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This guest editorial was published in the Raleigh, N.C. News and Observer on August 8, 1985.
Why do we Americans misunderstand terrorism and the wor1d's swelling dislike for us and our country?
Most of us only condemn as barbaric terrorism that is directed against us, while a few, such as E.M. Adams, in a recent Point of View, clearly see that one person's terrorism is another's patriotism and condemn both equally. But few of us ever question the condemnation itself.
Professor Adams presents a point of view enfeebled by neglect of history, a neglect that characterizes American attitudes. He, as many American intellectuals, thinks in the realm of timeless theory.
We, for instance, are proud of our timeless Constitution, basically unchanged in two centuries, but we neglect the facts that the political philosophy upon which it is based was provoked by the concrete political conditions in l7th century England, which John Locke's philosophizing meant to reshape, and that these conditions no longer exist, having been replaced by others of which Locke had no inkling.
Our economists espouse a theory that is, both timeless and hypothetical, which does not take concrete conditions into account and treats the human suffering brought about by concrete conditions as not economically relevant. Our philosophers have abandoned the historical approach for abstract analysis, and even our historians have become event oriented, abandoning universal history as not instructive.
In a word, our culture is ahistorical. Professor Adams' condemnation of terrorism is based upon the abstract distinction between combatants and non-combatants, the so-called innocents. But he has ignored this distinction's historical context, which is far different from the contemporary context, for combatants were distinguished from non-combatants in a world of kings and princes who ruled their peoples absolutely. Those people had no say in their governments' wars, and policies, were illiterate, and were thus ignorant of the motives of their rulers and the effects of policies on other peoples.
But conditions have changed. Democracy has made all of us participants in our nations' endeavors; most of us who are citizens of Western nations are literate; and the press has made available to us enough information to make it possible for us to know not only about our own but the world’s problems as well. We have lost our innocence; there are no innocents in today‘s world.
Our ahistdricism forges unjustified attitudes and generates countless problems. For instance, Professor Adams' opinion and a feature headlined "Africa travels road to ruin" appeared in the same Sunday edition, and, of course, Africa's problems were blamed on the Africans themselves—mere socialist mismanagement! But history belies this indictment, for 40 of Africa‘s 41 nations were once colonies of Western European countries, and in all their years as colonies, these Western colonial powers not only exploited their colonies economically but made almost no effort to educate the African people, teach them scientific agricultural methods, develop their countries, or prepare them for independence. The thought, I suppose, was that Africa would remain colonized forever, but since World War II, colonies have become economic burdens, and the Africans have been left to their own primitive devices. Our brethren Western nations brought the Africans into the 20th century saddled with second-century knowledge. Little wonder that they are not succeeding.
But the problem is even more pervasive. Patrick Buchanan, the president's recently appointed communications director said, while working as a commentator for CNN, that Central America's problems could best be so1ved by allowing capitalism to work its way there as though socialism had been the prevailing Central American economic philosophy since it won its independence from Spain. Can he be ignorant of the fact that capitalism has been working its way there for most of the time since that event?
We Americans live in the present and assume that our beliefs and attitudes are so unquestionably right that we merely presume that other peoples want or at least should want to live exactly as we do, so we have set out to Americanize the world, not taking into consideration the beliefs and attitudes of different cultures.
The American people generally approve of American policies, especially the policy of Americanization. We always view the world from the standpoint of our interests, never asking about the interests of the people whose lives we are affecting.
How are the weak supposed to resist the most powerful nation on Earth? By meeting us man-to-man in battle, combatant to combatant, under rules devised by the Western World in Geneva that stipulate that we leave non-combatant innocents untouched? Not likely!
Terrorism is the only weapon the weak have, and it is completely justified, for none of us is innocent anymore.
©1985 John Kozy