What’s in a name?

WaPo comes in today with some more editorial inconsistency.
In an article on page A1 by Theola Labb and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, we get this description of the crash of a U.S. Chinook helicopter.
The missile strike provided an example of the increasing sophistication and lethality of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. Resistance fighters who began their effort to evict American troops by indiscriminately firing guns and rocket-propelled grenades at supply convoys…
But on page A12, in an otherwise generally positive view of the 82d Airborne, Vernon Loeb highlights the trope heard in the Palestininan-Isreali conflict — one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.
“Is there good being done? Heck, yeah,” said Sgt. Roger Vasquez, 37, of North Bergen, N.J., explaining that every “terrorist” killed in Fallujah won’t be able to stage further attacks on U.S. forces or the new Iraqi government.
Note the use of the quotes around SGT Vazquez’ use of the word terrorist (I’m actually not sure what else you would call them.) But note the similar lack of quotes around the word “resistance” in the first article. I wasn’t there, but I am pretty damn sure Sergeant Vazquez didn’t make the little “air quote” motions with his hands when he was talking to Loeb.
I’ll leave aside that both terms tend to be emotionally loaded. Why, in the same paper describing the same event, do you get two different words conveying two different meanings to describe the same actors? Is it because one word “condemns rather than describes.”
Should we not condemn? Hey, I’m just asking.
To quote George Carlin, “I’m just looking for a little consistency here.”



  1. Mike Rentner

    I think this may be protesting a bit much in this instance.
    It’s terrorism when you bomb a public building or try to create panic among civilian populations. But shooting at a military helocopter carrying soldiers is flat out not terrorism. Saddam Hussein never surrendered and for all we can say, this is just his continuation of the car on legitimate a military target.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way trying to be sympathetic to anyone that shoots at American helocopters, and I’d rather see entire Iraqi cities destroyed than one American injured, but we can’t honestly call this terrorism.
    Bombing the UN was terrorism. Distributing leaflets warning people not to cooperate with the CPA is terrorism. Planting IED’s that destroy military vehicles is guerrilla war, even if it is reprehensible.

  2. Al Maviva

    “In other news, alleged freedom fighter Osama bin Laden continues to work in the Taliban Resistance. Bin Laden, an alleged leader of opposition to the Bush Administration, was featured in a recent tape aired on Arab Language fair and balanced news channel, Al Jazeera. On the tape, bin Laden is quoted as saying, Damn you, Reuters, Im a terrorist and I took down the twin towers. Whats a Jihadi got to do to get a little respect around this joint?

  3. Major Sean Bannion

    OK, so what you’re saying is the choice of weapon is what defines one as a terrorist. Got it. (Sorry, that’s the logical end game of your statement, Mike.)
    At this particular stage in the “game” here, they are terrorists. You wouldn’t deny that the people who bombed the Red Cross were terrorists, but they are the same kind of people who had a couple of SA-7s and took some pot shots at a Chinook.
    The motive was the same — cause pain and chaos. And their measure of effectiveness — bad news coverage of the occupation, is the same.
    You’re going to have to give me a better definition of terms. Until I hear one, they’re terrorists.

  4. matty

    Choice of targets is what defines one as a terrorist. The Red Cross is not a military target, thus the bombing was clearly terrorism and not guerilla action.
    Possibly the military status/uniform of those engaging in the action (uniformed personnel of militaries acting under orders from military superiors might be guilty of war crimes instead of being labeled terrorists) matters, but primarily it is the choice of civilian targets instead of military.
    This does raise the question of what you would call Al Queda attacks on U.S. military targets… but by most accounts the attacks in the Sunni Triangle are primarily being carried out by Baathist sympathisers and so those which target the military should be referred to as guerilla action or “rebel” action (slightly emotionally loaded but less so than “terrorist”).

  5. Steve Pobsell

    Let’s not forget these two-bit thugs do not wear uniforms — they fire off a couple of shots then hide amongst the civilian population. They would prefer to kill Americans but are indifferent to the slaughter of women and children — anything to advance their goals of terror, shear terror with no political goals other then unadulterated power.

  6. Mike Rentner

    Sean Bannion, I don’t know what you’re a major of, but I was a major in the Marine Corps, and I was always taught that military helicopters, plainly marked, in a combat zone, carrying armed soldiers, etc. is a legitimate military target.
    I don’t recall Saddam Hussein surrendering. He has every right by the laws of war to shoot down chinooks. We have every right to kill him and his followers, too. I certainly hope that we do more of that than he does shooting down our helicopters.
    Like matty said, it’s not the weapon that makes an act one of terrorism, it’s the target and the intent. I would disagree that any crime was committed, though. Terrorism is generally defined as attacking non-military targets with the goal of showing the population that the government (or the US in Iraq) is incapable of protecting the people. This incites terror, hence the name, and can cause unstable governments to fail or cause them to become unstable.
    To Steve Pobsell’s point about uniforms. It’s a good point, but since the people doing this were not caught or probably even seen, it’s hard for us to say whether they were wearing uniforms or not. This uniform requirement has been ignored by many countries over time and has questionable legitimacy in reality. The laws of war require an insignia that is recognizable from a certain distance, but with camouflage that rule is pretty much gone.
    My Marine Corps uniform, when wearing flak jacket, web gear and helmet had no recognizable insignia at all. I was just green. Only if I had my soft cap on and removed my flak jacket could you see a very faint insignia.
    It also seems petty to complain about uniforms. A nation has the right to defend itself even if it can’t afford uniforms.
    I am in no way sympathetic to these Iraqis. I think we should be killing them much more liberally and I would lose no sleep about a lot more incidental casualties, but this attack was not terrorism per se by any definition that I am aware of.

  7. Major Sean Bannion

    Mike, even the Syrians call ’em terrorists.
    Oh, and I have enough combat arms experience to speak with some authority. I haven’t been a staff puke that long.

  8. James

    Interesting to hear that the Geneva Convention has “questionable legitimacy”… 😉
    If I were to go and murder the guy next door, am I not still a murderer when apprehended breaking the speed limit two hours later? When the attacks consist of a mixture of terrorist and non-terrorist acts, it’s still valid to refer to the overall set of acts as terrorism: committing non-terrorist acts in addition to terrorist ones does not negate that label.
    I agree, shooting down the Chinook was not – in itself – terrorism. On the other hand, those responsible are almost certainly terrorists; it seems very unlikely the two sets of acts have been entirely unconnected.