Good Thing He Doesn’t Run the Show

Oskar Lafontaine, a German politician of the Left, has weighed in on the definition of “terrorism”: Herr Lafontaine asserts that “terrorism is the killing of innocent people to achieve political objectives”. By this definition, certainly, the men who turned jetliners into weapons on September 11 are terrorists. Herr Lafontaine concedes this. But, by the same token, he argues that “Americans are also terrorists when they bomb cities and villages in Afghanistan (and) Iraq and kill tens-of-thousands of innocents.”

There is, of course, a consistency here, something different from blind anti-Americanism. It is a consistency born of a simple moral absolutism: All killing is wrong. Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. It is modified in that only the killing of innocents is to be considered terrorism. This means that any time collateral damage occurs, the actor who caused such damage is to be regarded a terrorist, regardless of the lengths taken to avoid it.

The refreshing thing about this, of course, is that it’s not quite moral relativism: It is moral equivalence. The only way to avoid ever becoming a terrorist, then, is for a state actor never to act at all. This is, essentially, a strict liability view of the world: It matters not what your intentions were; if some innocent somewhere dies, and the proximate cause is your action, you are automatically a terrorist.

Yes, it’s easy to ride the moral high horse when you’re not in charge. The fact that Herr Lafontaine has no real power whatsoever is a testament to the limits of such a position among even the cynical German electorate.

(Hat-tip: Davids Medienkritik)

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

4 thoughts on “Good Thing He Doesn’t Run the Show”

  1. Moral-equivalence arguments often are based on rhetorical sleights-of-hand. They attempt to shift the audience’s attention from the responsible party to the party who was most responsive. Someone tries to beat up your kid at school, he fights back and school administrators punish him along with his assailants. Police, trying to catch vicious criminals, get blamed by demagogues for any accidental injuries to third parties (hey, it wouldn’t have happened if the police had let the bad guys go). The USA does the world’s military dirty work and gets called a terrorist because innocent people are killed accidentally.

    The common thread in such arguments is an unwillingness to place full blame on the responsible parties. At best this is moral confusion, at worst corruption. Such arguments are incompatible with the liberal (old sense) worldview that gives individuals credit for their achievements and holds them responsible for their actions. It’s not surprising that totalitarian apologists argue this way. It is surprising, and unfortunate, that some people who consider themselves to be proponents of free societies do.

  2. Herr Lafontaine is a terrorist.

    (1) He is a socialist who believes that most economic relationships should be governed by explicit laws.

    (2) All laws are implicit statements that the state will employ force against those who do not conform to the laws.

    (3) It is impossible to use force in any context without causing at some point the death of an innocent person.

    Therefore, Lafontains advocation of socialism makes him a terrorist by his own definition. I suppose he will do the honorable thing now and lock himself up.

  3. The point, though, that nation-states can engage in terrorism at home and abroad is unfortunately true.
    America, of course, never employs terrorism as a tool.

  4. This betrays a major difference between left and right. Us who advocated the war believe that results are what is important. Lefties believe that motives are what is important.

    For lefties, bad results of actions undertaken with good motives are to be preferred to good results of actions taken with bad motives.

    In other words, it is worse for the US to fight and kill 10 innocent civilians than for the US to remain passive and watch while 1000 innocent civilians perish in terrorist attacks. Results don’t matter; motives and intentions do.

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