Somewhere this week (I can’t remember where but if I run into it again I’ll link it) I ran into an assessment of terrorism that brought me up short because a) I’d never thought of it that way before, and b) it was the kind of simple, obvious-when-you-think-about-it truth that escapes you when you’ve been trained to see things from a single POV but when presented has a punch that would “pop the pennies off the eyelids of dead Irishmen.” Quote (and this is near verbatim):
“Terrorism is a tactic. Declaring a ‘war on terror’ is like declaring a war on the flanking maneuver.”
There are a lot of problems with the neocon approach to fighting terrorism, like the insistence that it can be fought with armies when armies have NEVER been successful at it and in fact almost always make it WORSE, but the most egregious difficulty has to be this total–and possibly deliberate–misunderstanding of the nature of and reasons for terrorist attacks.
Terror is the weapon of otherwise powerless groups when alternatives have been denied them. The terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel by the Irgun may be the reason–it is certainly one of the reasons–Israel is a state today, and it happened when virtually all other attempts to call the attention of the world to the stateless plight of the Jews which had led to the Holocaust had been exhausted. The IRA was born out of Bloody Sunday in 1916 as a standard guerilla movement of militia-style cells with sidearms. It graduated to terror only after the British Occupation outlawed all other forms of potential redress and adopted the hard-line military posture that was to make Northern Ireland a hell for almost a century until England finally agreed to negotiate.
Yitzhak Rabin understood this better than any of his successors–or predecessors for that matter–and his negotiation strategy was as close to finding a settlement as Israel has been since its formation in 1948 when he was killed, not by a Palestinian terrorist but by a ultra-right-wing Israeli who now says he was wrong. More than that, he blames the Likud’s lies and misinformation as the genesis for his hatred of Rabin and his conviction that Rabin was selling Israel out to its Arab enemies. Only in retrospect has he come to understand what his single act, an act born out of imaginary fears and the propaganda that fed them, cost his own people, his own nation. Right-wing propaganda convinced Yigal Amir that murdering Rabin was his duty because Rabin was not “fighting terrorism” but “appeasing it”, and that way–so the propaganda insisted–lay the ultimate destruction of Israel as a state.
The American right-wing is now using exactly the same arguments about the Spanish election, claiming that voting Aznar out was an act of “appeasement”–an ugly and inaccurate word that has no practical meaning or relevance to the elections. It is propaganda, pure and simple, and it’s as dangerous to listen to as the Likud propaganda that young Amir soaked up. Accepting their definition of events means accepting the idea that the people of Spain, who have been living with Basque terrorists for almost as long as the Irish have been living with the IRA, are cowards looking for an excuse to surrender. That’s nonsense. If it were true, they could have done it many years ago. They didn’t, and they aren’t now. The charge is scurrilous and scandalous; if it was being made against a single person, it would be libel.
David Neiwert at Orcinus has noted the anti-democratic undertones in the extreme reaction conservatives have had to the Spanish vote, which comes as no surprise to those of us who have noted conservative disdain for democratic principles in a lot of different areas, most notably in its lack of respect for privacy and its consistent support for corporate power over citizen power. What might come as a surprise is the fact that “appeasement” was a conservative idea.
If you listen to today’s right-wing apologists, you’d think that Neville Chamberlain was a Liberal, a left-wing loony. He wasn’t. He was a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative from the beginning of his career to the end, unlike Churchill who switched parties several times. Chamberlain’s policy of Appeasement came straight out of two bedrock conservative mantras: “Business Good” and “Communism Bad”. Sound familiar?
Again unlike Churchill, fascism held no particular fear for Chamberlain because fascist govts were friendly to business interests and antagonistic to Communism. He was known to defend Mussolini for his hard-line stance against Italian unions and he appreciated the “order” that Hitler had brought to a chaotic Germany in the wake of massive inflation that threatened to destroy that country and possibly take the rest of Europe with it. That Mussolini’s union policy had resulted in the deaths of thousands was of no interest to him; that Hitler’s restoration of order required the destruction of the nascent Weimar Republic and a wholesale militarization of German society disturbed him not a whit. In true conservative fashion, he only had two real concerns in Munich: 1) that Hitler would continue to do business with British firms (which he did right up to 1940); and 2) that Hitler would continue to vigorously oppose the Soviet Union and discourage or destroy the Communist Party in Germany (a promise he also kept, attacking the Soviets and putting Communists from all over Europe in the death camps). From Chamberlain’s pov, he got everything he went to Munich to get and all it cost him was a chunk of land nobody in Britain cared about.
Conservatives have been blaming Chamberlain on liberals ever since, over-reacting so badly to his mistake (guilt, perhaps?) that any suggestion for negotiation to solve an international problem has been met with the same accusation. Those of us who protested the Viet Nam war were often labeled with the “appeaser” epithet; anyone who criticized Reagan’s impossible Star Wars scheme was accused of “appeasing” the Soviet Communists. In the 70’s, college and university professors who dared to talk about Communism–whether they were for or against it was irrelevant–were labeled “appeasers”.
So despite the understandable liberal reaction to conservatives dragging this word out of the closet, there’s nothing really new here. But I think it’s about time that someone reminded them that liberals were against fascism; it was the mainstream conservatives who were responsible for Munich. The Doctrine of Appeasement belongs to them.