Writerís view is personal, must not be
How terror has lost its meaning
Sender: MARJORIE GIBSON
By: John Chuckman
Why does terror dominate our headlines and the attention of
our governments going on six years after 9/11? The answer
cannot be what George Bush says that it is: it is not the
fault of people who hate democracy and freedom.
We know this for a great many reasons. One of the world's
oldest terrorist organizations, the IRA, had no interest in
British government and society. It was interested only in
being free of their control.
We know Bush is wrong also because the people who genuinely
hate democracy and freedom - the world's oligarchs, dictators,
and strongmen - are people who hate terror themselves because
it threatens their security.
Strong absolute states have no tolerance for terror. The
Soviet Union never had a serious problem with terror, neither
did East Germany, nor did Hussein's Iraq.
Absolute states are also frequently supported by, or allied
to, the United States, presumably for reasons other than
promoting terror. We don't need to go into the long history of
the Cold War to find this. It remains true following 9/11.
Contemporary examples include Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Bush is wrong, too, because all evidence, whether from polls
or interviews or writing, shows that people living in lands
without democracy overwhelmingly would embrace freedom were it
available to them.
Of course, all such generalizations are statistical in nature.
That is, they are about trends or tendencies that reasonably
describe the overwhelming bulk of specific examples. There are
always exceptions, extreme examples, what statisticians call
outliers, but you cannot talk about any subject sensibly when
you talk about only exceptions.
We also know, despite truckloads of publicity saying
otherwise, that terror is not by any measure one of the
world's great problems. The number of people killed in the
World Trade Center, the largest terrorist attack by far, was
less than one month's carnage on America's highways. It was
equivalent of about two months of America's murdering
Americans on the nation's streets.
Terror is intended to frighten and intimidate people, its
secrecy and methods calculated to make deaths, even a small
number of them, more shocking than everyday deaths. But if we
look at societies that have undergone horrors beyond most
people's ability to imagine, horrors greater than any modern
terror, we find something very interesting.
Life in London carried on during the Blitz. Germany maintained
a huge armaments production despite thousand-plane raids day
and night. The people of Leningrad, despite 800,000 deaths
from being shelled and starved during the German siege,
managed to carry on a kind of society. People in Sarajevo made
do through a long and agonizing terror. Even the
seemingly-hopeless inmates of death camps often made
remarkable efforts to maintain some semblance of normality.
Perhaps the greatest terror experience in modern history was
American carpet-bombing in Vietnam. We know from Vietnamese
war veterans that these were their most feared events. They
were horrific, and the United States left Vietnam having
killed something like 3 million people, mostly civilians. But
it did leave, and the people it bombed so horribly won a
Now all of these experiences, plus many more we could cite,
have the elements of randomness for victims and methods that
just could not be much more horrible. They all are experiences
in terror in the broadest sense. What they tell us is that
terror does not work, despite its ability to make people
I like the anecdote that following the atomic-bombing of
Hiroshima, within weeks, wild flowers were spotted growing in
the cracks of the pavement. I very much like to think of that
as representing the human spirit.
Terror as we traditionally think of it is a method of redress
or vengeance for those without great armies or powerful
weapons, those at a great disadvantage vis-ŗ-vis some powerful
oppressor or opponent. Generally the grievances behind
terrorist acts are reasonable demands that have been ignored
or have even been suppressed for long periods of time.
Although sometimes, they are unreasonable demands, but in this
they are no different than the grievances that often lead to
wars or invasions or occupations by powerful states.
Terror generally kills innocent people, something no
decent-minded person can accept, but what is always forgotten
in the press and government treatment of terror as something
alien and unimaginably bad is that war in the contemporary
world does precisely the same thing.
We have a powerful trend over the last century shifting the
victims of war from armed forces to civilians. In World War I,
there were many civilian deaths, but most of went on at the
front was the killing of soldiers. By the time of Vietnam, and
even more so Iraq, literally most of the deaths are civilians,
overwhelmingly so. The fire-bombing and nuclear-bombing of
cities during World War II marked the first great shift,
returning military operations effectively to the world Before
the Common Era when sacking and raping cities was ordinary.
Why has this happened? The chief reason is increasingly
destructive weapons capable of being used from a great
distance. Those pressing the buttons not only don't see what
they are doing in any detail, but the damage of which they are
capable increases every year. A single plane today can drop
enough munitions to destroy utterly a small town. In 1917, a
plane could carry enough munitions to destroy a small house,
if the pilot were lucky about air currents and other
America makes claims about using 'smart' weapons, but these
claims are highly deceptive. First, smart weapons are costly,
and most bombs dropped are still 'dumb'
ones. The percentage used in the first Gulf War, a time when
there were many press conferences glorifying precision
weapons, was on the order of five percent smart weapons.
Second, smart weapons require excellent intelligence,
something you cannot have under many circumstances. The
infamous bomb-shelter event in Baghdad during the first Gulf
War, which incinerated four hundred civilians in an instant,
happened because American officials thought there were party
officials hiding there, but they were wrong.
Third, even with intelligence, decisions are made which are
poor ones. The Baghdad bomb shelter is an example here, too.
Even were there some party officials there, killing nearly
four hundred others to get them was the kind of savage
decision Israel so often makes to its shame.
Fourth, smart weapons do make mistakes with chips or
programming or flight controls that are faulty.
Fifth, the better the weapons get, the more the temptation to
use them, and the more they will be misused by poor judgment
and poor intelligence.
There is no prospect in our lifetime that so-called precision
weapons can change the tendency towards killing civilians
rather than soldiers.
Terrible weapons are under constant research efforts at
'improvement.' The United States has developed gigantic
flammable-liquid bombs, the size and weight of trucks. It is
busy developing compact nuclear warheads that are, in the view
of the kind of people associated with George Bush, both
useable and practical.
The problem with modern weapons is not only their great power
and complete removal of users from ghastly results, it is
their capacity to alter the psychology and morality of those
Where great power exists, it tends to be used, sooner or
later. This intuitive idea was part of the reason in the
eighteenth century for opposing large standing armies. Expert
historians have attributed at least part of the cause of World
War I to huge standing armies and a ferocious arms race.
It is hard to think of a horrible weapon that has not been
used fairly soon after its development: the flame thrower,
poison gas, germ warfare, machine guns, landmines, cluster
bombs, napalm, and nuclear weapons.
Imagine the psychology of politicians and war planners in
Washington, sitting in air-conditioned offices, perhaps just
returned from expense-account lunches, discussing developments
in, say, Iraq. They don't see or hear or smell the misery of a
people without sanitation or electricity - these having been
deliberately destroyed by the United States in the previous
Gulf War and never repaired. These planners, looking at charts
on their expensive laptops, only know from certain graphs that
they have what they see as a problem and that they have the
ability to reduce it or make it go away, almost like wishing
away something you don't like.
The solution comes down to such pragmatic considerations as to
whether Tomahawks or B-52s or a wing of fighter-bombers will
best meet the 'need,' and perhaps the availability of each,
and perhaps even comparative benefit-cost ratios (kills per
buck), also charted on their laptops.
If this isn't the banality of evil, I don't know what is. And
when the planners decide which weapon or combination of
weapons will best alter the graph, the orders go out, the
buttons are pressed, and no one but the poor half-starved
people living in dust and squalor have any idea of what
actually happens, which people in the neighborhood have their
bodies torn apart or incinerated, which houses are destroyed,
which children mutilated. The people who carry out these acts
see only puffs of distant smoke.
This is modern war as practiced by an advanced society.
On a smaller scale than Iraq, we've all read the endless
reports of Israeli incursions and assassinations: an entire
family wiped out on a beach by distant shelling, an apartment
building full of families hit by a missile intended for one
resident, pedestrians cut into pieces as a missile hits a
targeted car on a crowded street. All of it is put down to
stopping terror, all of it is done from a safe distance, all
of it kills mainly civilians,
and all of it is indistinguishable from terror.
If challenged today for a definition of terror, I doubt anyone
could produce a sound one that limits the meaning to the acts
of those constantly in our headlines. Rather those acts are
now reduced to special cases of something a great deal larger.
Which was the more ghastly act of terror, 9/11 or the invasion
of Iraq? 9/11 killed about 3,000 people and destroyed a
building. The invasion of Iraq killed more than 600,000,
destroyed the irreplaceable records and artefacts of an
ancient civilization, and left a nation of more than 20
million desperate for work, clean water, and electricity. And
it should be stressed that although 9/11 came first, there
were no connections between these events, except that the one
was used as an excuse for the other.
When we hear the word terror in the news, we are conditioned
to think that only civilians have died, but how is it
different now for news of an attack by American forces or a
reprisal raid from the Israeli army? It isn't. We know
immediately that civilians die every single time. Indeed, what
we often do not know is whether any "bad guys" were killed.
better than wealth because it protects you while you have to
guard wealth. it decreases if you keep on spending it but the
more you make use of knowledge ,the more it increases . what you
get through wealth disappears as soon as wealth disappears but
what you achieve through knowledge will remain even after you."MORE