September 19, 2001
So now we have declared war on "terrorism." There's
just one problem: terrorism is not an ideology like Nazism
or Zionism. It is a process, a means for the weak to fight
the strong when they have no other means. It is a method.
We might as well declare war on calculus.
America would not exist without terrorism. How could an army
of farmers have defeated the British without terrorists like
Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, and the men who threw British
tea into Boston Harbor? The nineteenth century was dotted
with terrorists like Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner and John Brown.
Brown tried to raid a Virginia arsenal to arm a slave uprising.
He failed and was hanged, but he made an impression. Years
later, a Confederate terrorist named William Quantrill raided
Lawrence, Kansas, and killed every man and boy in the place
only because Brown had been born there.
There were other terrorists at work in post-bellum America.
The most famous, known in English as Crazy Horse, had an odd
theory that no one, however well armed or well connected,
however divinely justified, had a right to drive his people
out of their homes. The Great White Father in Washington dismissed
this theory as contemptuously as he dismisses the claims of
the Palestinians today.
By 1914 the US had no further need of terrorists. It had
an overseas empire confiscated from Spain and a brand-new
canal zone acquired from Colombia (by creating the puppet-state
of Panama). It even felt confident enough to send troops to
chase down the Mexican terrorist Pancho Villa. All part of
the good-neighbor policy. Woodrow Wilson was the first politician
to recognize that great power implies engagement with the
world, including its wars; but even after 1918, Americans
thought they could re-organize the Old World at will and then
retreat beyond their oceans. They were stunned when the Japanese
Navy sailed halfway across the Pacific and sank their boats.
How do you tell a terrorist from a freedom fighter? By whether
he has succeeded or not. Terrorists: Hamas, the Irish Republican
Army, the Basque separatists, Black September. Freedom fighters:
the Stern gang, the Mau Mau, the Viet Cong, the Taliban, the
Contras (remember them?). But keep watching the scoreboard.
In this Orwellian world, alliances shift like sands on a stormy
beach. Is Manuel Noriega a CIA asset or a drug lord who has
to be kidnapped and imprisoned? Should we arm Iraq just so
we can test our new weapons against the ones we sold them
last year? If we present the faith-based Taliban with 47 million
dollars, how are they likely to spend it?
Who cares? Osama bin Laden was born to be the star of our
two-minutes' hate. He's a trust-fund terrorist, a dilettante
spending his daddy's money and being photographed in his snowy
costumes, impeccably groomed, a Dodi Fayed who collects guns
instead of high-class tarts. As long as he's around and willing
to play his part, we never need look critically at our role
in the world or why so many people seem to think we're