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I was so pumped up by this diary that I was going to straight off send it to some pro-"War on Terror As The Next Cold War-cum-War Against Fascism and Evil" friends of mine for a long overdue dose of reality-check.  That conventional war against terrorists is counterproductive; that comparisons to Hitler are insulting; that ignorant and bellicose rhetoric rhetoric has only dignified, consolidated and strengthened what would otherwise be a bunch of international criminals with a demented ideology; that the politics of "good" and "evil" historically have always been complex and not clear-cut... on these points I could not agree more.

But then at the end I was stopped short by the proposed comparison to the U.S. Civil War.

While I agree there are some parallels, from the point of view of people who are in favor of Bush's "War on Terror", this comparison is a non-starter.  Why?

For one thing, from their point of view, the Confederacy was not trying to conquer the North, much less the world.  (Neither do I believe that Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists want to conquer the world; but that point is one you will have to first argue to make plausible the larger comparison from their perspective.)

Second, the Confederacy was not driven by an extremist religious ideology.  (Again, I do not believe Al-Qaeda is driven by religion as much as it is by political motivations; however, the rhetoric of these terrorists is religious through and through, in contrast to the Confederacy's.  Again, this point would have to be argued before the larger comparison even has a chance of being considered.)

Third, while no doubt some of its soldiers, like some soldiers in any army, killed innocent civilians, the Confedearcy did not target and kill innocent civilians as a matter of policy or tactics (at least, not to my knowledge.)  (On this point, I do believe this is a valid and very significant difference: even if your original cause is just, you compromise it in proportion to the immorality of your means of warfare, as well as to how much you rely on these.  The end-game becomes "might is right".  One of the primary reasons the Confederates wanted independence was to preserve slavery: so their original cause was already unjust.  But while many Islamic terrorists may have legitimate and even just political qualms, their method of achieving them -- by targeting and killing innocent civilians to pressure democratic governments to alter their policies -- are not just.  And this, I think, is a significant difference.)

I want to emphasize that I agree with pretty much everything you say in your diary.  In fact, I think using historical analogies to invalidate the War on Terror rhetoric would be great, as their impact can be dramatic and immediate on how people frame and view such issues.  But I think the Islamic terrorists = Confederacy analogy in particular -- while I agree it is valid in several respects -- should be handled with care, lest it alienates even more the very people we would like to persuade to our point of view.

Out of the Dark Age came the most magnificent thing we have in our society: the recognition that people can have a society without having a state.

by marco on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 05:15:37 AM EST

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