you convince me that "collateral damage" is morally equivalent
to "terrorism", I'll have to side with Pierce, because Abu Grieve is
now subject to the same kind of cost-benefit consideration that any
military operation is.  This is precisely why I take issue with Pierce
on the issue of whether the concept of "limited war" is a joke.  No
limits can be counted on to bind the enemy, but _we_ should strive to
win the peace, rather than the war.  Whether that's an ethical way to
think about it is dubious due to the legitimacy problem.  But it's
good business, and I have to count the reduction of casualties a good
thing in itself.

    Robin> Oh, and no-one can pretend that the word "terrorism" has
    Robin> nothing to do with morality or judgement.

Who would do that?  The definition of "terrorism" is _pure_ moral
judgement.  It says "here is something even more horrible than war

But I think you are rather mistaken about my purpose in constructing
this definition.  For foreign attacks on the U.S. proper, or on a
U.S. citizen, whether it's a "terrorist" attack or not is a moot
point.  I don't expect enemies of the U.S. to pay any attention to
what I say is "forbidden", what I choose to label as "terrorist",
"guerrilla", or "regular military" attack.  I do expect my government
to defend us against such attacks.

The point of constructing the definition is so I can judge whether my
government is doing things I do not want done in my defense, ever.
Judging the legitimacy of the invasion of Iraq is hard, at least from
the American point of view (even Tom has had days when he was
unwilling to make a cal

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