The Wrong War

Courtesy Reuters


Wars have typically been fought against proper nouns (Germany, say) for the good reason that proper nouns can surrender and promise not to do it again. Wars against common nouns (poverty, crime, drugs) have been less successful. Such opponents never give up. The war on terrorism, unfortunately, falls into the second category. Victory is possible only if the United States confines itself to fighting individual terrorists rather than the tactic of terrorism itself. Yet defining who is a terrorist is more complicated than it might seem -- and even if it were not, choosing one's enemies on the basis of their tactics alone has little to recommend it.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that a terrorist is someone who "attempts to further his views by a system of coercive intimidation. ... The term now usually refers to a member of a clandestine or expatriate organization aiming to

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