On Terrorism: Retail and Wholesale

We keep hearing certain words — “democracy” is one, “terrorism” is another — that are seldom defined. The pretense is that we all know what these words mean. Yet that’s hardly the case.

Here’s how the U.S. State Department defines terrorism: the use of violence or the threat of violence to harm or intimidate civilians for political purposes.

Given all the commentary out there about terrorism, you’d think this pithy definition might often be invoked. It seldom is. Why? Because applying that definition evenhandedly — to assess each violent episode or campaign, regardless of who perpetrates it — would boomerang. It would expose terrorists who usually aren’t thought of as terrorists.

Retail terrorism — like abduction or suicide bombing — is a tactic of the hardware have-nots. It gets all the attention. Wholesale terrorism — invasion and aerial warfare, for example — is the strategy of the haves. It has a bigger budget and cuts a huger swathe. By some magic consensus wholesale terrorism never, never gets called terrorism.

Now, the State Department definition is pretty good. But it needs to make clear that terrorists use all levels of technology. A box cutter can perpetrate terrorism; so can a “smart” bomb. Just because it’s high tech doesn’t mean it isn’t terrorism.

Terrorism need not target civilians directly. Often it targets the infrastructure that sustains human life – hospitals, electrical grids, water purification and sewage systems, etc.

In the U.S. we assume only the other guys use terrorism — never our side. Judging by our media and our politicians, terrorists are only those who oppose powerful military machines. Even if those terrorists are defending their land.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, our military industrial complex no longer has its bogeyman. These days instead of the Red Menace, Swarthy Terrorists are the enemy.

For U.S. people 9/11 was the watershed, the iconic, terrorist event. This serves the neo-conservative world-dominating agenda. 9/11 was the neo-cons’ answered prayer, their Pearl Harbor and Gulf of Tonkin.

A frightened public is so much easier to mobilize for a bellicose, expansionistic foreign policy. Such policy — and the lies promoting it — led the U.S. into the Iraq quagmire and back into the civilian massacring business.

In a further victory for the neo-con agenda, the so-called war on terror erodes civil liberties here at home. Further, it erodes our quality of life. The war on terror diverts resources from health, education and other human needs to the military.

Military adventurism makes us less safe. It generates even more fear. In a self-perpetuating cycle, war spawns further terrorism: reactive terrorism. So does military occupation, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestine.

In the past century most war dead were civilians. They were victims of terrorism — not in the mainstream media sense, but in the U.S. State Department sense.

Tens of millions of civilians have been killed by bullets, shells, missiles, cluster bombs and, in Iraq, many are also being killed by toxic and radioactive depleted uranium.

Depleted uranium is just one of kind of nuclear weapon. As the world learned at Hiroshima, Nukes don’t distinguish civilian from military. Nuclear blackmail has been with us for over 60 years.

Some nations stockpile nuclear weapons. (Remember, the threat of violence is also terrorism.) These devices are delivered by artillery or aircraft which few “terrorists” have access to. One might say aerial warfare by its very nature is terrorist.

Militarism, of course, yields enormous corporate profits. These days war profiteering is rife. Some of these profits finance the purchase of TV networks and other corporate sources of news. For example, the war and nuclear contractor, General Electric, owns NBC. Might that (little publicized) fact affect how NBC News reports on terror?

In our democracy another slice of the profits goes to finance the election campaigns of the candidates who favor warlike rather than diplomatic solutions to international issues.

Although NBC News et al. are too discrete to mention it, a leading presidential candidate, a former Viet Nam bomber pilot, was a wholesale terrorist.

What does that say about our rulers? What does that say about us?

Ed served 14 months in federal prisons for his civil resistance against the SOA. More recently he has been one of the “Hancock 2,” the “Hancock 15,” the “Hancock 33,” and the “Hancock 38.” Reach him at: edkinane@verizon.net. Read other articles by Ed.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. D.R. Munro said on March 10th, 2008 at 6:28am #

    I think I can make the definition even more simple:

    If a civilian, even one, ever dies for political gains or agendas – the state responsible is promoting and conducting terrorism.

    The United States seems reluctant to recognize that the threat of military force as terrorism. I suppose because if they did, the US would easily be the world’s largest terrorist state.

    It seems we make threats of aerial attacks and pre-emptive strikes to some of the world’s poorest, and most harmless, nations weekly. Nations that couldn’t even dream of defending themselves against the US, let alone provoking them.

    Let’s face it, the last enemy we’ve taken on that was our size was Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Ever since then we’ve been the playgound bully, picking on emaciated economies for our gain.

  2. El Oaxuco said on March 10th, 2008 at 12:30pm #

    >>Wholesale terrorism — invasion and aerial warfare, for example — is the strategy of the haves. It has a bigger budget and cuts a huger swathe. By some magic consensus wholesale terrorism never, never gets called terrorism.<<

    I would add to that the mass imprisonment of people such as the 11,000 plus Palestinians in Israel, most without charges, including minors. Not to mention Guantanamo. These tyrannical powers that imprison indiscriminantly and indefinitely–what do we call their crimes? Many prisoners are tortured with impunity. The agony faced by the families is indescribable? Palestinians’ only crime is not having the military firepower to defend themselves. If course if they did, there would be no occupation and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    Thanks for this excellent peiece.

  3. HR said on March 10th, 2008 at 2:34pm #

    The U.S. is indeed the world’s largest purveyor of terror, followed closely by Israel, and both of them get a free pass.

  4. hp said on March 11th, 2008 at 9:24am #

    Made possible by the complacency and apathy of the average man in the street.
    how many ‘terrorist’ acts have occurred since the dubious 911?
    Can anybody name even one? Just one.
    From coast to coast, thousands of cities, towns and villages and not one single act of terrorism since the dubious 911.
    Most likely because there doesn’t have to be any trains blown up, water supplies poisoned, fires set, bombs going off in malls, etc., etc., etc.
    Simply the threat and the non stop propaganda suffices. Unfucking believable. A nation of cowardly lazy morons who look the other way from murderous criminal acts all the while having our rights and honor stripped away like so much paper clothing.
    As for those ‘terrorist’ acts? Well if needed, really needed, I’m pretty sure those can be arranged..

  5. Michael Prior said on July 12th, 2008 at 5:18pm #

    Good article! I think that a better definition for “terrorism” is “terrifying people by deliberately causing severe destruction, or threatening it.”