From the caves to the capitals: who are the terrorists?

Posted on 05/03/11 49 Comments

My brain is, as they say, fried. And I am only one day into a five day stint of 36 hours of lecturing. The first casualty is sleep. The second is my voice. Alas, the third is the snappy and penetrating blogging which more than a dozen people spanning the globe have taken to reading.

With that in mind today I offer an article which really consists of a question: with Osama deep-sixed in the ocean, what exactly is “terrorism”? More particularly, when do states engage in acts of terrorism? Was the infamous Allied firebombing of Dresden an act of terrorism? With more than one hundred thousand civilians massacred in a civilian area with these targeted bombings, doesn’t that make Winston Churchill (among others) a terrorist whose name should live in ignominy? Or does the fact that (a) you have an urbane, cultured wit, a big cigar, and a glass of port, (b) your soldiers wear uniforms and (c) they come backed by a government, place your actions in a different category?

What about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that happened under the watch of Harry Truman? Would we share the sentiment of Paul Fussell’s essay “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” which offered a defense of these actions against two civilian populations without a blush or an ironic twist?

And let us not think that terrorism is about killing masses of people. Terrorism is about the psychological demoralization of a population. So what about acts undertaken by governments to invoke “shock and awe” against civilian populations in our own day even where the (direct) number of casualties is relatively low? Is the branding of “shock and awe” to be understood as the gaping wonder of a family watching a Fourth of July fireworks show replete with dancing pinwheels in the sky? Or is it to be understood as people fleeing their homes in horror as the only life they have known is turned to rubble? And if the latter, why is that not terrorism?

As I return to teach my course, forgive the naive questions of a Baptist as yet still unsullied by the jaded cynicism of realpolitik. But any moderately self-reflective denizen of the enlightened and democratic West must ask the question: when does a war on terror become a war on one’s own society?

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  • MGT2

    “Or is it to be understood as people fleeing their homes in horror as the only life they have known is turned to rubble? And if the latter, why is that not terrorism?”

    I am trying to find a middle ground here, if there is one.

    The “latter” is certainly terror, but is it terrorism?

    Terrorism, in my view, is a philosophy, a worldview based upon deep religious or personal conviction that the way to control people is through violence; not violence in response to committed atrocities, but violence as a normal course of management or governance.

  • Rob McLaren

    I guess terrorism is the eye of the beholder. America is the great Satan to the recipients of Bush’s (1 and 2) ‘just war’ on the great Satan of bin Ladin and company.
    The mandate from Jesus to ‘turn the other cheek,’ on the grand scale, seems pretty terrifying, but ‘hitting back harder’ comes with a different set of problems.
    By the way, as a student sitting in 36 hours of lecture with you, I’m impressed you can blog at all!!!
    And where were you when you first heart that Harper finally got his majority, the NDP surged to Opposition status, and the Liberals and Bloc were decimated?

    • Rob McLaren

      I do find it ironic that Western “Christian” nations have felt so justified in responding to threat and offence with punitive punishment, rather than grace, mercy, standing up against injustice, poverty, etc., which are just Christ-ian virtues.

      • MGT2

        Turning the other cheek is not about warfare, but insults.

        “A time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

        We cannot abide on the fringes, we need to find the middle ground. That is what I look for. Sometimes acts of terrorism require a shock and awe response. This does not make the response an act of terrorism. The challenge is finding the balance – when enough is enough.

        But to imply that one never responds to acts of terrorism for fear of becoming the evil we despise, is naive and has no Biblical basis.

        • afpierce

          Just a note here, it takes two ends to make a middle …

  • http://badchristian.org Sean R Reid

    This is the inherent problem with a war on “terrorism.” It’s too nebulous. It’s a concept and/or a tactic that is ill-defined and, ultimately, not something that can ever be eradicated. It’s like going to war on “shooting.” At some point, you’re probably going to be guilty of the very thing on which you’ve declared war. Nations can wage war on each other. Groups of people can battle. You can’t fight a “tactic.”

    Sadly, being against “terrorism” is a strong political position. It’s a metonymical (sic) exercise to create an “other,” or “boogeyman” for people to rally behind destroying. The down side, at least for the citizens -it’s all up sides for the politicians of the “warfare” state-, is that the war will never conceivably end. At any moment the ruling class can fit anyone with that “other” mask and use it as an excuse to limit freedom.

    Sadly, the world is in a much worse place today as a result of the US’s reaction to 9/11. In that way, even in death, OBL is still victorious. His machinations managed to disrupt this country into actions that have had, and continue to have, global repercussions for which the end seems far off.

    • MGT2

      Good comments.

      I guess in spite of all the celebration, this is merely a pyrrhic victory?

      We’ll see…

      • http://badchristian.org Sean R Reid

        The saddest part is that it didn’t need to be, and should have never been, that way. But, it is the hand we’ve been dealt by the choices of our “leaders.”

  • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

    I strongly recommend that anyone interested in the subject matter of this post listen to Dan Carlin’s most recent Common Sense podcast Show 199 “The Pyrrhic Schadenfreude”. Free on iTunes. He is right on the money.

  • afpierce

    I think you’ll enjoy this political cartoon …

    http://townhall.com/political-cartoons/2011/05/04/87377

    • randal

      Well those cartoons certainly speak for themselves!

  • http://leadme.org leadme.org

    Oh my, Randal, I think you’d make a terrible White House press secretary. And I think you must be a moral relativist, rooting as you clearly do for the evil terrorists and hating good old America.

    Lame attempt at humor aside, it seems pretty blindingly obvious to me that terrorism is terrorism, whether the name of the terrorist is Osama bin Laden, or Winston Churchill, or Harry Truman, or George W. Bush, or Barack Obama…

    Check out a great essay on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by historian Ralph Raico:

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/raico/raico22.html

    Especially love this (Raico quoting Leo Szilard):

    “If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them.”

    • randal

      Exactly right. Noam Chomsky has pointed out how the Nuremberg Trials were one long exercise in condemning the Axis powers while making sure the Allied Forces (i.e. the “winners”) got off just fine.

  • MGT2

    Am I missing something here?

    I do not see every act of militarism as terrorism. It is unfair to equate the responses of say, the US to the world wars, and to states that want to deny freedom to their own people and conscript peoples of other countries, to Nazi Germany.

    Surely, the Allied Forces freed nations and left them to determine their own futures while those on trial at Nuremberg were there because they wanted to eliminate a whole race of people. There is no similarity of motives. The cause of the Allied forces was for good and the cause of the Nazis was for evil.

    That is not to say that good causes cannot be undermined by factions, and that certainly happened. Also, bad decisions can lead to horrific consequences. But that should not be used to brand the Allied Forces or any force for good that may be similarly afflicted, as terrorists.

    The motive of real terrorists can only be described as evil because the modus operandi is terror for the sake of terror, and control by fear of death.

    There is a big difference between a bunch of grapes with only a few bad ones, and a bunch of grapes with only a few good ones.

    • randal

      MGT2,

      Sometimes points like the one I’m making are interpreted as a moral equivalence of a moral relativism between what the Nazis did and what others did. Nothing could be further from the truth (at least as I raise the objections). Rather it is a matter of hypocrisy, pure and simple. That’s what my entire discussion is predicated on.

      The bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand among history’s very greatest atrocities, don’t you agree? And they were actions committed by the “good guys”.

      • MGT2

        Those were certainly bad decisions and great atrocities made and committed during times of war, but they do not represent the belief or policy positions maintained or perpetuated by either Britain or the United States.

        Those individuals responsible ought to be held accountable; with this I agree.

        • randal

          “they do not represent the belief or policy positions maintained or perpetuated by either Britain or the United States.”

          This is a rather wooly distinction. Beginning in 1965 the United States dropped more than 2.7 million tons of bombs on Laos and Cambodia, decimating both countries. Thousands of those bombs were dropped indiscriminately across the landscape and it resulted in the death of thousands of civilians.

          At what point are the actions of the nation in fact representative of the belief or policy positions?

          • MGT2

            Randal, I attempted to answer your question in my response to leadme.org below.

        • afpierce

          Interesting that you characterise these as bad decisions–they were seen as necessary decisions at the time considering the circumstances and although, like every decision, they carried numerous unintended consequences they were decisions taken by a government to bring about a necessary victory and to set the stage for anticipated future events. These issued are completely irrelevant to the argument about terrorism.

          Whether or not the victims of American military responses to political and social situations condemn the American acts as terrorism or not is not (and should not be) part of the decision making process outside of considering the implications of said opinions on future operations. In the cases of these particular events is was to bring about the end of the war and prevent future use of nuclear weapons — they architects of these ‘terrorist atrocities’ and 2 and 0 there.

    • http://leadme.org leadme.org

      MGT2,

      Maybe this is to wander off onto a tangent, but I’m wondering why you would speak of “terror for the sake of terror.” Are there any terrorists you know of who engage in terrorism primarily in order to satiate nihilistic, sadistic urges for raw death and destruction? Certainly bin Laden didn’t fit that bill. Terrorism is almost always geopolitically motivated, and bin Laden was no exception. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” as the saying goes.

      That’s not for a moment to morally excuse terrorism, but it is to point out that motive is not particularly helpful–it seems to me–when trying to define what is and is not terrorism. Terrorism ought to be defined in terms of its consequences, rather than in terms of the motives or political affiliations of those engaging in acts of terror.

      And that’s not to brand “the Allies” (whatever exactly that sweeping term means) as terrorists, but it is to identify and condemn the truly horrific acts of terror ordered by Truman, Churchill, and all others in their chains of command who were complicit.

      Maybe you’d agree with all this, and I’ve misunderstood you?

      • MGT2

        Yes, I agree with you.

        What I have been trying to say, maybe very poorly, is that acts of terrorism is certainly perpretrated, even within the bounds of good causes, but the inclination to terrorism is not the intent.

        Within the context of warfare, there are rules of engagement that honorable combatants are obligated to maintain in order to prevent a slippage into raw terrorism. We must make that distinction to avoid an over broad and meaningless definition of terrorism. Otherwise, it becomes simply relative; as you say “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

        I fully agree that we should “identify and condemn the truly horrific acts of terror ordered by Truman, Churchill, and all others in their chains of command who were complicit”, because those acts can only be described as terrorism. They broke the rules of engagement.

        As Randal points out with Laos and Cambodia, “Thousands of those bombs were dropped indiscriminately across the landscape and it resulted in the death of thousands of civilians.” That is breaking the rules of engagement.

        But there was no official sanction by the United States as a policy position for this kind of warfare. Some politicians were for that and many were not. We all know the the mood of the nation then, Americans overwhelminly did not want to see indiscrimminate bombing of another nation, then or now.

        Today, Americans want the military to withdraw from all those countries that they are currently in. Once they realized that they were duped into agreeing with the invasion of Iraq, they wanted the troops out. They want out of Afghanistan, especially since OBL has been killed. They do not want American military on foreign soil unless it is for humanatarian reasons. Some poiltician may want differently, but as a nation, America does not. That is not the description of a terrorist nation.

        A terrorist nation wants to see another nation wiped off the face of the earth by violent means. A terrorist nation sanctions suicide bombings and the killing of the innocent in the name of religion. A terrorist nation is inclined to these.

        Terror for the sake of terror is typical of despots who become addicted to the sadistic pleasure derived from the harm they can inflict. That is why they kill their own people in unmentionable ways.

        • randal

          “inclination to terrorism is not the intent.”

          When a military invades a foreign country with a mandate of “shock and awe” to demoralize the population, and when during the military camp they refer to civilian casualities of the enemy as “bug splat” how can you seriously suggest this is not terrorism? I just don’t get it.

          “But there was no official sanction by the United States as a policy position for this kind of warfare.”

          Are you saying LBJ and Nixon and their administrations were not aware of the 5 year bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia? This was a part of Operation Menu, a formal, official policy. In the most recent campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq the United States has had policies of torture (e.g. waterboarding) and of rendition (deporting pows to other states to be tortured). Those are policies.

          “Today, Americans want the military to withdraw from all those countries that they are currently in.”

          Really? The United States has over 700 military bases in over 100 foreign countries. Do you think the government has any intent of packing up and going home? The United States spends more on its military than all other nations on earth combined. That is an empire. And believe me, millions resent deeply the US military presence in their nations just like Americans would resent a French military base in Virginia or a Kuwaiti military base in Texas.

          • MGT2

            Randal,

            I can understand if you mean to say that whatever decision politicians make is ultimately the decision of the people, the nation. But today, when information is much more accessable, we can clearly know whether this is truly how the nation feels; if it represents who they are as a people. It does not.

            Look at what is happening around the world; we can now see that what governments do are often not in sync with what their nations want. That is more the rule than the exception. We are now able to look into records from the past and learn that many of the decision made during those times were done without the knowledge and approval of the people; that once the people found out they became upset because that is not who they are as a nation.

            Take what is happening in the Arab world (the Arab Spring). The despotic governments are out of touch with the people. Sharia Law is not what they want. Theocracy is not what they want. Terrorism is not what they want. Yet they are politically called Islamic nations, Religious nations and Terrorist nations (some).

            So when an act of terror is committed by a faction of the group, they are all called terrorists. That cannot be fair to them, and it is not fair to the US.

            “And believe me, millions resent deeply the US military presence in their nations”.

            And, as a nation, the vast majority of Americans deeply resent the US military presence in other nations; the US government notwithstanding.

            • randal

              I don’t understand your response. You seem to have shifted from “this wasn’t a policy of the government” to “this wasn’t the will of the people.” But the latter is hardly relevant for this discussion. As you note, the majority of populations in many Arab countries disagree with their despotic rulers, but that doesn’t mean the government is good. It follows indefensible policies and it is wrong to try to defend those governments by saying their unjust policies diverge from the will of the people! Mutatis mutandis for the United States.

              So I am still very perplexed as to your basis for saying western governments (United States, Britain, Israel, etc.) do not engage in systematically unjust terroristic activities around the world.

              • MGT2

                Randal,

                If you are talking about only governments,(and indeed you were)you still have to contend with those individuals that surreptitiously press these acts. Because, again, we now know that many of the decisions that resulted in those horrific outcomes were made by a small cadre of people without the direct knowledge and approval of the rest of the government. We know how that works. We also know that there were calls for investigations and impeachment once the facts came to light.

                We also know that military campaigns are not superintended by the Congress, but by a small faction of the government, and that there is often disagreement with both purpose and tactic.

                So I say that good causes by “good guys” (good governments) have been corrupted by a few, resulting in terrorist acts in several instances, but that does not make the government a terrorist government by policy.

                • randal

                  I find it terribly implausible to suggest that there was a “small cadre of people” behind the mass five year bombing campaign of two peaceable civilian populations. I recommend you check out the Noam Chomsky Richard Perle debate of 1988. It is significant because, to my knowledge, that is the last time a politician was ever foolhardy enough to debate Chomsky.

                  Or you could just watch the award winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side” which chronicles the systematic use of torture and rendition post 9-11 by the US government.

                  I’m not saying western governments like America or Britain (or my own politically insigificant home) are worse than anybody else. But I’d like us all to recognize that Romans 3:23 applies to nations as well as individuals.

                  • mgt2

                    You are missing my point by ignoring the fact that, as I stated earlier, the Ameican people were duped into agreeing with this personal vendetta by Bush, and that included the members of congress. How can you ignore the outcry and objection by the majority of Democrats in the congress, and subsequently the clear disapproval of the nation once the facts were uncovered?

                    It was indeed the few (small cadre) who had the control and access to the intelligence that manipulated the data to justify that unjust invasion. Like I said, we know how that works. You seem to be implying that all three branches of the government were fully aware of all the details and in one accord, decided as that this isjustifably what the US policy should be. But the facts do not bear this out.

                    • randal

                      I’m not talking only about a single invasion. I mentioned a five year bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia. And I mentioned a policy of torture and rendition which has extended over years.

                      To focus on your specific example of the Iraq invasion, your reference to being “duped” is an attempt to remove moral culpability. Isn’t it interesting that millions of people around the world were not “duped”? The vast majority of Canadians never supported this invasion. Tony Blair’s popularity crumbled because the British people never supported it. And a vocal minority of Americans never did. (Democracy Now! was a bright spot in this regard.)

                      Consider the case of the Dixie Chicks. After Natalie Maines said in a concert in Britain that she was ashamed George Bush was from the US the group received death threats, record (CD?) burnings, and a radio blackout on stations across the country. Do you explain that behavior by saying that people were merely duped? What moral culpability do people bear when they allow themselves to be manipulated in this way by their leaders?

                      Senator Robert Byrd wasn’t duped. As he said back in 2003, “The right to ask questions, debate, and dissent is under attack. The drums of war are beaten ever louder in an attempt to drown out those who speak of our predicament in stark terms.” So apparently being “duped” wasn’t inevitable.

                      Judge Judy likes to say “How do you know when teenagers are lying? It’s when they move their mouths.” Same goes for politicians and when we allow them to manipulate us for their nefarious ends we were not merely “duped”. We are guilty.

                      So why don’t we all just admit the sins of our nations, our governments and our peoples?

                    • http://badchristian.org Sean R Reid

                      (At the risk of further taking this down a rabbit hole…)

                      The invasion of Iraq was a contingency plan that had been in place since the Clinton administration (they weren’t afraid of using force, see: Waco Texas, Kosovo, Serbian rebels). 9/11 simply gave the politicians the opportunity upon which to bring that agenda to the fore.

                      While I’m not a strong student of history I can’t help but think the entire Iraq invasion by Bush II was merely an extension of the adventures Bush I had taken (and arguably never completed in an attempt to cater to the UN upon getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar). Which, I’m sure, has its ties going further back in history, seeing as how we put Hussein in power to begin with.

                      The point being, there were plenty of politicians who were hungry for blood (oil) and all they needed was a plausible excuse and a boogeyman. Bin Laden gave them both in spades and by declaring a war on “terror” it meant that they wouldn’t be limited only to OBL’s capture (or, as it is now, death).

                      Whipping up public support by appealing to emotions is propaganda 101. Sadly, even I have to admit that, even with my cynicism and distrust of government, I was not immune. We weren’t duped so much as we made the choice to follow the piper. As soon as the US populace decided it wanted blood we granted the politicians all the permission they needed. Unfortunately, we still haven’t broken through our decades of conditioning.

                    • http://leadme.org leadme.org

                      Sean,

                      Re: The Iraq invasion, you’re right on. Check out this clip from an interview with Gen. Wesley Clark:

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jc0tv-ZjmLQ&feature=player_embedded

  • afpierce

    This discussion implies that the contributors would have taken different actions had they been responsible for the decisions taken at the times mentioned. I contend the decisions were the best under the circumstances, laudable today or not.

    From the viewpoint of history it is easy to suggest alternative courses of action so I find this all somewhat absurd. I would find it hard to believe anyone in the White house wouldn’t have taken the same decision given the same set of circumstances. They could not predict the consequences but they could foresee potential futures based on the actions they took and would therefore act accordingly with only the future to determine if the decisions were effective or not.

    President Obama may indeed be a terrorist and acting immorally and illegally but I’ll warrant he’s not too worried about it considering how he anticipates future events. His sense of the future obliged him to act irrespective of how he may be perceived.

    and Yes, the ends may justify the means

    • http://leadme.org leadme.org

      afpierce,

      What are you referring to? Are you speaking of the destruction of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki?

      If so, I suppose I can only try to assure you that I’m not simply playing Monday morning quarterback. These acts were immoral and barbaric in the extreme and it hardly takes hindsight to recognize that. If Truman had ordered all the inhabitants of Hiroshima to be lined up and executed one by one until the Japanese government surrendered, how would that have been any morally different than incinerating those poor souls from the skies?

      And I’m not sure how all this applies in Obama’s case, since his presidency is unfolding as we speak. What exactly do you mean by “his sense of future”?

      Don’t mean to sound rude or combative, but I’m genuinely perplexed by your comments.

      • afpierce

        leadme … you’re definitely not rude and don’t worry about the combative!

        ” If Truman had ordered all the inhabitants of Hiroshima to be lined up and executed one by one until the Japanese government surrendered, how would that have been any morally different than incinerating those poor souls from the skies?”

        How would that have been any different than eliminating them one by one on the battlefield once it extended into mainland Japan or any other form of attrition.

        No one argues that war isn’t either immoral or barbaric but it is on occasion thrust upon us.

        Truman made his decision to use nuclear weapons based on his forecast of possible futures as, I trust, did Obama.

        • http://leadme.org leadme.org

          “How would that have been any different than eliminating them one by one on the battlefield once it extended into mainland Japan or any other form of attrition.”

          Are you talking about soldiers, or civilians? I don’t see how it could ever be moral to murder civilians, whether based on some prediction of future events or not.

    • randal

      “I would find it hard to believe anyone in the White house wouldn’t have taken the same decision given the same set of circumstances.”

      This simply isn’t true. The government’s case for going to war with Iraq was a complete fabrication. There was never solid evidence for a link between Iraq and 9-11 or WMDs. And even if Iraq had been developing WMDs, on what basis does the US, a country with over 6000 nuclear weapons of their own and the only country ever to use nuclear weapons against another nation, justify launching a first strike???

      • afpierce

        I agree the WMD ‘excuse’ was ultimately proved nonsense but that was only an ill devised cover for the real reasons for the invasion. President Bush and his advisors knew they had to end the situation in Iraq because it was no longer tenable for the US to enforce the no-fly zones which had been in place for about a decade. The US had two options: 1. walk away (which would have been a political disaster and probably would have destroyed what was left of the morale (and capability) of the US military, or 2. finish the job. The final choice was absolutely the correct on at many levels unfortunately it was poorly planned and executed and the public ‘cover story’ was based on bad intelligence. If either the ‘intelligence’ had been accurate or if it had been better executed G.W. Bush would be a hero. Instead, as both were a problem, his administration ended up being very much discredited.

        What I am saying is this: even if you had been in the White House you too would have been faced with those two options. Could you have found a third way? Given the players involved it is highly unlikely. Our political leaders, as proved over and over again, as more often a victim of events as opposed to being the ones pulling the strings.

        By the way, if I could figure out how to put up my picture I would (of course maybe the world is better of not seeing it.)

        • http://leadme.org leadme.org

          afpierce,

          I’ll take option 1. The US military absolutely should walk away. From Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, etc. etc. ad nauseam. Just get out. Come home. This is true now, and it was true at the time of the Iraq invasion.

          The entire history of western (esp. US) interventionism in the Middle East, over the course of the last century or so, has been one long, sad, immoral fiasco. And it has been the primary motivator of anti-western (esp. anti-US) sentiment, and understandably so.

  • MGT2

    Randal,

    “Judge Judy likes to say “How do you know when teenagers are lying? It’s when they move their mouths.” Same goes for politicians and when we allow them to manipulate us for their nefarious ends we were not merely “duped”. We are guilty.

    So why don’t we all just admit the sins of our nations, our governments and our peoples?”

    So as we move from governments to the entire nation, is your point that America, Britain, etc., are terrorist nations because of those atrocities committed by a few during the time of war? And dosen’t it follow, then, that by your reckoning, the Church is a terrorist organization, and Christians terrorists because of actrocities committed by some during the dark ages, and today; and aren’t all Christians guilty of pedophilia because of the acts of some, albeit minor segment of the clergy?

    I do not see how your argument avoids this conclusion since you allow no room for the innocent.

    • randal

      The point is that nations do not get slotted into the “good guys” and “bad guys” categories anymore than individuals do. A Christian doctrine of sin recognizes that we are all fallen individually and corporately and we are much more likely to find the sins in our opponents than ourselves. I can’t understand why you seem so resistant to this point.

      • MGT2

        You often object to Biblical accounts of the destruction of entire nations, infants included, because the nations were judged guilty of sins against God by saying that it is unjust since infants and non-combatants did nothing wrong.

        Now you say that everyone in the nation is guilty of the sins of the few.

        I am resistant because the Bible teaches that one individual will not be held guilty for another’s sin.

        I am resistant because it is indeed unfair to brand all Muslims as terrorists because some are.

        I am resistant because the misdeeds of a few within the context of a broader good cause, does not change the intent and purpose of that cause.

        I am resistant because a cause that is meant to help and liberate people according to their will from oppression is not the moral equivalent of a cause that is meant to subjugate indivuals to bondage against their will.

        • randal

          “Now you say that everyone in the nation is guilty of the sins of the few.”

          I said no such thing. Nor did I say anything remotely in that ballpark. I didn’t impute the sins of corrupt governments to their people. The government and people have different sins and different culpabilities. If a government presents false information to justify a war and I don’t challenge that information, then I am not culpable for presenting false information (that’s absurd!) but I am culpable for accepting it without question.

          Moreover, I explicitly noted in the case of the Iraq invasion that there were many people who challenged the government’s lying propaganda. Robert Byrd was among them.

          So please interact with what I say, not a strawman.

  • MGT2

    Randal,

    “Moreover, I explicitly noted in the case of the Iraq invasion that there were many people who challenged the government’s lying propaganda. Robert Byrd was among them.

    So please interact with what I say, not a strawman.”

    Then I am really not getting what you are saying. Curse my obtuseness and unsophistication.

    But you did say (even while allowing for Robert Byrd and others as exception) that, “What moral culpability do people bear when they allow themselves to be manipulated in this way by their leaders?”

    And I am saying that most did object; a fact that must be taken into consideration. There is a political reality.

    I keep saying that “we know how that works” to mean that we know government secrets are not publicly known for the masses to make such contemporaneous, informed decisions on issues like those mentioned. They only have the “facts” they are given. Therefore, one cannot justifiably say they “allowed” themselves to be duped, and as a consequence are culpable for the actions of the few.

    You mentioned “…a five year bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia. And I mentioned a policy of torture and rendition which has extended over years.”

    I am saying that poll after poll showed that the majority did not agree with those policies. So even though the government was so engaged, the people were against such “policies”. In a democracy, that is important because it was not the will of the people, neither was it the will of the entire government which was split along party lines with those holding political power carrying sway.

    You also say, “Sometimes points like the one I’m making are interpreted as a moral equivalence of a moral relativism between what the Nazis did and what others did. Nothing could be further from the truth (at least as I raise the objections). Rather it is a matter of hypocrisy, pure and simple. That’s what my entire discussion is predicated on.

    The bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand among history’s very greatest atrocities, don’t you agree? And they were actions committed by the “good guys”.”

    I replied “…but they do not represent the belief or policy positions maintained or perpetuated by either Britain or the United States.”

    You say, “This is a rather wooly distinction. Beginning in 1965 the United States dropped more than 2.7 million tons of bombs on Laos and Cambodia…

    At what point are the actions of the nation in fact representative of the belief or policy positions?”

    Finally, you say, “The point is that nations do not get slotted into the “good guys” and “bad guys” categories anymore than individuals do. A Christian doctrine of sin recognizes that we are all fallen individually and corporately…”

    I understand you to be saying that because of the atrocities of some regardless, of the objections of the majority, corporately all bear the guilt, even the objectors. Thus, a terrorist act by the few is a terrorist act by all (ala the sin of Achan?), agreed to by all as a point of policy

    I started out trying to answer why a terrorist act may not be terrorism by saying, “Terrorism… is not violence in response to committed atrocities [that would be terror, as in "shock and awe"], but [rather] violence as a normal course of management or governance.”

    Therefore, my point has been, the atrocities committed during those times of war do not amount to policy positions and do not make the USA, Britian, et al, as nations, guilty of “terrorism.”

    I apologize if I am not understanding you.

    • randal

      “I understand you to be saying that because of the atrocities of some regardless, of the objections of the majority, corporately all bear the guilt, even the objectors.”

      No, I never argued such a thing. I find that notion incoherent. Each is guilty of his or her own sins. Those who deceive are guilty and those who allow themselves to be deceived (e.g. by being carried along by the baser instincts of blind vengeance) are also guilty but for different indiscretions.

      Do you believe any nation states are guilty of terrorism? If so, what are your criteria for discerning which states are so guilty? And how many terroristic acts make a terroristic state?

      As it stands, I worry that you’re making a categorical distinction between the good guys and the bad guys at a national level which is theologically indefensible, just as it is indefensible at the level of individual human persons.

    • http://leadme.org leadme.org

      MGT2,

      I’m trying to understand why it matters so much to you whether a nation is a “terrorist” nation or not (whatever that means). Who cares? Even granting such a distinction, how is an act of terror any less immoral if the perpetrators are from a so-called good nation? Just focus on the individual acts of immorality and take a stand against them!

      There’s no such entity as a “nation.” It’s just an abstraction, without any moral agency. There’s no such thing as a “government” either. Again, just an abstraction. Focus on the individuals involved. I think that will go a long way toward allowing you to sort out the complications you’re wrestling with.

      • http://leadme.org leadme.org

        Here’s the quote I was looking for, from the incomparable Murray Rothbard:

        “For, ultimately, there is no entity called ‘government'; there are only people forming themselves into groups called ‘governments’ and acting in a ‘governmental’ manner.”

        http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/nine.asp

        • http://badchristian.org Sean R Reid

          pointless comment to just give a +1 to a Rothbard quote.

        • randal

          I was going to say “Governments don’t start wars. People start wars as governments.”

  • MGT2

    Randal,

    “Those who deceive are guilty and those who allow themselves to be deceived (e.g. by being carried along by the baser instincts of blind vengeance) are also guilty but for different indiscretions.”

    Thanks for making that clear.

    “Do you believe any nation states are guilty of terrorism? If so, what are your criteria for discerning which states are so guilty? And how many terroristic acts make a terroristic state?”

    If there is, then my criteria would be both a majority in the government and a majority of the populace must embrace this as a way of governance, and it must a cultural norm, meaning that this is typical of successive generations. Therefore, this is the way they think as a default; there is no threshold of terroristic acts, they would be by habit, by natural inclination.

    “As it stands, I worry that you’re making a categorical distinction between the good guys and the bad guys at a national level which is theologically indefensible, just as it is indefensible at the level of individual human persons.”

    Maybe. But didn’t God make just such a distinction when he spared Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18 and 19)?

  • MGT2

    leadme.org,

    You ask, “…how is an act of terror any less immoral if the perpetrators are from a so-called good nation? Just focus on the individual acts of immorality and take a stand against them!”

    But that is what I have been saying. I agree with what you say here. It is individuals who are guilty.

    But you startd by saying, “I’m trying to understand why it matters so much to you whether a nation is a “terrorist” nation or not (whatever that means). Who cares? Even granting such a distinction…”

    Here is why. If there is no distinction, then the sin of the individual is the sin of the nation. For example, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, if that distinction is not made, then I do not see how one can say that Japan, the entire nation, was not guilty of attacking a country that was not involved in the war. It would follow, then (if we do not make a distinction), that when the US responded with the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, they (the entire US nation)were not bombing any innocent individual. Can anyone look at the image of that little girl running away from the carnage and accuse her of the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

    But a distinction IS made between military and non-military, combatants and non-combatants, innocent and guilty. Thus, we can classify the use of atomic bombs in response as immoral.

    I fully understand that from the perspective of the victims it is the offender “Country” that committed the atrocity, but that in itself is immoral because it imputes to all, and punishes them, for the crimes of the few.

    I do not know whether you are American, but if you are, do you accept culpability for the bombings of Laos and Cambodia, or the unjust war in Iraq, or the undermining of the governments of other sovereing nations?

    Maybe I am sensitive because, being a minority in America, I know what it is like to be pronounced guilty for the crimes of some in my ethnic group, and treated in like manner. It has consequences; it is a moral issue without the distinction.