Is the United States Gov't Terrorist?

I’m having a bit of trouble with the definition of Terrorsist and I was wondering if some of the dopers (who by the way I count as some of the smartest people I know; the discussions going on in this room are the best around and you should all commend yourself) could help me? Specifically what is the distinction between a terrorist act and and a military attack with massive civilian casualties. I can see the difference between Tuesday’s attacks and lets say the unintented deaths of civilians in Europe during world war 2 for example. I also have a hunch that a part of the distinction lies in whether the deaths of civilians were in fact intended or not.
That being said, I can’t understand how the dropping of the atomic bombs on hiroshima and nagasaki were not Terrorsist by today’s definitions. Approx 5000 people died in Tuesday’s attacks. Approx 100,000 people died in those attacks. What’s the difference?

Three different categories, and I can give you the definitions that seem best to me:

Military Action occurs when one nation is fighting a war against another nation. Presumably, most targets are military, but civilians get in the way. This is not the same as terrorist activity, this is war.

Guerrilla warfare: Here you have the problem that one side is probably not a recognized nation, this is not a state of war, but a band of guerrillas fighting a military presence – like, say, the rebels under the leadership of George Washington, taking pot-shots at the British Army from behind bushes and trees and then running away. The point is that the TARGET of the act is military, and is directly related to the broader political objective of the guerrillas.

If the objective is to get the U.S. military presence out of Lebanon, and you send a truck full of explosives into a U.S. Marine barracks, that seems to me to be guerrilla warfare. Soldiers should expect to defend against that

Terrorist activities: My definition of the distinction would be how close the target is to the objective. If your objective is to get the Jews out of Israel, and your action is to shoot an American on a Greek cruise ship in Egypt , that’s terrorism. The target is too far from the objective.

Granted, the distinction is a fine one. The attack on the Pentagon (horrible and tragic as it was) can be seen as an act of guerrilla warfare – an attack against a military target. The use of a commercial plane, however, is a terrorist act – the travellers on that plane have no line-of-sight to the military objectives.

There is a broad military and political purpose behind a military or guerrilla activity. The only purpose behind a terrorist activity is to terrify civilians.

I agreed with the definition of terrorism almost, and up until you stated that terrorists have no political motivation. I think that falls under the “Not knowing yoru enemy” category in the Art of War.

I think these terrorists have a lot of political motivation, not the least of which being, to get a kneejerk reaction from the US to further unify a very fractured Middle East.


And one might also include, or not, acts conducted by ‘third-party’s’ with the support (training, arms, Intelligence) of a donor State, or organ of the State. Something those chaps at Langley (and on the South Bank here in London) might know a thing or two about.

A grey and murky, dirty world.

CK - Thanks for the preliminary categories. Now, how do you answer the crux of my question. Were the atomic bombings of Japanese women and children (men too but I want my point to be clear) in Hiroshima and Nagasaki terrorist acts???

No, the nuclear bombing of Japan was not a terrorist act. The US was at war with Japan at the time and the bombings were done to REDUCE casualties (on both sides) that would have been incurred during a conventional invasion of Japan.

It was a terrible act, but not a terrorist one.


I’ll assume for the moment that you are seriously asking this question, and that the unfortunate wording of the subject is not intended to be offensive.

Does this differ from the bombing carried out during WWII? Yes it does. Not to say that the violence is any less appalling, but the differences are many. War is declared, and nations enter into it with their eyes open. It may seem strange, but most civilized countries do follow a set of rules for war, specifically those set down by the Geneva Convention. In a war, it is possible to treat with the enemy and sue for peace. Clearly terrorists prefer to remain faceless, do not offer truce, and grant civilians no particular shelter. In fact, the maiming and killing of civilians is the goal.

I can see the boundaries becoming blurred when conventional warfare is taken to the civilian population, but the objectives must, by law, be military in nature and not simply inflicting suffering on civilians in enemy territory: .

Do conventional definitions work here?? Usama Bin Ladin (if he in fact is the perpetrator) is at war, the holy war of Jihad, with the United States. I can’t say whether dropping the bomb on Japan did in fact reduce casualties. All I know is that, nation sponsored or not, formal declaration of war or not, the indiscriminate bombing of 100,000 Japanese, not to mention the radioactivite poisoning to follow…if not Japan, when has the U.S. been guilty of terrorism in the past 50 yrs?

Study up on the endgame portion of WWII … no – study up some more. Do you not know WHY President Truman (and many, many others) believed that dropping atom bombs would reduce potential casualties? Do you really not?

Why would they be any more terrorist than any other wartime bombings? Terrorism is not defined by the number of casualties inflicted, rather by methods and victims.

Neither the Hiroshima nor the Nagasaki bombs were the first bombs that Americans dropped on Japan. In March of 1945, Tokyo was firebombed, resulting around 83,000 deaths - comparable to the death toll from the Nagasaki bomb.

The Second World War changed a lot of “rules” regarding warfare. From that point forward, essentially, the kid gloves come off during war, and everyone becomes a potential target. Many modern nations, of course, do make a substantial effort to limit civilian casualties; this has become easier with the advent of so-called “smart bombs”, but civilian casualties are still a consequence of total war.

Because of the general war-time climate during WWII, and the perhaps erroneous belief that the bombing of civilians would force governments to the peace table, I do not consider the Hiroshima or Nagasaki (or most other bombing raids on civilian centers during WWII) to be terrorist acts. I do consider the V-2 rockets launched from Germany into England (as well as the releasing by the Japanese of “balloon bombs”) to be terrorist acts, since they could have no possible strategic benefit - their only goals were to strike random targets, thereby creating an atmosphere of “terror”. Even the large-scale bombing raids of WWII had a military object in mind.

bin Laden has hasn’t entered into any definition of war recognized by the world community. He has no political authority that he hasn’t conferred upon himself, has no clear objectives other than hatred of Jews and the western world, hides rather then making himself available for diplomatic solutions, and violates the Geneva Conventions.

You are welcome to deplore the bombing of Japan and debate whether or not the objectives were sufficiently military or the outcome more humane than the alternative, but can you not note the differences between the end of WWII and this terrorist act? BTW, even it you do insist that bin Laden is conducting a legitame war, than surely he is guilty of war crimes, no?

What makes you think the choice to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was “indiscriminate?”

I live about 5 miles from a large coal burning power plant. I understand that if there was a war on American soil, that the plant may be a target. If I were prudent under such circumstances, I might take it upon myself to move.

You ask if the United States was engaging in terrorist acts. You’re given cogent definitions of what distinguishes the US’s acts from those of a terrorist. And then you come back with, “All I know is that, nation sponsored or not, formal declaration of war or not, the indiscriminate bombing of 100,000 Japanese, not to mention the radioactivite poisoning to follow…”

If you’re going to ask a question, damnit, listen (or read, I suppose) the answers.

The difference between terrorism and war is discussed above. Do you have any further questions, or do you wish to argue that (a) bin Landen’s acts do not fit the definition of terrorism, or (b) the US’s acts did not fit the definition of waging war?

Finally, let me second **bordelond[/d]'s advice: before you blithely say, “I can’t say whether dropping the bomb on Japan did in fact reduce casualties,” you need to present at least a basic refutation of the well-known arguments as to why it did. If you’re unaware of those arguments, please let us know. Merely dismissing the subject with a an apparent airy wave of the conversational hand, and a statement that you don’t know, is woefully insufficient.

  • Rick

<< I think these terrorists have a lot of political motivation, not the least of which being, to get a kneejerk reaction from the US to further unify a very fractured Middle East. >>

That’s my point. Their motive is only (OK, primarily) to terrify. Suppose the U.S. said that they would pull out of Saudi Arabia, one of his major goals, do you think Bin Laden would stop his terrorism? I draw the distinction based on a clear political/military goal – declaring independence from Britain, overthrowing a military dictatorship, etc. Guerrilla tactics are employed in those situations.

When the motive is simply “kill all Americans” or “kill all Jews”, that’s not political or military. The only motive there is the murder (and terror) itself.

Instead of the bombing of Japan, what about the conquest of the American Indians by the European colonists? You could say we took their land, killed a lot of their people, and broke several treaties. I think we wiped some tribes out of existence.

Of course, that was a long time ago. There are a lot of issues about that.

Hmmm. This is cited so often it’s become a shibboleth, * but it ain’t necessarily true.* Those estimates of 1 million dead, 500,000 dead, or whatever figure that gets tossed about all came up long after the bombs were dropped and the war ended.

I’d like to see one *contemporary * cite where Truman and the generals planned for 1 million casualies in a land invasion of Japan. Not an after-the-fact justification, but a logical, before-the-decision choice: invade or drop the bomb.

The reason the United States dropped the bomb is simple: we had it and they didn’t. We also feared that Russia would enter the war against Japan, and we didn’t want to share the spoils of victory with the communists.