PARIS - The war against terrorism needs to be freed of the hypocrisy, cynicism and partisan exploitation that surround it. It began as a war against evil but turned into a war against the Taliban government in Afghanistan. You can go to war with a government, but the Pentagon cannot attack evil.
Politicians and governments worldwide have expanded the war against terrorism by redesignating their own enemies as terrorists. This has been easy because Washington's definition is elastic and arbitrary. Terrorism is what bad people do.
The war now is against terrorism itself, if Washington is to be taken at its word, and this objective (ostensibly) is to be pursued in disregard of the terrorists' political causes.
Terrorism thus is identified with Kashmir's separatist guerrillas, and the Pakistani activists and government agents who have supported them. The fact that India has for a half-century occupied Muslim parts of Kashmir, where people would prefer either independence or attachment to Pakistan, is treated as if it were an irrelevance.
India is pleased to discover that the logic of Washington seems to have put the United States on India's side in this venerable politico-religious conflict. It was never there before.
Vladimir Putin has been delighted to reinterpret the Chechen war as still another front in the war against terrorism. And Ariel Sharon is an enthusiastic ally of a Bush administration that apparently has changed America's previous policy of serious support for Palestinian autonomy. Terrorism is a form of politico-military combat that attacks civilians for two reasons. The first is that the terrorists can't get at the political and military figures they really want to kill.
Chechen nationalists fighting for separation from Russia would happily blow up President Putin and his entourage. They have a problem with the security that surrounds him. Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not kill Israeli civilians if instead they could kill Ariel Sharon and his cabinet.
The second reason terrorists kill civilians is that it shocks and frightens populations and may dispose them to make compromises or offer concessions to the terrorist cause. Israel finally withdrew from that part of Lebanon which it had occupied since its first invasion of that country in 1978 because after more than two decades the Israeli public grew weary of Hezbollah rockets from Lebanon falling on Israeli towns. They were tired of having young conscript soldiers killed in ambushes in what was supposed to be the country's security zone in Lebanon.
It is a fact of political life and history that terrorism is the weapon that oppressed populations have always employed against those they consider their oppressors, usually because it is the only weapon available.
Ask the Irish what liberated Ireland, or the Serbs what liberated Serbia from the Turks in the 19th century, or the Vietnamese what freed them from French colonialism. As for war against civilians, a few decades ago you could have asked an older generation of Georgians and South Carolinians about how William Tecumseh Sherman broke the Confederacy.
In World War II, Britain was not the first to bomb cities. But after the blitz had been defeated, Britain made terror bombing its principal weapon against Nazi Germany from 1941 forward. Bombing was the only way it could strike at Germany, and the heavy bombers of the period were incapable of the accuracy that would allow discrimination between industrial and civilian targets. A deliberate decision followed: to bomb civilians so as to destroy Germany's will to war.
The effort culminated in the great 1944-1945 firestorm raids on German cities, replicated in Japan by the United States. More Japanese civilians were killed by the firebombing of Japanese cities in the summer of 1945 than were to die at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The second world war was a war of annihilation - the first, in Europe at least, in a thousand years, as the British military historian Michael Howard has said. "All belligerents now regarded civilians as legitimate targets." This assumption was to be, and continues to be, implicit in nuclear deterrence.
Despite that, we have more or less succeeded in the last few years in giving war back to the professionals. This is a step toward restored civilization. We might actually be grateful that we today have only civilian terrorists killing other civilians, rather than the professional military of the great industrial states doing it.
Copyright © 2001 the International Herald Tribune