July 18, 2014


Since September 11, 2001, any instance of violence we don’t like is called terrorism. This practice is manipulative, but it has become the 21st century’s propaganda weapon of choice. This unfortunate trend seems to have been started by the United States, but the technique has been adopted by friends and foes alike.

In Syria, for example, we viewed the insurgents, even when we didn’t like all of them, as revolutionaries or freedom-fighters. The Syrian government, however, repeated called the fighters terrorists. The U.S. government saw this charge as ridiculous, but it was merely reaping the rhetorical harvest of the propaganda seeds it had sown.

I write this now because some people in and out of government are calling the downing of a commercial airliner over Ukraine an act of terrorism. To begin with, the circumstances of the disaster are not yet clear, so the conclusion—any conclusion—is premature. More significantly, however, it is unlikely that anyone had a motive to bring down the plane. The most likely explanation is that Russians or pro-Russian rebels downed the aircraft with a Russian missile, having mistaken it for a Ukrainian military transport. That is, the incident is linkly collateral damage resulting from ongoing warfare.

“Terrorism” has become an epithet used without careful thinking and without integrity. It’s time to become more careful in our use of the term

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