America and Terrorism

Terrorism, as the concept is historically defined, is largely an invention
of the 19th century. Honorable mention often goes to Guy Fawkes as a
premature terrorist, as well as to various peasant insurrections during
the Middle Ages, when unruly serfs might torch a church or two and
slaughter a mansion’s worth of nobility before being slaughtered in turn.
But the more modern image of the bomb-throwing,
innocent-bystander-murdering terrorist came into its own in the mid to
late 1800s, with the Russians, the Irish, and the Spaniards taking gold,
silver, and bronze, respectively.
The history of terrorism in America is limited enough to allow for a quick
recap.  Certainly the bloodiest, and longest-lived terrorist organization
has been the Ku Klux Klan.  Bombings, beatings, and assassinations
directed against always unarmed civilians, often with the explicit
connivance of local government officials, and the lordly refusal to get
involved on the part of state or federal government, until popular opinion
demanded it.  A film like “Mississippi Burning” is pure myth, and the
image of FBI agents at the forefront of justice is laughable and
pernicious at the same time.  It is true that informants and sometimes
agents themselves were often present during civil disturbances, but they
stuck stubbornly to the sidelines and spent their time taking snapshots of
civil rights leaders for the files being compiled on them.  One doesn’t
hear quite so much about the KKK these days, but their various bastard
offspring continue to breed via the Internet and have added
narco-terrorism to their other offenses.
The bombings and bank robberies carried out by the Weather Underground
should be noted, but, given the overwhelming repression they were up
against, in the form of harsh prison sentences on suspicion of conspiracy
more often than actual commission, and considering the vilest forms of
blackmail directed at themselves and their families, the overall effect of
the WU’s blows against the state could best be described as a mouse
sneezing against a typhoon.  The actions of the Weathermen resulted in a
scattering of property damage but casualties were remarkably low.  And, it
needs to be noted, deliberately so.  But given this Lockean country of
ours, fractured metal and busted glass were enough to land a score of the
WU on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Unlike the glacial response in coming to
grips with the KKK, the FBI brought all its resources to bear on the
stamping out of the organized militant left, and in the case of the Black
Panthers, regularly resorted to unvarnished murder.  AIM was given the
same harsh treatment, and as with the Panthers, retaliation was
intensified because the targets did not go as gently as wished.  This
reminds one of the sign that hung for years outside the tiger cages at the
Paris Zoo, which read: “This is a truly vicious animal. When attacked, it
defends itself.”
America, with its obsessive insistence on individuality at the cost of the
collective, has thrown up its own type of homegrown terrorist, the one-man
1) Therefore, the Unabomber is worth mentioning because both his
methodology and his motivations would define him as a terrorist.  Letter
bombs sent to unsuspecting civilians, their death or mutilation the
desired aim, in the furtherance of a worldview that, however incoherent
his manifesto was, could clearly be described as political.  Because the
Unabomber was a monomaniac lone wolf he was fodder for the media, with its
love of celebrity of any kind, and so the details of his private existence
and life story up to the moment of his capture became more important than
his actions or his beliefs.  Much print and wind was expended on the
apparent paradox of his academic credentials and his whiz-kid math-genius
status, neither of which explained anything. (Unless it was too much
education that made him do it?)
2) Eric Rudolph, another homegrown terrorist, and a holder of iconic
right-wing views. His 5-year run of eluding the law, apparently with
support from otherwise law-abiding (so far as is known) fellow citizens,
presents a somewhat bizarre, deep-South precursor to Bin Laden in the
hills of Pakistan’s tribal frontier.
3) Timothy McVeigh, possibly the most poisonously shameful child of the
American far right.  A blond, blue-eyed former soldier, a born-again
Christian.  The sheepishness of his last words, moments before he was
executed, conveyed not so much remorse as deep and baffled self-pity: “I
didn’t know about the daycare center.”


The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, were horrific and
spectacular, and the reaction from virtually every civilized country on
the planet was one of intense and unorchestrated sympathy for America.
This included messages of condolence and tangible mementoes of shared
grief in countries the U.S. has chosen to designate as enemies for
decades, namely Cuba and Iran.  A number of countries inserted, in their
official governmental messages of support, statements indicating that they
understood the random horror and seeming meaninglessness of the attacks
because of their own past dealings with terrorist episodes.  Our closest
ally, Great Britain, was among these, referring to their long violent
struggle with the IRA, ironically enough, a group which had received
public and vocal support (along with monies for weapons) from certain
segments of American society, the armchair-warriors of Boston and New York
among them.  The French also reminded us of a time when car bombs going
off in the streets of Paris or Marseilles were far too common, and when
French passersby were blown apart or gunned down by members of the
Algerian National Liberation Front (before that country’s independence)
and then by members of the quasi-fascist outlaw military units targeting
their anti-colonialist countrymen (after Algeria’s independence, or ‘loss’
as the fascists termed it).  And more recently, all through the 1970s,
Palestinians and Israelis blew each other up on French soil, in each
instance killing or maiming French citizens caught in the wrong place at
the wrong time.
But whether it was the epic scale of the 9/11 attacks, or because the
prime target was New York City (the default center of the universe, as it
were), or because the death toll was so shockingly high, it seemed as
though no one in the U.S., or at least no one who was in a position to
formulate a response or provide a nudge in this or that foreign policy
direction, was listening, or could hear the suggestions and advice of
those who’d been through something similar.
The one exception was on the question of torture.  The treatment of
civilian suspects (some certainly terrorists and many surely not) at the
hands of the British, French, Egyptian, and Israeli security personnel was
a matter studied in great detail by the CIA, among others.  And from this
study it was fatally concluded that no principle of democracy and the
much-vaunted American system of justice was so precious that it could not
be willfully trampled on and ignored so long as the cameras were turned
off in the torture chambers, the names of the torturers excised from the
euphemistic interrogation reports.
Now the use of torture by Americans did not, of course, begin only in the
aftermath of 9/11.  But the public relations campaign to make the use of
torture a topic worthy of discussion, launched by the Bush administration
and its congressional and media allies, was something new and ominous.
Public figures, the serious and the harebrained alike, examined torture as
though there were two sides to the question and attempted to frame their
new-found enthusiasm for barbarism (provided it was made in the USA) as a
valid and necessary evil.  With solemn faces and eyes close to brimming
with crocodile tears, administration officials spoke of the particularly
patriotic sacrifice required by the good men called upon to torture others
for the sake of the homeland.


It’s been said that the first casualty of war is always the Truth.  The
Bush administration has taken great pains to ensure that Language has also
been added to the list of collateral damage.
For many years, and again, going back as far as the 1840s in Europe, the
concept of ‘terror’, the meaning of ‘terrorism’ has been understood by
those who were for and against it, whether as a topic of academic study,
or by proponents of the state, or by bomb-throwers and revolutionaries
The Bush administration has consistently expanded the definition (a sort
of ‘big tent’ definition, if you will) in a manner which effectively
reclassifies the methods and personnel which had been formerly recognized
as guerrilla movements.  Whether Bush and his fellow gang-members intend
it or not, whether they even care or not, this re-branding of terrorism
has produced an odd ripple into America’s past.  So much for the various
movements supported by previous administrations, the ones backed with
weapons and training and moral boosterism, up to and including comparisons
with America’s own founding fathers.  The Bush regime, despite Condoleeza
Rice’s smoke-and-mirrors rhetoric and her let-them-eat-bullshit approach
to the “lessons of history”, has a view of the recorded past about as long
as the life-span of a flea, with absolutely no interest, talent, or
ability for formulating a consistent or coherent foreign policy.  Like a
pack of children playing dress-up, when it comes time for them to leave
office they will do so confident that history is at an end since it no
longer revolves around them.  The grown-ups will be left to clean up the
mess.  This need which Bush and his crowd suffers from, the need to
operate within their own invented reality, has turned their supporters
(few though they be, in comparison to the glaze-eyed, heel-clicking mobs
of some years ago) into liars, many of whom must surely recognize that
calling a cow a horse won’t keep the cow from mooing.  Anyone who buys
into the Bush understanding of the term ‘terrorist’ would, if they were
capable of honesty, necessarily have to admit that the US has (again,
according to Bush) been itself a major state sponsor of terrorism.
From Kennedy on, the US has sponsored terrorist activity against Cuba,
through its support of sabotage (agricultural and industrial) and physical
attacks by Miami-based anti-Castro groups on members of Cuba’s diplomatic
corps stationed overseas.  The Reagan administration felt particularly
strong about backing various terrorist groups, from the Contras in
Nicaragua to UNITA in Angola and Namibia.
And who, hearing the present regime’s brainwracking arguments against
establishing a dialogue with representatives of the democratically-elected
Hamas, can fail to recall our country’s long and chummy dealings with two
other former (but unrepentant) terrorists, namely Menachem Begin and
Yitzhak Shamir?  The attempt to re-label not only the Quds Force but the
entire Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution as well as the
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps of the Iranian military as terrorist
organizations is another example of the level of firecracker
‘strategerizing’ this administration is noxious with.  Hitler tried
something similar with his decision that captured members of the British
Royal Commandos be executed on the spot, as common criminals, for fighting
in an unorthodox, ungentlemanly, and obviously effective manner.  By this
reasoning any number of governments around the world could choose to
declare the CIA or the US Navy Seals as terrorist organizations.  The
Iranians have meddled less than the former and have been less directly and
boastfully brutal than the latter.  Clearly the next step in this farce of
a logic would be for the Busheviks to see whether they could have the
entire Palestinian and Iranian peoples declared a terrorist entity?
By so expanding the umbrella and by forcing Homeland Security to adhere to
these absurd re-definitions, the present regime has gambled that there
will never be another instance in which the US may wish to lend its
support to a resistance movement which employs violence as one aspect in
its struggle against a tyrannical state.  Tough luck for Tibet, tough luck
for Darfur, for Zimbabwe, and for the others which will surely come up in
the near future.  But there remains a nagging feeling that the
Neoconservative push that resulted in such an unwieldy concept as a war
“on” terrorism, along with the unachievable goal of actually winning it,
is not an example of shifting the paradigm through which the balance of
power has come to be seen, but rather the exact opposite.  A truism of
political science is that one of the most important qualities by which a
state defines itself as a viable entity is that it and it alone maintains
a monopoly on force and violence within its own borders.  The existence of
non-or multi-state political players muddies the waters.  The trick for
the Neocons was how to get the genie back in the bottle, having blithely
ignored warnings of its arrival.  But alas, Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle et
al. had their 15-minutes and blew it so spectacularly that the lab
experiments they had planned for the United States and the rest of the
world will not likely receive a green light again.  Unless, that is, they
find a new crop of National Review know-nothings to be their cat’s-paws in
keeping the All-War-All-The-Time fairy tale alive.  The painstakingly
constructed veneer of intellectual heft and quasi-academic legitimacy of
the Neoconservative Movement has been, one hopes, irreparably shattered,
at the cost of 4,000 American military dead, tens of thousands of maimed
servicemen, and a national debt so staggering that the parlor-socialists
of the European Union look parsimonious by comparison.  But even with the
rot of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and many others expelled back into the
corporate welfare system that was always the genuine object of their
loyalty, the cancer remains.  The submoronic figurehead of George Bush
swaggers on, unanchored as ever from the real world and the damage he has
done to it, spluttering hackneyed grade-school solutions to very serious
grown-up challenges and larding it over with the nonsensical aphorisms of
his peculiar brand of made-up Christianity.
Ronald Reagan spent a great deal of time maintaining an uneasy relation
with reality but even he might have scratched his head in disbelief at the
bizarre fantasist currently befouling the White House.




6 responses to “America and Terrorism

  1. I did my best, but in the end, this is poetry.

    Thank you robin for this post. It sets many points straight.

    I think this may be one of those posts that people point back to in the coming years.

  2. Eric Rudolph is not a terrorist, but an anti-terrorist fighter. Those who have killed babykilling abortionists have done so to protect the innocent. People use force everyday to protect the innocent and no one has a problem with it, except when it comes to protecting unborn human beings, then they go ballistic. It’s very simple, the unborn deserve the same protection as the born. Born people are protected with force quite often. Force that you would be glad if it was to protect your children against a murderer. Force that you yourself might use to protect your own children from being murdered. The unborn deserve the same protection.
    SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and take away my sins and give me eternal life.

  3. The guy above is typical.

    Rev., I got saved and unless it is reversable, I think you are barking up the wrong tree.

  4. Thanks, Reverend Spitz, for your comment and for providing an excellent example of how the “terrorist/freedom fighter”-bind will probably be handled. With the “exceptionalism” clause. Someone who behaves as a terrorist can be excused and be labeled as something not only less harsh but even something laudatory if they are a) a soi-disant Christian
    b) a puppet of American foreign policy interests
    c) fill-in-the-blank with your favorite exception

    I called Eric Rudolph a terrorist and I stand by it. Either way, the trial transcripts describe a man who remains a homicidal racist, a misogynist sociopath who chooses to call himself a Christian. He’s currently resident in an institution chockful of fellow criminals, many of whom also claim a personal relationship with God, their God apparently given to soliciting rape and murder and mayhem on a pretty regular basis.
    Reverend, your comments strike me as fairly representative of an unfortunate cult-strain in modern American religion, favored by those who have tweaked and improved the original message of Jesus and St. Paul to now read ‘hate the sin and murder the sinner’.
    I suspect the cranky insolence of your online prayer-call is not much more than a tic, and probably also gets appended to your Christmas cards and Netflix payments out of sheer habit. So I won’t be taking it personally. Next time I’m in a cathedral (and they do seem to be springing up like dandelions in these parts!) I will light a candle for you, in hopes that you might learn to temper your nagginess with some Christlike humility and get yourself right with God. After all, according to Calvin, nothing sets the angels in heaven to singing quite like a self-righteous imbecile when the scales drop from his eyes.

  5. I heard a related story on the radio this morning. Somewhere in Iraq there’s a compound which is being protected by US military personnel and which consists of a militant group of Iranian exiles who are dedicated to the violent overthrow of Iran’s current government. The story didn’t go into detail as to whether they are being actively supported by US weapons or money or training, but they are under our protection. Past actions which they have carried out include sabotage and assassination. So, the “re-branding” mentioned in the post is decidedly selective. Foreign terrorists = bad ; Bush-approved terrorists = good. Simple brutal expediency rather than visionary foresight.

  6. Roberto, here’s a link for your reference, I think, though it is from last year.

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