Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Sons of Liberty were terrorists?

A few years back, 2006, when the sons of Iraq were coming into prominence, and being utilized by coalition forces in the various Iraqi awakenings, there were several comparisons of that group with Revolutionary America's Sons of Liberty. There are interesting parallels.

But, predictably, the comparisons began getting rather sloppy, and Michael Moore, among others, began arguing that the Sons of Liberty are indeed more similar than dissimilar to the insurgents in Iraq, or indeed Al Qaeda, than they are to the Sons of Iraq.

How apt is the comparison? Consulting my always reliable wiki-sources I find that, yes indeed the Sons of Liberty did destroy property (tea, ships, houses and contents of said houses), did incite mob action, did scare the bejeebers out of loyalists by acts which included tar-and-feathering, and ransacking of homes of folks involved in collection of the various onerous taxes that had the colonists in uproar. They hung such effigy.. often in front of their houses. They were a secret organizations, considered vigilante not only by loyalists and the British, but by a fair number of the more 'respectable' revolutionaries. Their existence was also exploited by more straightforward criminals, thugs and gangs, used as cover for violence, theft or destruction. So, it was often hard to tell which acts were those of the SOL and which were not.

But, they did not do anything equivalent to systematic planting of roadside bombs, killing of British soldiers, nor did they murder or behead captured British, loyalists or sympathizers. Nor did they use women, children or the mentally retarded as weapons delivery devices.

The Sons of Liberty found support from the French, did not wear identifying patches or uniforms, and engaged in harassment or guerrilla tactics of sorts, so they would probably qualify for what is today referred to as 'unlawful combatant' status.

So, if your criteria for inclusion in the category of "terrorist" is simply utilization of fear and intimidation toward political ends, you would probably be inclined to count the SOL as a terrorist group. On the other hand, if you have in mind a set of conditions that must include activities more like those that have been used in the 20th century by groups like AQ, Hamas, and the IRA (bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, intentional lethal targeting of civilians as standard operating procedure..etc.) you will not be inclined to include the SOL in the set of true terrorist organizations.

My own position is the latter, for if you seriously flirt with the former, the term "terrorist" loses all discriminatory power, and becomes so broad in application as to become useless for any purpose other than overheated rhetoric. All military operations, and a good deal of revolutionary activity involves use of fear and intimidation at some level or another, but it is ridiculous to say that this alone is enough to establish that all military or revolutionary activities are terrorist. That's silly and sophomoric analysis, if one can call it such.