Padraic Rohan’s Column

Terrorism is among the foulest euphemisms to crop up in the American vocabulary. What is it but war? Acts of war committed by a “terrorist” organization are still acts of war.

And for all our lip service, do we understand what war is?

Let’s forget what we think we know, what we’ve been told, where our sympathies are. What is war? Not a definition, but a real understanding. It involves physical violence, competition for power, resources, and so on.

Is there a definite line that can be drawn between small scale and large-scale conflict? History shows examples of a single assassination being the spark of large-scale war, and of civil and gang warfare set off by large-scale economic policies.

Any division between the violence in our own homes and communities and the armed conflict of nation-states is an artificial construction. It’s all war, when we come right down to it.

Frank Herbert once said,

War is behavior with roots in the single cell of the primeval seas. Eat whatever you touch or it will eat you.

Violence is a fact of human nature. Our greed, our nationalism, our business practices, our relationships, our mental illness; these all exhibit the quality of violence, conflict, war. There is conflict within ourselves, in our families, communities, businesses, nations.

And so I’m tired of the violence, the bias, the unceasing promotion of one side over the other, of identifying oneself with oppressed or oppressor, of the justification, the righteousness, the alliances, the jockeying for position, the greed, the stupidity, the self-destruction.

As one raised in the United States, I’m so tired of the ignorance and righteousness and delusion exhibited by Americans. How many of us really understand the root causes of the attack on the World Trade Center? How many of us really understand the reasons for our government’s support of Israel? How many of us understand what our government is doing in our name? How many of us see and understand the effects of unbridled capitalism? How many of us recognize the propaganda, and see through the “democracy” faéade? How many of us really understand the nature of empire?

And much, much more importantly, how many of us understand ourselves? Not too many. It’s one thing to see the problems of the world, and it’s quite another to understand what’s really going on. BECAUSE IT’S NOT OUT THERE. IT’S ME. AND YOU. So let’s understand who we are, and why we act the way we do, before we go off half-cocked, reforming the system.

I’m talking to Americans and others who have never seen their homeland attacked in a large-scale armed conflict. This attack on the World Trade CenteréI’m reminded of European history, when armies lined up, foursquare to each other, and went at it. When guerrilla tactics came on the scene, the entrenched powers cried, “Ungentlemanly!”

Whatever. Guerrilla tactics were and are highly effective. “Surgical” Special Forces are the cutting edge of warfare. And this “terrorism”éisn’t this just another stage in the evolution of warfare?

The fact is that the U.S. and Company has set in motion powerful opposing forces. Suicide bombings on up to embassies, the Oklahoma Federal Building, and the WTC; do we see the perspective of these people? Or are we marginalizing them, intellectualizing about morality, legality, and the rest? We do this at our own peril. This righteousness goes hand in hand with ignorance, and breeds more desperate violence.

We crave security and safety in the midst of this madness, and our government institutes a “war on terror,” and we buy it. A war on war. I don’t think it gets more stupid and self-defeating.

Padraic Rohan was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has taught elementary school and started an outdoor adventure not-for-profit organization.