In a recent commentary, I called 19th century insurrectionist Denmark Vesey a "terrorist," a term I define as someone who intentionally targets civilians to advance an objective or agenda. Vesey, who planned to murder every white person in Charleston in 1822, certainly fits this description, as does President Harry Truman, who dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. I made this exact same comparison in my column.
Liberals cursed my portrayal of Vesey, while thanking me for bringing up Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Conservatives cursed my portrayal of Truman, yet thanked me for my comments on Vesey.
Though liberals are generally thought of as bleeding hearts, I'm never surprised when they endorse terrorism. It's an easy philosophical leap for liberals, who view humanity through the lens of class, race, gender, and other collectivist identities, to justify the mass killing of people in the name of social justice or "progress."
In the early to mid-20th century, many American and European liberals were so sympathetic to socialism that they turned a blind eye to the atrocities being committed against the Soviet Union's civilian population by the Communist Party leadership. Millions died.
Modern, white, guilt-driven liberals who would never think of sacrificing their own small children for any progressive cause still champion Vesey's plans to slaughter every pale-faced child in Charleston. When defending Vesey, liberals don't think about the idea of children being murdered; they only think about black liberation. Similarly, when it came to Lenin and Stalin's Russia, liberals of the past didn't think about the genocide and famine caused by these totalitarian regimes, only the idea of the workers of the world uniting. In the name of saving humanity, the Left is always prepared to sacrifice plenty of humans.
Unfortunately, so are many of today's conservatives. The most common defense of Truman's decision to drop two atomic bombs is that it was done to "save American lives." But was it?
Wrote Admiral William Leahy, chief of staff to both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman: "It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender..." Douglas MacArthur's consultant Norman Cousins wrote: "When I asked Gen. MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb."
Dwight Eisenhower also had a similar view. He told Newsweek in 1963 that "the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."
Leahy also had this to say: "The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."
Barbarians? Dark ages? Destroying women and children as a method of waging war? These descriptions could easily apply to Al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, Leahy is describing the United States government.
Even if Leahy, MacArthur, and Eisenhower were wrong about the use of atomic weapons, describing Truman as a terrorist seems to upset conservatives most, because they subscribe to the popular narrative that the bombings were just another type of conventional warfare.
According to the thinking of mainstream conservatives, "state-sponsored terrorism" only seems to apply to Arab nations which fund terrorist individuals; state-sponsored terrorism could never be applied to a government engaging in plain, old war.
Using Truman's actions as an example, conservatives seem to say that terrorism carried out by individuals is always unwarranted, but terrorism carried out by government is warranted. In fact, it isn't even "terrorism" at all. Is there any other sphere in which conservatives, quite literally, allow their government to get away with such murder?
Reveling in the excesses of government in the form of militarism hasn't always been stock conservative thinking. As late as 1959, William F. Buckley's National Review could say the following in an editorial: "The indefensibility of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is becoming a part of the national conservative creed."
Regardless, for the Left or Right, if the definition of terrorism is not the intentional targeting of civilians to advance an objective or agenda, then what is it? I've yet to hear a better definition.
And I don't see how that particular evil ceases to become such depending on who's doing it.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.