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Monday, October 3, 2011

Were the Confederate soldiers terrorists? (April 12, 2010)

That was the title of an opinion piece I read today. It was on CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/04/11/martin.confederate.extremist/index.html) which I found out as I was going through the site looking for news. I was so intrigued that I stopped and read the entire thing. Ok, so I read alot, but still, it was interesting.

The author; a gentleman named Roland Martin; was making the point that if we call the Muslim extremists terrorists, we must do the same for the Confederate soldiers. After all, "[w]hen you make the argument that the South was angry with the North for 'invading' its 'homeland,' Osama bin Laden has said the same about U.S. soldiers being on Arab soil. He has objected to our bases in Saudi Arabia, and that's one of the reasons he has launched his jihad against us. Is there really that much of a difference between him and the Confederates? Same language; same cause; same effect."

How is that for an interesting argument? Totally and flat out wrong, but interesting nonetheless.

Throughout the article, Mr. Martin takes a few similarities and then proceeds to use them to build a shaky case. These similarities include: defending the homeland, people being treated badly, and innocents being killed. The problem is that he does not address the central issue. The Confederate army was just that, *AN ARMY*! The Muslim extremists are not an army. They are a group of guerrilla warriors. There is a vast differences between the two.

I am not saying that an army cannot terrorize people, but when they do during a time of war, they are war criminals, not terrorists. According to dictionary.com, a terrorist is

1. a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism.
2. a person who terrorizes or frightens others.

There are two other definitions, but since they are period specific, I will avoid them. I also chose to look up terrorism and this is what it gave as the definition:

1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

So, through a melding of these two definitions, we can define a terrorist as a person or group that uses threats or violence to intimidate or coerce.

I think that the Muslim extremists fit into this definition quite nicely. They randomly attack people or places with the intent of accomplishing certain goals.

The Confederate soldiers, on the other hand, do not fit this definition. While I will not defend slavery; it is in fact indefensible; I do believe that the Confederate soldiers had a point. Their states were attempting to break away from the United States and they were defending their home country from invaders.

So far, this sounds similar to what the Muslim extremists are saying. And that is Martin's point. Where he goes wrong is in giving the two moral equivalence. The Confederate soldiers; as a whole; did not go into the North and randomly attack civilians or non-military targets in order to inspire fear. Were there spies? Absolutely, but spying and terrorism are different things.

There are a few more definitions I would like to point out. Each of these comes form dictionary.com's definition of terrorism:

n. The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Legal Dictionary

Main Entry: ter·ror·ism
Pronunciation: 'ter-&r-"i-z&m
Function: noun
1 : the unlawful use or threat of violence esp. against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion
2 : violent and intimidating gang activity terrorism> —ter·ror·ist /-ist/ adj or noun —ter·ror·is·tic /"ter-&r-'is-tik/ adjective
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc.

Cultural Dictionary

terrorism definition

Acts of violence committed by groups that view themselves as victimized by some notable historical wrong. Although these groups have no formal connection with governments, they usually have the financial and moral backing of sympathetic governments. Typically, they stage unexpected attacks on civilian targets, including embassies and airliners, with the aim of sowing fear and confusion. Israel has been a frequent target of terrorism, but the United States has increasingly become its main target.

Which of these sounds remotely like the Confederate soldiers? The answer: None!

On the other hand, we could go on about the Northern General Sherman and his March to the Sea, which was definitely much more terroristic that anything the South did. Sherman targeted civilians and the support structure of the Confederacy. Even then, I would not call him a terrorist, but rather a war criminal.

If someone can point out to me somewhere where the Confederate army systematically engaged in attacks on civilians or the Union support structure, then I will concede that there may be a point. Mr. Martin, however, fails miserably. I do not understand where he is coming from and he makes absolutely no sense.