making_sense - 1 Public Lecture to the UCSD Emeriti...

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1 Public Lecture to the UCSD Emeriti Association (revised March 2006) Sanford Lakoff Making Sense of the Senseless: Terrorism--and Our War Against It In the wake of 9/11 President Bush declared a war against terror. Much of our national life and concern revolve around that war. It is responsible for the thousands of deaths we experienced on the day, for the thousands more of deaths and casualties suffered in battle since then, for the difficulties we are encountering in pacifying Afghanistan and Iraq, for much of our ballooning budget deficit, for the security checks we have to endure when traveling, for the restrictions on civil liberties that have been introduced under the Patriot Act, and for the tensions that have developed between us and foreign friends and allies. And of course for the inevitably painful self-scrutiny of the 9/11 commission. But as the old saying goes, in war truth is the first casualty. Even the term “war on terror” is a misnomer. Terror is a tactic, not an enemy. And insofar as we are waging war against it, this is like no ordinary war. The British writer Timothy Garton Ash has asked rhetorically, “Where does Terror live? What is its capital? Who commands its army?” And as he adds: “You can’t declare victory in a world-wide, open-ended war over an abstract noun.” We had our V-E Day and V-J Day in World War II, but it’s hard to imagine we will ever mark V-T day in the sense that the threat of terrorism will cease once and for all. Some argue that terrorism comes in waves and that the waves tend to subside. The Anarchists used it early in the twentieth century but anarchism subsided. In the 1970s, leftist terrorists operated in Europe until that too subsided. Will this too pass? It’s important to bear in mind that as a tactic, terror is used by a host of perpetrators. In recent times, here in our own country, we’ve had attacks by homegrown malcontents in Oklahoma City, maladjusted teenagers in high schools, environmentalist fanatics in University City, anti-abortion zealots, and self-described animal liberators. These attacks certainly qualify as terrorist episodes, but they’re not included in the President’s declared war. The declared war is supposed to be directed against “terrorists of global reach.” That helps pinpoint the focus but not entirely. It seems to distinguish those using terror to threaten us and our allies, from others with a more parochial focus, like the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. But we are not mounting operations against the Basque terrorists even though they are attacking our Spanish ally, yet we are helping Colombia deal with its domestic terrorists. So again, taking the President at his word, it is not strictly clear that we are only concerned with terrorists of global reach. But we know what is behind the euphemisms. This became quite clear in the
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This note was uploaded on 04/16/2008 for the course POLS 121 taught by Professor Lackoff during the Winter '08 term at UCSD.

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making_sense - 1 Public Lecture to the UCSD Emeriti...

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