Trust, War, and Terrorism

By Solomon, Norman | The Humanist, September-October 2003 | Go to article overview

Trust, War, and Terrorism


Solomon, Norman, The Humanist


In a democracy, leaders must earn and retain the public's trust. No matter how loudly those leaders proclaim their dedication to fighting terrorism, the citizenry must not flinch from examining whether they are trustworthy.

On March 17, 2003, in a major address to the nation, President George W. Bush declared, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." On April 10, 2003, in a televised message to the people of Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "We did not want this war. But in refusing to give up his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam gave us no choice but to act." Before and during the war on Iraq, we heard many other such statements from top officials in Washington and London. They ostensibly justified the war.

Among the horrors of that war are weapons known as cluster bombs. Bombs dropped months ago continue to explode even today--sometimes in the hands of children who pick them up. These bombs can fire shards that slice into human flesh.

We might say the cluster bombs are terrifying weapons. We might say they--and the leaders who authorized their use--are still terrorizing Iraqi citizens.

If leaders want to gain and maintain long-term trust, their logic must be reasonably plausible rather than Orwellian. But when there is no single standard that reliably condemns "terrorism," then the word serves as a political device rather than a reliable term. Unfortunately, in common usage of the word, the nationalistic and political context of murderous actions--not the wanton cruelty and magnitude of those actions--determine condemnation.

It would be bad enough if the leaders of the Washington-London axis of "anti-terrorism" were merely duplicitous in their rationales for going to war. Or it would be bad enough if those leaders were honest about their reasons while ordering their own activities that terrorize civilians. But flagrant dishonesty stems from deeper policy problems that tacitly distinguish between "worthy" and "unworthy" victims--that encourage us, in effect, to ask for whom the bell tolls. The official guidance needn't be explicit to be well understood: don't let too much empathy move in unauthorized directions.

There is virtually no record of Washington condemning its ally Turkey while, in recent years, the Turkish government drove millions of Kurdish people from their homes, destroyed villages, killed thousands, and inflicted horrific torture.

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