The refusal of President Obama to use the “Islamist” or Muslim name to define global terror confuses and annoys many Americans. His supporters dismiss this as a trivial sideshow, claiming that names are distracting as long as tactics work. But are names relevant when waging war against enemies who mow down civilians without shame or guilt, invoking “Allah Akbar” and releasing hostages who can recite the Koran?
The reader must pause. What’s going on here?
Are these just semantics, mere words without content?
Names matter. A Nazi is not a Kaiser and a Bolshevik is not a Czar. These are not trivial differences, they are profound and defined differences between life and death for millions.
Perhaps the chief issue separating the two sides on this are the complexities between the architects or “activists” of the movement and the socio/political environment from whence they came. This is a universal problem, no exceptions. Nothing comes from a vacuum.
Take the American Revolution. George Washington led a relatively small percentage of Americans against British rule, with over three-fourths either loyal (“Tories”) or ambivalent. The British were aware of this distinction and, in addition to 57,000 Redcoats, used the Tories against the Patriots throughout the war. Similar distinctions dominated most modern revolutions.
In 1917 a handful of Bolsheviks took over millions of Russians and ruled them for the next seventy-five years. Using this base, they terrorized most of the world, occupied half of Europe, created a bipolar world that always seemed on the brink of disaster and built thousands of nuclear weapons that could have wiped out the US many times over. Most Americans had no problem making the distinction between the Russian people and Bolshevism. Nor did the distinction stop the United States from waging total political warfare, including nuclear deterrence, against them for nearly half a century. Neither is there a substantial record of a President or Secretary of State who refused to call the Communists what they, in fact, were, or to identify where they came from.
But the Bolsheviks weren’t the only terrorists that we have met. With fewer than 200 official members the National Socialist German Workers Party, the “Nazis” came to rule and terrorize eighty million German citizens between 1933 and 1945 while, in the world at large, successfully instigated total military war that took around 75 million lives. The fact that the Nazis represented a minutia of the German population was small comfort to the millions of soldiers who faced their forces around the globe any more than it excused those millions more who fought for them and served as the popular culture and territory from whence they came.
On the beaches of Normandy Americans faced Germans. That’s what they were and that’s what they looked like and the hierarchy back home in Berlin was nowhere in sight. But the Nazis undoubtedly pulled the strings.
The distinctions that have reflected practically all historical movements such as these are present again in the Jihads that have convulsed this country since 240 Marines were killed by a suicide bomber in Lebanon in 1983. Since then, US military forces have bombed, occupied or otherwise intervened in 19 Islamic countries in what has been known as the Global War On Terror (GLOT) .That’s over a quarter century ago, seemingly sufficient time for our elite leadership to arrive at a common consensus as to what, on earth, we are fighting.
In the ongoing debate as to this question there is actually no winner and no loser. To use a favorite cliché it is actually academic and it is a wonder how such an intelligent country as this, cannot decide who to fight after more than twenty-five years of fighting them.
Is it the Germans or the Nazis, the Communists or the Russians, the Chinese or Mao, Washington or the Americans, Napoleon or France, the south or Lee? The answer, now as before, is both and it is high time we arrived at a simple intellectual consensus able to distinguish between the soldiers and the culture behind them.