"The Evil Scourge of Terrorism"


[...]There is a standard device to whip the domestic population of any country into line in support of policies that they oppose: induce fear of some terrifying enemy, poised to destroy them. [...] "The evil scourge of terrorism" was a natural choice for this role in the early 1980s, as the United States sought to concoct an enemy weak enough to be attacked with impunity but sufficiently threatening to mobilize the general population in support of the Reaganite expansion of state power at home and violence abroad. The threat waned when it became necessary to face the costs of these policies a few years later. The media rallied enthusiastically to the enterprise.

The meaning of the term "terrorism" is not seriously in dispute. It is defined with sufficient clarity in the official U.S. Code and numerous government publications. A U.S. Army manual on countering the plague defines terrorism as "the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature. This is done through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear." Still more succinct is the characterization in a Pentagon-commissioned study by noted terrorologist Robert Kupperman, which speaks of the threat or use of force "to achieve political objectives without the full-scale commitment of resources."19

Kupperman, however, is not defining "terrorism"; rather, "low intensity confict" (LIC), a form of international terrorism, as the definition indicates and actual practice confirms. LIC is the doctrine to which the United States is officially committed and which has proven its worth in preventing successful independent development in Nicaragua, though it faltered in El Salvador despite its awesome toll. It must be emphasized that LIC -- much like its predecessor, "counterinsurgency" -- is hardly more than a euphemism for international terrorism, that is, reliance on force that does not reach the level of the war crime of aggression, which falls under the judgment of Nuremberg.

There are many terrorist states in the world, but the United States is unusual in that it is officially committed to international terrorism, and on a scale that puts its rivals to shame. Take Iran, surely a terrorist state, as government and media rightly proclaim. Its major known contribution to international terrorism was revealed during the Iran-contra scandal: namely, Iran's perhaps inadvertent involvement in the U.S. proxy war against Nicaragua, a topic of much attention by the media, which succeeded in not noticing this uncomfortable though perfectly evident fact. The U.S. commitment to international terrorism reaches to fine detail. Thus the proxy force attacking Nicaragua is directed to attack agricultural cooperatives -- exactly what we denounce with horror on the part of Abu Nidal. In this case, the directives have explicit State Department authorization and the approval of media doves. The U.S.-organized security forces in El Salvador follow the same policy.20

"Terrorism is a war against ordinary citizens"; "the terrorists -- and the other states that aid and abet them -- serve as grim reminders that democracy is fragile and needs to be guarded with vigilance." So George Shultz thundered at the very moment of the U.S. terrorist attack against Libya. "Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table," he added, also condemning those who advocate "utopian, legalistic means like outside mediation, the United Nations, and the World Court, while ignoring the power element of the equation." The sentiments are not without precedent in modern history.21

It has required considerable discipline on the part of the "specialized class" to maintain its own studied ignorance while denouncing the terrorism of others on command and cue.

We learn just how impressive this achievement has been when we turn to the major examples of the plague. To avoid making the task of exposure too easy, let us put aside the extraordinary outburst of terror throughout Central America in the 1980s -- overwhelmingly state-directed international terrorism, given the crucial U.S. role, hence an instance of the major crime of the period, according to the rhetoric of the 1980s, in fact by far the most extreme example.

Consider the year 1985, when media concern over terrorism peaked. The major single terrorist act of 1985 was the blowing up of an Air India flight, killing 329 people. The terrorists had been instructed in their craft in a paramilitary camp in Alabama run by Frank Camper, where mercenaries were trained for terrorist acts in Central America and elsewhere. According to ex-mercenaries, Camper had close ties to U.S. intelligence and was personally involved in the Air India bombing, allegedly a "sting" operation that got out of control. On a visit to India, Attorney-General Edwin Meese conceded in a backhanded way that the terrorist operations originated in a U.S. terrorist training camp, in statements that were barely reported in the press.22 Any connection of a terrorist to Libya, however frail, suffices to demonstrate that Qaddafi is a "mad dog" who must be eliminated.


19 US Army Operational Concept for Terrorism Counteraction (TRADOC Pamphlet No. 525-37, 1984); Robert Kupperman Associates, Low Intensity Conflict, July 30, 1983. Both cited in Michael Klare and Peter Kornbluh, eds., Low Intensity Warfare (Pantheon, 1988, 69, 147). The actual quote from Kupperman refers specifically to "the threat of force"; its use is also plainly intended.

20 See Culture of Terrorism, 77, and my article in Z Magazine, January 1988.

21 Shultz, "Moral Principles and Strategic Interests," U.S. Department of State, Current Policy No. 820, speech of April 14, 1986.

22 Pirates and Emperors, 136; Cockburn, Out of Control, 26.



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