Justifiable Terrorism in Total Wars
The word ‘terrorism’ instantly makes people shudder; the negative connotations and controversies surrounding terrorism in modern society are enough to spark a discussion of whether it is justifiable or not. In order to determine whether or not terrorism can be justified, a clear definition must be decided upon. Decades before the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, the definition of the word terrorism was hard to define. Political figures around the globe argued and disagreed on what they thought should have determined the act of terrorism.1 Now, there are multiple different definitions originating from distinct cultures and societies, suggesting that terrorism is in the eye of the victim. One definition of terrorism is “any violent or criminal act planned for a political or ideological purpose2”; while another claims that terrorism is understood to be a direct attack on innocents3. Since both of these definitions have important components to them, it can be assumed that both traits are essential to defining terrorism. For the purpose of this paper, the definition of terrorism will be understood as ‘a violent attack on innocents for the purpose of political change’. It can be hard for most people to understand the act of injuring and/or killing hundreds, or maybe even tens of thousands of people, as justifiable. However, if the innocents are seen as legitimate targets, the violent acts of terrorism can be carried out without justification. In order for innocent people to be perceived as legitimate targets or combatants, there must be a defined situation of total war. Total war is a type of warfare where a state or a nation battling and fighting with another, mobilizing all accessible resources and population to aid in the battles and the overall victory. For example, during World War II, all countries involved were deploying their civilian populations to work in factories and shipping yards, making sure that all necessary equipment and supplies were manufactured and shipped to their soldiers. The non-combatants who still resided in their own country were seen as participants in the war, becoming legitimate targets along with the soldiers who were fighting for their homes and families. Therefore, it is during times of total war, where nations are at war with other nations, where acts of terrorism can be justified.
World War II is the most recent example of a total war; with the last attacks in 1945, it is the most modern example of a ‘world at war’. The Allied forces (Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia, France, etc.) were engaged with the Axis forces (Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan) and won some of the final and deciding battles of World War II. One attack that can be considered as a justifiable act of terrorism was the bombing of Dresden, Germany, 1945. Before the attack on Dresden, allied forces had developed a strategic type of bombing that could destroy cities of large sizes. By dropping bombs, followed my incendiary devices composed of flammable and explosive materials, the results were massive firestorms that could rage across entire cities for days, causing a tremendous amount of destruction.4 This was known as firebombing. Dresden was an industrial city, and at the time, was home to many refugees seeking sanctuary from further east. Like most industrial cities and towns during WWII, many of the civilians were working in factories, making bombs and other weapons for the Germans and Italians to use against the Allied forces. When the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces decided to bomb Dresden from the thirteenth to the fifteenth of February, they knew they were going to destroy an important German city with over half a million civilians and countless refugees5. In addition to the destruction, the Allied forces knew they were most likely instilling fear and...
References: Eubank, W. and Weinberg, L. “Terrorism and Democracy: Perpetrators and Victims,” Terrorism and Political Violence 13 (2001): 155-164. Accessed March 15, 2014. doi: 10.1080/0956550109609674
Van Evera, Stephen. “The War on Terror: Forgotten Lessons from World War II,” The Audit of Conventional Wisdom 6 (2006). Accessed March 16, 2014. http://web.mit.edu/cis/pdf/Audit_10_06b_VanEvera.pdf
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