Sunday, September 03, 2006

Is state warfare terrorism?

A debate has long raged about the distinction between bombing done by state-owned and directed machines and non-state explosions, and more specifically between bombing that theoretically targets an armed enemy (but incidentally kills innocents) and bombing that targets innocents. Certainly, if the latter is done by a state, it's as much "terrorism" as if done by a nonstate, which is why our bombings of Dresden and Tokyo (not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki) were clearly acts of terrorism. The targets were not militarily significant, the purpose of the bombings being to break the political will of the people.

So the question is one of intent, right? If one intends to kill civilians for the purpose of changing a nation's course of action, it's terrorism; whereas if one intends to inflict military damage, but incidentally kills civilians, it's not.

So what about bombing that purports to target a military objective (or, even, an objective that has "military significance" such as a roadway or a radio station or a bank or an oil depot). Or for that matter, what about bombing that targets a neighborhood in which both civilians and enemy activists live?

Here's how Howard Zinn sees it.

The repeated excuse, given by both Pentagon spokespersons and Israeli
officials, for dropping bombs where ordinary people live is that terrorists
hide among civilians. Therefore the killing of innocent people (in Iraq, in
Lebanon) is called accidental, whereas the deaths caused by terrorists (on
9/11, by Hezbollah rockets) are deliberate.
This is a false distinction, quickly refuted with a bit of thought. If a bomb is deliberately dropped on a house or a vehicle on the grounds that a ``suspected terrorist" is inside (note the frequent use of the word suspected as evidence of the uncertainty surrounding targets), the resulting deaths of women and children may not be intentional. But neither are they accidental. The proper description is

I of course agree, and Zinn's analysis calls to mind a legal principle, under US law, that defines intent as including the notion that one can intend a result--can be held to have intended it--if the result is so likely as to be undeniably predictable. If one shouts fire in a crowded theatre and some is killed in the stampede, one is as guilty of murder as if the victim were shot in the face. You get the drift.

To me, both the Bush/Cheney/Rummie cabal with, inter alia, its "shock and awe" campaign over Baghdad, and , Osama and his buddies with their shock and awe over NYC and DC on 9/11, are terrorists. And so, to me, the "war on terror" includes war on both forces.

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