T Nation

One mans Freedom Fighter is another mans Terrorist ...

(First off I want to say - I’m not trying to make a poltical statement here - just express my mind - so take it please as simply my thoughts on paper)


The recent wars in Afganistan, Iraq and the sad dead of Pat Tillman have made me think quite a bit about the whole issue of terrorism.
I’d like to give you my perspective on things as it is alittle different from many others.

Let me first lay out my position and my background.

I am Irish, my born in Northern Ireland and for all my 34 years I have lived in a war-zone and known nothing but ‘the troubles’.

For those who aren’t aware …
About 900 years ago Ireland was invaded by Britain and for all those 900 years the Irish nation rose up on many occasions to try and obtain its freedom.
The country was ‘planted’ by the British - planted was where Protestant people were given land taken form the native Catholic Irish who were forced to live in poverty.
1 million Irish died during the Great Irish Famine in the 1840’s where the native Irsh were so poor and couldn’t feed themselves.
The Irish who were 100% Catholic were forbidden to practise their religon and many priests were murdered for attempting to celebrate the faith.

In 1916 a small group of Irish men attempted a rebellion to free Ireland so that Ireland could be a democratic republic rulled by the Irish.
The badly organised rising was crushed and it’s 7 leaders executed for treason after a trial

  • one James Connolly was so badly injured he was shot while tied in a chair as he couldn’t stand up.
    The brutality of the executions prompted the Irish into forming the Irish Republican Armay (IRA).
    It became a small guerilla army and began a war which lasted originally until 1921 when the small Irish nation managed to force the might of the British Empire into giving 2/3’s of Ireland it’s independence.

The rest became known as Northen Ireland or the 6 counties where the majority of the originally planted Protestants were left.
For years they refused Catholics basic civil rights or state jobs and monopolised the state instituions, police and army.
Until 1969 when the Catholics of the North began to demonstrate - then the British army shot 13 innocents dead.

The guerrilla war continued by the IRA in the North so as they could enjoy their freedom as they saw it.
The IRA aimed their war at the British occupying forces and the loyalist/Protestant peoples of the North.
Sadly many innocent people died - killed by both sides - as always happens in war.
Many of those who were caught viewed themsleves as soldiers and demanded POW status.
This was refused by the British Government and they used the only/final option open to them - hunger strike -
Many young Northern Irish Catholic men such as Bobby Sands who gave his life - starving himself to death for 75 long days so his fellow men could be seen as POWs not criminals.
After 10 men had died and the hunger strike ended - the IRA men eventually got their POW status.

This is why Northern Ireland has been a war zone for all my life.
Every morning I woke to here on the news of another British Soldier shot dead, another innocnet Catholic shot dead or another town blown up.
I don’t for a minute justify murder - I cannot - and I have lost friends who fought for what they belived in - whether right or wrong.

My question is - are the people who fought and died for their freedom terrorists or are they freedom fighters?
Where would Patrick Tillman stand if he was in my shoes?
I didn’t join the IRA even though on many occasions it weighed heavily on my mind.
Often I asked myself - should I go and fight for what I belive in? can I justify war and murder?
Was I a coward?
Now - some won’t agree with me … but I tell you - I am a level-headed and reasonable person and … I LIVED through it.

I know young men my own age who saw their brothers shot dead by the British Army in cold blood.
Many of my friends were regularly beaten coming home late or if picked up by the Northern Ireland Protestant police force, questioned for hours and tortured.
Many of them joined the IRA following these experinces and repaid their hurt by blowing up barracks and shooting soldiers.
Many lost years in prison.
Many escaped to the Irish community in the U.S.
Many died in action.
These were buried as heroes, carried high with the Irish flag and the IRA beret and gloves on their coffins.
The final good-bye being a hail of Gunfire by masked IRA soldiers over their coffin as the Britsh Helicopters hummed overhead.

Who can tell them they were wrong? - Me?

The point I make is - one mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist.

I guess I just view war a little different to many others …

Peace

Meh, “Freedom Fighters” stay in their country in terms of progressing their cause… terrorists have no respect for whom they kill, or terrorize… they will do it in their back yard… and in my back yard and your back yard miles and miles and miles away.

When was the last time the IRA set off a car bomb in NYC or any other US city

Fighting for freedom in your homeland is completely different than flying airliners into buildings in another country.

Terrorists aim only to terrorize. Freedom fighters want freedom.

Right or wrong, it is one thing to target the military (“blowing up barracks and shooting soldiers”), and quite another to go out of your way to target civilians. If you target civilians, you are a terrorist.

Touching story. It’s something that’s always bothered me, too, given that Britain was–and continues to be–our closest ally; apart from the Irish sub-culture, America in general has always viewed the IRA as the “bad guys” in the conflict. Yet some would argue that they’re doing something not very different from what the Resistance fighters did against the Vichy gov’t in France.

I did 8 years doing counter-terrorism work for the Department of State, mostly in South/Central America, so I’m not unfamiliar with the particulars of these sort of campaigns. What troubles me most, I suppose, is that the IRA has founded strong ties with many other, less noble, “freedom fighters” around the globe. They shared training, logistics, and intelligence with groups who don’t merely attack police and military, but rather are all too happy to blow up city buses or detonate car bombs at outdoor markets. In my eyes, they lose alot of sympathy and credibility for those alliances.

But your point is well-taken: if I saw my dad’s home taken away at gunpoint or watched friends carted off to prison for specious reasons, I might well consider taking a piece out of the oppressors.

I have great sympathy for the oppression of the Irish under the english as I do for the Basque people of Spain and even for the Palestinians to some degree. However as Boscobarbell mentioned, it’s hard to maintain that sympathy when innocent civilians get targeted with bombing attacks. The fact that the innocent members are terrorized in an effort to pressure the oppressive government to change it’s policy, makes the attackers “terrorists” by definition. While it may bring international attention to the plight of the oppressed people, it certainly does so with little hope for the internationaly community to support those people in any significant way. I don’t know what the answer is for getting the international community to recognize the legitimacy of an oppressed people’s claims, but I do know it’s not through the bombing of civilian people who are just going about their daily business, trying to live their lives.

I agree with the above posts. If you are fighting to liberate a homeland: Ireland, Chechnya, etc, and don’t target civilians, then you are a freedom fighter.

If you target civilians, then w/out a doubt you are a terrorist.

However, if you are fighting for freedom, then you will do and prob should do whatever it takes.
Remember Chechen “terrorists” took over that theater in Moscow for a few weeks and some civilians killed?

I wonder what the backlash was, if more Russians were spurred to protest against the war or was it the opposite?

THe war in Checnya is VERY unpopular in Russia, it is seen as another Aghanistan, Vietnam, etc.

Is it right to target civilians? Morally, no. But I can’t judge someone trying to liberate their homeland, I have no idea what that would be like.

It is a tough debate, because the civilian death count from 9/11 retaliation (Afghanistan and Iraq) outnumbers the 9/11 civilian death count by more than 3:1 (3000 of “our” civilians dead vs 10000 of “their” civilians). From the “their” point of view, is it clear how to distinguish a dead countryman as a victim of collateral damage vs. a victim of terrorism?