August 23, 2005

Justified Terrorism

A few weeks ago the Weekend Australian called Hiroshima "An awful act in a just cause". Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? Trouble is, almost any act of terrorism can be called that by someone -- think "Stern Gang", or "Dresden", or "Amritsar", to name some obvious examples. To take a much-derided (but very accurate) slogan, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter (which doesn't mean the freedom fighter wasn't also a terrorist -- that half of the equation tends to get ignored).

The Weekend Australian typically just can't bring itself to call Hiroshima and Nagasaki what they were -- monumental acts of terrorism. The central question isn't whether this was terrorism (it was, by almost any sane definition of "terrorism"), but whether that terrorism was justified (I don't have an easy answer to that one -- it's hard to second guess at this distance). Clearly, in the past we have decided that -- and will decide again in the future that -- some acts of terrorism are indeed justified. Which is unremarkable -- Western governments have used "justified terrorism" for centuries now, and would never give up that option without a fight.

For example, the recent shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by the Metropolitan Police was terrorism -- it had the effect of striking fear into any innocent person who might want to use the Tube. The killing was a deliberate act that reminds all of us who's actually in charge, and it keeps up the level of fear in all of us who have to deal with the Met or other like forces (as it was clearly supposed to do). And, as with such things, the Met and the government are going to call this a regrettable accident. They just won't have the courage to call it what it is -- terrorism. From the government's point of view, justified terrorism. Same as it ever was.


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