A mild knuckle-rap from Ivan Crossett questioning my reference to 19 young “warriors” in the air raid that 20 years ago on Sept. 9th destroyed the twin World Trade Centre towers and part of the Pentagon and killed close to 3,000. Wrote Ivan in his usual polite, brief but clear opinion: “Good blog, but don’t like the term ‘warriors’ – they were terrorists.”
For sure, “terrorists” is the word preferred by “The Press” under which umbrella I include the never-ending hammer of television and radio. And equally sure is that at day’s end, it was “terrorists” firmly lodged in the minds of free-thinking, free-speaking people.
I was discussing this issue with my firstborn son Stephen (he’s in his 70s if age is important), a retired editor, feature writer, columnist, national award winner, author of half a dozen books, and teacher of writing when COVID-19 allows. He’s the son who, years ago, when an interviewer suggested “conversations around your dinner table must have been fascinating,” answered: “Conversations? I don’t think so. We had a hell of a lot of arguments, though ….”
I mention that because nothing much has changed over the decades. It came as no surprise when the once-young fellow also weighed in on my use of “warriors” in my last week’s blog about a former “hero’s” (Rudy Giuliani) fall from grace.
Stephen: “As for the uselessness of labelling people “terrorists” or “heroes” for that matter, consider:
“Nelson Mandela was a “terrorist” until he became the heroic president of South Africa who ended apartheid.
“Jomo Kenyatta was a “terrorist” to the British until he became president of Kenya after ending colonial rule..
“Menachem Begin was a “terrorist” to the British in Palestine until he became the prime minister of Israel.”
“Louis Riel was a “terrorist” and was hanged for it, but now he’s now a hero of indigenous rights in Canada.”
Stephen also reminded me of the farmworkers in Dorset, England, who tried to prevent draconian wage cuts and were labelled “terrorists” by parliament and exiled to Australian penal colonies. Now the Tolpuddle Martyrs are among the heroes of the human rights movement in the U.K.
Mohandas Gandhi was deemed a “terrorist” by the British authorities in India, who responded to his independence movement with massacres in which the British Army shot down unarmed crowds. Gandhi won the first Nobel Peace Prize.
Michael Collins was thought a “terrorist” in Ireland and was jailed by the British for participating in the Easter Rising in 1916 until he became a leader of the Irish Free State and a national hero. He was assassinated by extremist Republican “terrorists.”
Simon Bolivar was a radical revolutionary “terrorist” to the Spanish, but the South Americans named a country after him.
And Emmeline Pankhurst was a “terrorist” who the Brits jailed for her revolutionary tactics in the women’s suffrage movement. Now there’s a statue in her honour.
His long list of “terrorists” reminded me of one of Dave Barrett’s favourite rejoinders when similar situations arose during his leadership of the NDP. Anyone with memories of Dave in full rhetorical force will remember his: “IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHOSE OX IS BEING GORED!”
It is worth remembering today as we watch the frightening debacle of the mighty USA and less mighty Canada scrambling to get out of Afghanistan and while wondering whether to renew contact with the Taliban, the “terrorists” they helped remove from governing 20 years ago.
Or have we let memory wipe out the tracking of Osama bin Laden, leader and commander of the militant Al-Qaeda. It was a squad of 19 Al-Qaeda soldiers who had been a “sleeper” cell in the USA for at least 12 months, calmly taking flying lessons before being trained well enough to hijack four commercial passenger jets loaded with aviation fuel and crash three of the four into pre-selected targets.
The search for Osama bin Laden, under U.S. President George W. Bush, tracked bin Laden through Afghanistan to Pakistan and eventually to his family compound in Abbottabad. It was there that a squad of marines found bin Laden with several of his wives and children, shot him with two bullets to the head and a third to confirm death while then-President Barak Obama and members of his cabinet watched on television.
There’s a wealth of detail available on the Internet. None of it is pleasant or comforting but may be summed up by two radio messages from Abbottabad minutes after 1 a.m. stating: “For God and country – Geronimo-Geronimo-Geronimo.” Seconds later, the battle report entry: “Geronimo – confirm EKIA” – code for enemy killed in action.
A final thought for today: Geronimo was an Apache Nation warrior who went from “blood-thirsty savage” in the 1800s, launching devastating “terrorist” attacks against invaders of his homeland, to inspirational saint. He once had about a quarter of the entire U.S. Army hunting him and his 34-warrior “scourge of the west.” He was never conquered but was arrested when he agreed to peace talk meeting. For several years he was used as a side show exhibit. By WW2 and D-Day, he had become a heroic USA figure, his name proudly worn as a shoulder patch by a U.S. airborne regiment. Decades later, Geronimo was the inspirational code name given a small group of U.S. warriors for the raid that killed bin Laden. Geronimo was still officialy a prisoner of war when he died on Feb.17,1909,in Fort Sill Oklahoma.