1. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    History Is Written by the Victors

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by T.Trian, Jul 29, 2013.

    There is a lot of talk about terrorism nowadays, for understandable reasons. There are various kinds of terrorism and terrorists, and it occurred to me that at least a couple of my and KaTrian's WIPs have groups that could be seen as terrorists when observed through the eyes of their enemies (the current government of their home country).

    This got me wondering about what terrorism is and how it is seen by the public eye: what separates an insane, vainglorious terrorist from a righteous revolutionary, who is simply fighting to free his / her people from under the rule of a tyrannical government? What separates a tyrannical government from the glorious motherland?

    I'm probably as far from an expert on this subject as possible, but from what I've gathered, at least one of the elements that separates these two, good (revolutionary, motherland) and evil (terrorist, tyrant), is victory. Granted, there are cases that are pretty much cut-and-dried, e.g. it's generally agreed that Hitler and his regime were evil (and likely would have been viewed as such even had they triumphed), but there are also many (perhaps even most) cases where the line between good and evil is less blatant.

    Examples of slightly hazier cases are the many fights over independence. For instance, when the USA finally became independent from the UK. Were the events leading up to the 4th of July in 1776 acts of terror or freedom fighting? I would imagine that the American revolutionaries were terrorists to the British, yet there appears to be no common consensus that condemns them as evil, even though by the standards of modern Western societies, some could see some of the actions of the American revolutionaries as something akin to terrorism.

    It seems to me that in such cases, there is so much propaganda floating about on both sides, it's often difficult to find the One Truth underneath it all. So, how can we tell whether a person is bleeding for his / her motherland for the sake of a revolution or getting what any terrorist deserves? Who is to say when a government is tyrannical / undemocratic enough that it warrants a rebellion / coup, a violent one if need be? Ever heard of the quote from Claire Wolfe: "America is at that awkward state. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards"? Who decides when it is the time to shoot the bastards and how? When do the first shots fired against the current government become justified?

    I chose to use the 4th of July as an example, because most people here know at least a little bit about it and there's a wealth of information regarding the events leading up to it, so we can rely on facts as well as educated guesses instead of pure speculation. There are a myriad other examples (Ireland springs to mind as do Finland's struggles against Russia and Sweden), so feel free to discuss any of them. In fact, I think it would be better if we had several examples instead of focusing on just one case where history has basically said it was okay to do what nation X did at time Y while the same actions today could possibly be seen as acts of terrorism (domestic or international).

    I would greatly appreciate discussion on this matter and I hope we can keep it civil although some of these issues are somewhat flammable.

    PS. For the record, I, for one, am glad that the USA got their independence. That's one of the reasons why it is so difficult for me to see those battles as acts of terrorism, but it's an interesting exercise nonetheless.
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm. That's a tricky subject, for all the reasons you stated. Hmmm. Of course I agree that the perspective will be different if the so-called 'terrorists' win. Me, I think I'd look at the targets rather than the cause, if that makes sense.

    If somebody goes to bomb a place where ordinary non-government, non-combatitive citizens are going about their business, I would be inclined to call that person a terrorist, whether or not the cause is 'just.' I support the cause of Scottish independence from the UK, but I would NEVER hurt someone to achieve it. However, in Scotland, we have a referendum to decide the issue, and the majority, hopefully, will decide what happens. If you live in a democracy, that's how it works.

    But ...if I lived somewhere horrible, where armed thugs were likely to burst through my door and do something horrendous to me and/or my family because I was on the 'wrong' side ...I might feel more desperate, and more willing to dirty my hands, so to speak.

    Interestingly, my copy of the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, published in 1996, defines 'terrorism' as 'use of force or threats to demoralize, intimidate and subjugate, especially such use as a political weapon or policy.'

    It's a negative-sounding description, and doesn't really suggest righteous resistance to evil or domination. So, perhaps that element is missing from the word, as defined in this American dictionary.

    I'm waffling now. Really don't know. How/where does anybody draw the line. It's true that anyone can shout 'terrorist' and point at anybody whose actions they disagree with. Does that make the accusation true?
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And there may well be more than just this side and that side to dynamic. To use the American Revolution as an example again, one can argue for terrorism or patriotic behavior depending which side of the lens one is looking from, but what is the take of a Native American? A third opinion is there of a hostile invasion where, strangely, the invaders where fighting amongst themselves.
     
  4. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    My favorite example of "To the Victor go the Spoils" in history is the story of Arminius/Hermann. What I was taught in high school Latin was that Arminius was a traitor, the first Benedict Arnold, trained and schooled in Rome and then turned against the empire that gave him so much. However, according to a 65-year-old German sous chef I had, Hermann is a hero; a unifier of Germania, fierce warrior and tactician, a defender against the invading forces. Although Hermann won the battle at the Teutoburg Forest (an all out slaughter), the Romans got to write the history
     
  5. Orihalcon
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    Orihalcon Active Member

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    The words "terrorist" and "terrorism" have become abused by government bodies and mass media. jannert's dictionary's definition of terrorism is very accurate, and is applicable no matter what the circumstances are. If someone bombs "a place where ordinary non-government, non-combatitive citizens are going about their business", and the reason(s) behind this is that this person belongs to a group that

    a) is subject to abuse by the government which is supported by a population who let their government do this, or

    b) is subject to unjust or even unlawful abuse by a majority of the population without their government intervening in the matter,

    then I would be hard-pressed to call this person a terrorist. This is not equivalent with saying their means are justified by their cause; they're still guilty of murder, cause of physical injuries and emotional distress, and destruction of property. But that does not make them terrorists.

    On the other hand, consider a group of people who tell you that you have to give them money or they will forcefully take your property and your freedom from you. In other words, the use of the threat of violence to intimidate and subjucate for a political end.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The thread title says it all. I also find it interesting how hearing the truth angers people, like some reactions to Howard Zinn's, "A People's History Of The United States".

    My question is, what exactly about the obvious were you wanting to discuss?
     
  7. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Anything, really, but mostly about where to draw the line, because, the way I see it, it's not quite that obvious as you (or the thread title) make it out to be. Then again, I can be a little dense at times, so it might be just me.

    In a way, it's also about defining good and evil and what qualities an act of (politically motivated?) violence has to have in order to fall into either category. If, for instance, I, and a group of likeminded people come to the conclusion that the Finnish government has messed things up so badly that we do not recognize it as our government anymore and choose to liberate the country of these impostors playing patriots, whose point of view is correct if neither side has the clear moral high-ground (i.e, Hitler isn't involved), it's just two opposing views based on clashing sets of moral / social values?

    Sorry, I don't have time for a more in-depth response right now, so 'til tomorrow.
     
  8. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    Terrorism is nothing more than tactics designed to instill fear/dread in the population over any practical attempt to destabalize infrastructure. The psychological impact of 9-11 left a crater in the minds of many. The damage to the economy was nothing in comparison and never would have led to any sort of weakening/collapse of American influence in the Middle East. A marine barracks can be viewed as a legitimate target, but intentionally blowing up a nursery is flat-out against all accepted rules of civilized warfare. And no, civilized warfare is not an oxymoron. Without agreed upon rules and codes of honor, then there is nothing but endless slaughter and no possibility for civilization to flourish outside fortified enclaves. You get nothing but tribal warlords, much like what you actually have in some parts of the world. Or as Terry Pratchet put it, without such rules then everyone stays locked inside with a crossbow pointed at the door.

    A terrorist and a revolutionary might very well share a common dream of what the nation should look like after the tyranical whatever is overthrown. The terrorist just doesn't care if the bodies they step over have uniforms on. Or if they have a gun or a rattle in their hand.

    Most terrorist groups and run of the mill revolutionaries can not even be distinguished by who is backing them. Contrary to popular belief, it is quite rare for a small group of people inside a nation to overthrow their government ALONE. The American Revolution was heavily backed by France and other European powers to spite the British. Many revolutionary groups in South America were initially funded or outright started by the United States intelligence community to try and stop the spread of Soviet influence. Bin Laden was one of many Muslim fighters that benefited from funding and weapons the US provided to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was payback for them and China doing the same thing to us in Vietnam. If you are going to write about revolutionaries or even flat-out terrorists, ask yourself who might be helping them to achieve their own agenda(s).

    As for the American Revolution: The British and their subjects in the colonies both held true to civilized conduct that was actually not as deeply honored by other nations of the time. No British sympathizers were raped to death and crucified at the Boston Tea Party. And there was debate and petition after petition sent back to England long before blood was shed. Frankly the British were quite sympathetic in regards to how they treated many of their colonies. The British were able to hold onto their empire for so long partially because they actually managed not to piss off EVERYONE in a given country.

    As for who write history:
    It is often said history is written by the victors. This is bull****. History is written by whatever literate survivors have a pen. If they were part of the "oppressed" class X that lived in Ys former colony and then one day Y left the region for whatever reason, then Y is nothing more than monstrous racists that raped and pillaged left and right. If they are descended from Y, then well Y was a perhaps too aggressive "civilizing" influence on the barbaric lands around them. History is not written by the victors. Half of it is just the losers whining about what happened hundreds of years before the current generation was even born.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I don't, for a minute, suggest it is 'obvious' where the truth lies. It's merely obvious that history is distorted by the historian, the vast majority of the time. This is actually a subject I find fascinating, unfortunately answers are not easy to determine.

    For example, a lot of accomplishments of women truly are missing from 'his'tory. Zinn points out all the patriotic myths that are taught to children in US grade schools which he found frustrating that his college students believed were true. For example, there's no real evidence Betsy Ross sewed the first flag. "One nation under God" was only added to the flag salute during the Red Scare in the 50s. Many people today believe it was always included in the oath.

    What I find challenging is coming to terms with believing in some past while recognizing the historical record is so distorted by those 'victors' you note. How do you know what to believe? You can only do your best and keep an open mind when you come across new evidence.
     
  10. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    It'll be interesting to read what will be accepted as 'history' in 20 years time regarding Ireland.

    In fact it would be interesting to find out what the rest of the world think happened right now.

    I'd imagine it would be the British version of how they tried to peacefully sort out the whole sordid affair.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This says what it took me many paragraphs to TRY to say...
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    By this definition, every group that has access to weapons (including governments) is a terrorist group.
     
  13. Orihalcon
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    Orihalcon Active Member

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    The definition of terrorism is clear. jannert gave a very nice definition. Here's the definition found in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terrorist

    You are quite right, thirdwind: governments are terrorist (arguably the largest terrorist groups, too).
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You could certainly make a case for this, at least in many instances. However, just because somebody HAS a weapon, doesn't necessarily mean they're going to use it. They may claim it's only for 'protection,' and will only be used if somebody attacks them first. (The underlying excuse for stockpiles of nuclear weapons, actually.)

    I suppose it boils down to whether the weapon-holder is proactive or reactive?

    Hmm. You certainly can open Pandora's Box when you start down that road. These ancient myths have a lot to tell us, don't they?
     
  15. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I took a class on the history of Ireland and Britain a few years ago. Ireland was portrayed as a country of freedom fighters à la Finland during WW2, fighting against the oppression of the big bully UK. Brits were total assholes according to that history. It was pretty funny.

    Our Irish-American professor always makes fun of how ass over elbow the Irish went about their fight for independence, though.
     
  16. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    The difference between a terrorist and a freedom-fighter is the difference between a half-full and a half-empty glass of water. To decide when you consider a person one or the other, you're largely just deciding when you're OK with terrorism.
     
  17. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    The fight for independence? Which one? The ultimate battle was typical divide and conquer tactics by Britain who split the country with a civil war. A new book has just come out regarding Eamon DeValera, our New York born first premier who apparently was England's biggest spy. There is a lot of controversy and a lot of theories as to how and why we won our freedom - well partial - they still have nearly a quarter of our country but yeah you're right, Ireland was England's toilet for nearly 800 years and it still kills them they couldn't solve the "deathly itch on their ass".

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005XCZFL4/?tag=postedlinks-21
     
  18. Orihalcon
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    Orihalcon Active Member

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    Are people completely missing this?

     
  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The Webster's definition is a good place to start, but the version I quoted came from a 1996 editon—before all sorts of things like 9/11 happened. I'm wondering what the current definition would be? I think the implication of 'terrorist' these days is usually a person or small group of people operating outside the 'law' or accepted convention, but with political objectives and a certain degree of support. I've also heard the term 'state-sponsored terrorism.' Does this refer to overt militarism, or covert things like CIA operations? Don't know.
     
  20. randomme1
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    I don't believe the so called "terrorists" even consider themselves terrorists (this may be obvious). Hitler and his Reich considered themselves the good guys, at least the loyal ones did. All of the Germans who were involved in the coups and assasination attempts on Hitler were labeled terrorists by the Third Reich. So, they were labeled terrorists by a group that the majority of the world now labels terrorists. Does this make them revolutionaries now? They definetely werent patriots because they were trying to oust their leader.

    If a suicide bomber, who truly believes that they are doing their God's work, walks into a nursery and sets off the bomb, everyone thinks that he is a terrorist-scratch that, they KNOW that he is a terrorist. But if he truly believes that this is God's work, then in his eyes he isn't a terrorist. If he was part of a group that does the same thing all over the world-i.e. a terrorist organization-none of them consider themselves terrorists.

    -I'm not saying that any man who does this is anywhere near right, nor should actions like this be tolerated at all.

    As i was raised i went through maybe twenty different schools. I was taught so many different versions of the American Revolution, it was unreal. Now i have a near-accurate version of it inside my head, and this is my conclusion---we Americans just did not do what we were told. At the time we were British citizens, and we decided that we were going to CONTINUE not doing what we were supposed to do. Britain didn't like this, they had good reason to since they were our government and people back in Britain were doing what they were told. So we Americans, being our American selves, pushed the British.

    Now, I am not saying that Britain was all dandies and fairies and were just reacting to American violence. Britain did push us as well. This entire thing leads up to this, you can't put forth a firm definition of terrorism. Oh, you can define terrorism and what actions make up terrorism, but good luck trying to get a terrorist to admit that they are indeed terrorists. Every person participating in terror acts will have a justification for their crimes that explains why they are not terrorists. Every-person.

    I also believe that governments throw the term "terrorist" around too liberally. This reminds me of a great conversation i had with a professor. What draws the line between murderer and terrorist? If a man sets off a bomb at a huge gathering and kills dozens...is he a terrorist? Or is he just a mass-murderer? A government can label a man who is just speaking out against said government a terrorist.

    But what if this man starts to gain a lot of followers? What if this man builds an army of angry citizens who share his hatred of the government? What if they start to protest? What if those protests turn violent? What if the violence escalates into a war? This man has already been labeled a terrorist even before the violence started. So, the citizens already see him as a terrorist. What does this say about the people who join him despite this? Are they terrorists for joining a known terrorist? Or are they just freedom fighters?

    That's my spiel!!!
     
  21. Orihalcon
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    Orihalcon Active Member

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    The word's meaning should be obvious since it is derived from the word "terror", and since the meaning of that word hasn't changed, the meaning of the word "terrorism" remains largely the same. Just because mass media and certain governments have been misusing the term doesn't mean their interpretation should be accepted. If the same people who distort the meaning of the word "terrorist" also distort the word "muslim" to mean "arab" or distort the word "arab" to mean "muslim", that doesn't mean this new definition should be accepted. Language is meant to facilitate communication, so changes that go against this should be rejected.

    In either case, Merriam-Webster's online dictionary seems to define terrorist the same way. And Wikipedia says that "Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, often violent, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no legally binding, criminal law definition. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political, or ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians)."

    The words "terrorism" and "terrorist" are clearly defined words meant to express well-defined notions. A man who suicide bombs a church because Christians prohibited him from marrying his boyfriend or because some Christians physically assaulted his boyfriend and/or himself because of their sexuality is NOT a terrorist. A terrorist is defined as someone who systematically use violence or the threat of violence with the intention of indimidating, subjugating or coercing others to accept that person's will, ideology or views.

    It's as simple as that.
     
  22. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I'm definitely missing your point. The OP was asking what causes someone to see one person as an insane terrorist and one as a righteous revolutionary when they've committed equally atrocious acts. The dictionary definition doesn't help.
     
  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Defining terrorism is hard to do, and I think dictionary definitions aren't adequate. One definition I really like is the one by Professor Robert Chesney: "unlawful violence intended for political effect."
     
  24. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If one is just talking about what is or is not terrorism, besides being in the eye of the beholder, there is the use of the word in political narratives.

    The political definition of terrorism amounts to something like, the US is not a terrorist when they drop bombs on Baghdad because that is conventional war, while flying planes into to WTC was terrorism because the target was civilian.

    Terrorism used to be referred to as guerilla warfare. Again, the difference was supposedly what one attacked, civilians and civilian infrastructure, or supposed military targets even if they were the same infrastructure like dams and power plants. A dictator in Central America who uses terrorist tactics against the civilian population is a "Freedom Fighter" fighting communism, while the 'people' in the same countries were labeled as communist insurgents despite the fact they were actually revolutionaries fighting horrendous economic disparity.

    The real difference is in the imbalance in military power between the two fighting forces. If you have a powerful army, you are fighting a conventional war. If you are fighting a powerful army and you don't have your own, your only option is guerilla warfare.

    Since the term, guerilla warfare, no longer has the propaganda punch it had in Castro's heyday, the US now promotes the term "terrorism" in their political narratives. And the enemy is not so much communist insurgents now, rather the enemy is Islamist extremists. There are huge differences so I don't mean to equate the same economic struggles of Central America with the religious fanaticism of the Taliban and the likes of the related power struggles in that part of the world. Nor am I saying true communist villains like Pol Pot and Mao were merely economic revolutionaries. That whole discussion is well beyond this thread and the time I care to invest in the discussion.

    The point I am making is that the words, terrorism and guerilla warfare, become what the victors and history writers want them to be to fit the narrative the victors wish history to record.
     
  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's us come full circle to the thread title!
     

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