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  • Thursday, February 02, 2006


    Terrorism, Capitalism, Communism, and Democracy

    "Terrorism" is a widely used word but quite often misapplied. I believe the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union left a vacuum and a groping for terminology in the American press. Anti-Communist rhetoric was so ingrained in the American public, political, and journalistic consciousness that there was a conceptual gap, a lack of appropriate direction and focus for a long time.

    9/11 supplied an enemy, a focal point. Terrorism and terrorists. There is a small problem with this view: Terrorism is not like the other economic and political philosophies named above. Terrorism is a tactic, not a system of government or economy. As such, it is almost always in the eye of the beholder. It is almost a truism that when most established governments use military force with extensive civilian casualties it's called "appropriate and measured" but when insurgent groups use such force to achieve goals, it's terrorism. (Don't take my statement as condoning either. I'm trying to draw attention to the semantics of such labels.)

    I also see parallels in the cost of military action. That is, the larger the expended monetary cost per enemy causualty, the "better" the side inflicting the damage. This is similar to popular US views on capitalism and Calvinist views on piety. Capitalistic success in the US considered a virtue that shows the person or corporation is in more perfect accord with free market forces. The Calvinist view is that the more pious a person is, the greater their material reward in this life. So the side using expensive bombers and equipment is automatically "better" than the side using improvised explosive devices. Again, I'm not saying the opposite is true, but I am trying to point out a pattern I observe.

    Do "terrorists" often harm innocent bystanders with their actions? Yes. But to ignore the fact that "official" military actions do the same, usually on a much larger scale, is a rather facile and blinkered view.

    Despite invoking high ideals for our actions (toppling tyrants, bringing democracy, etc.), I'm reminded of a comment by one of America's military officers during the Vietnam "war": We had to destroy the village in order to save it.

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