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The roots of failure in the “War on terror”

July 24th, 2013 · No Comments

– Robert Light

The guilty, the responsible and the innocent

It is hard to believe but 4 decades ago, my 7th grade English teacher may have put her finger on the roots to why we are having such difficulties in winning the “war on terror”.  She kept on telling us that “words are important”…that words are the primary windows onto what and how we think.

The word “terror” can have many definitions:

  • an overwhelming fear or anxiety
  • the use of extreme fear in order to coerce people

It would be silly to declare a war on a “feeling”… so we must be declaring a war on “the use of extreme fear in order to coerce people”.

But that seems odd too… we’re declaring war on the use of a tactic of coersion?  Isn’t the use of a military itself a mechanism to fight “coersion”??  If people are firing bullets and missiles at you – then you have to fight back, move away, accept being dominated… or die.  Bullets and missiles are a perfectly good means of “coercion”…why is “terror” something special that we should go to war against it?

My 7th grade English teacher would probably pipe in here and point out that you can’t go to war against a method or tactic of coercion… you can only use the instruments of war against the people who use that form of coercion…. she would then communicate this by scrawling in that horrible red pencil she used.  She would probably ask “why only that form of coercion?  Wouldn’t you go to war against people who bomb your cities with missiles and mortars?”

She would be right of course.

So where did we go wrong…where did our thinking start getting confused?  Clearly when some organization motivates their members to fly jumbo jets into your buildings – it deserves some response…but what response and how?

Our failure to put a correct name on the post 9/11 mission, when President Bush coined the term “war on terror” was only part of the problem.  As a nation, we injured ourselves further by not understanding the difference between “the guilty” – those who actually perpetrated terror, “the responsible” – those who created the space for such acts to be contemplated and “the innocent”.

As Americans we have been indoctrinated with the concept that there are only two moral states: “guilty” and “not-guilty” – we look at the world through the eyes of a judge who can only decide between these two states.  Only if a person is “guilty” is a society permitted to extract a penalty.  We injure ourselves further when naive people take a greater leap and confuse “not-guilty” with “innocent”.

Words have consequences.  They mirror our thinking.  If our words are incorrect, it is probable that our thinking is incorrect and it is then not surprising that failure usually follows.

In a war, clearly the battle must be waged against “the guilty” – the combatants.  But in war, it is required to also battle the forces which are responsible for the war: the industrial complex which manufactures the weaponry, the transportation system which transports the troops, supplies and labor needed to make war.  In essence any activity or institution which enables the war effort can be destroyed under international laws of war.  These are “the responsible” parties – those who enable the war to be waged.

In our current “war on terror”… we can identify “the guilty”.  They are the ones with guns, the ones with bombs strapped to their bodies, the ones who butcher innocent civilians in buses, pizza parlors, Mosques and Synagogues.   We can certainly assume there are people who would be considered “innocent”.

This begs the question: who are “the responsible” parties?  President Bush said that those who fund terror, those who harbor terrorist are “responsible”…. but there are clearly others and this is where we, as members of a group we call civilization had better be precise.

Responsible parties include (but not necessarily limited to) the society’s politicians, religious leaders, teachers etc who inflame their “flock” to go out an murder indiscriminantly “the others” whom they view as deserving of death.  Those who organize, fund and execute summer camps where children are indoctrinated to become suicide bombers are clearly “responsible parties” and as such are clearly not “innocent”.  In short, those institutions which promote the wanton mass murder of innocents are the “munitions factories” of present day terror operations.

The moral question on the table is – can these “responsible parties” be reformed – or must they be eliminated?

Tags: Israel · Political · War on Terror

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