A thread over in GD got me to thinking about a phenomenon that I have seen for a long time. Whenever there is a terrorist act against the US, politicians and commentators always refer to the act as cowardly and the terrorists as cowards.
Now, terrorists may well be the lowest form of life, but I can’t see how their suicidal acts can be seen as cowardly unless you really torture the definition of cowardly. I suspect that these terrorist groups see being called a coward as the worst of all insults, so that’s what we call them. Any other ideas as to what’s up with this coward thing?
I don’t think they are cowards, they are like the Japanese Kamikazes to me. Racists are also terrorists and they are cowards.
I think you’re right in principle.
You could argue that most terrorism is cowardly, because you choose defenceless civilian targets, and they aren’t in the line of fire (eg when the bomb goes off).
But the terrorists who kill themselves (suicide bomber / WTC) are not cowards.
Civilised people call them that because they are disgusted by the act.
From Merriam-Webster OnLine:
I think it’s the skulking, sneak attack aspect of terrorism that generates use of the word.
My WAG: They’re called cowards not because of they fear for their own lives, but rather because they choose targets who are don’t know they are targets, are unarmed and incapable of any meaningful opposition.
Sure, they’re not afraid to die for their beliefs, but so what?
Doesn’t take much bravery to kill an infant.
Takes substantially more to storm a beach at Normandy.
Because sometimes you just want to make the other guy feel bad.
I don’t suppose any one has, say, a General Answer to this question. An origin, a NEXUS search, something like that?
My access to the NY Times online only goes back to 1981, but I did find this article from the 9/27/1981 about Peruvian President Fernando Beluande Terry speaking about a wave of terrorism in his country.
I have read the word “cowardly” in conjunction with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been standard talk by people for quite a while.
Yes they are cowards! I was reading the question incorrectly. They hurt innocent people like you say, plus in this case of bin Laden, he’d rather throw the world into war than give himself up. Yeah that’s a coward all right.