That’s just a fact.  He was also the father of his country, and I believe he was a great man and a good man.  In 1985 he was offered release from jail if he would unconditionally renounce violence, he refused.

One might want to think about the fact that a great man and a good man was a terrorist.

Today, Emptywheel asked:

what leader currently considered a terrorist will be globally celebrated upon her death 50 years form now?

The obvious answer will be environmental “terrorists.”

The problem here is the word terrorist is meaningless.  A word we use to demonize others.

  • George W. Bush, probably responsible for 500,000 Iraqi deaths and a pile more Afghani deaths is not a terrorist despite what he did to, say, Fallujah.
  • George H. Bush, his father, who bombed Iraq’s infrastructure into smithereens (sewers are not a military target), is not a terrorist.  Sanctions intended to break the will of a people, that cost the lives of tens to hundreds of thousands of children, are not terrorism.
  • The firestorm of Tokyo, meant to break the will of the Japanese people… was not terrorism.

The founders of Israel were mostly terrorists.  Many American patriots in the Revolutionary War certainly committed acts of straight up terrorism.

Terrorism seems to be different from what governments do only in that it is not sanctioned by government and kills a lot less people.

One could say “only political violence sanctioned by a State is legitimate” and that would be far closer to the real meaning of “terrorism” as we use the word.  A terrorist is someone who does, less effectively, what the State does, without a State saying “this is ok”

Legitimacy is a larger question.  When someone commits political violence without State sanction they usually believe the State is illegitimate. Few people would, today, say that the Apartheid State was legitimate, and thus we slide on the fact that Mandela committed “terrorism”.  But he was on the State Department Terrorist list till 2008.

During the Vietnam War, when the US was killing Vietnamese in droves, was the US government legitimate? Was violence against Americans legitimate?  What about during the Iraq War?  What about today, as Obama drone murders children, and goes back for a double tap precisely to kill “first responders” (a war crime.)

When is violence legitimate?  Who is a terrorist?  If we want to keep the word terrorist as something more than a propaganda tool, do we have to acknowledge that sometimes terrorism is legitimate? If not, can we pretend that what States do that is no different except that it is sanctioned by a State?  Where do we change from Terrorist to War Criminal?  Mandela was a terrorist, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are War Criminals?  The difference being that Bush and Obama killed a ton more people without nearly as legitimate a reason as opposition to Apartheid?

Mandela committed terrorism, by any reasonable understanding of the word. He was also a great, good man.

We might want to think about that.