Dad .. what's a terrorist?
by David Campbell
April 23, 2004
Surely even a child can understand the difference between good and evil.
Dad ... what's a terrorist?
Well, according to the Oxford dictionary a terrorist is "a person who uses violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims". Which means that terrorists are very bad men and women who frighten ordinary people like us, and sometimes even kill them.
Why do they kill them?
Because they hate them or their country. It's hard to explain ... it's just the way things are. For many different reasons a lot of people in our world are full of hate.
Like the ones in Iraq who are capturing people and saying that they'll kill them if all the soldiers don't leave?
Exactly! That's an evil thing called "blackmail". Those innocent people are hostages, and the terrorists are saying that if governments don't do what they want the hostages will be killed.
So was it blackmail when we said we'd attack Iraq and kill innocent people unless they told us where all their weapons were?
No! Well ... yes, I suppose. In a way. But that was an "ultimatum" ... call it "good blackmail.
Good blackmail? What's that?
That's when it's done for good reasons. Those weapons were very dangerous and could have hurt a lot of people all over the world. It was very important to find them and destroy them.
But Dad ... there weren't any weapons.
True. We know that now. But we didn't at the time. We thought there were.
So was killing all those innocent people in Iraq a mistake?
No. It was a tragedy, but we also saved a lot of lives. You see, we had to stop a very cruel man called Saddam Hussein from killing a great many ordinary Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein stayed in power by giving orders that meant thousands of people died or were horribly injured. Mothers and fathers. Even children.
Like that boy I saw on TV? The one who had his arms blown off by a bomb?
Yes ... just like him.
But we did that. Does that mean our leaders are terrorists?
Good heavens, no! Whatever gave you that idea? That was just an accident. Unfortunately, innocent people get hurt in a war. You can't expect anything else when you drop bombs on cities. Nobody wants it to happen ... it's just the way things are.
So in a war only soldiers are supposed to get killed?
Well, soldiers are trained to fight for their country. It's their job, and they're very brave. They know that war is dangerous and that they might be killed. As soon as they put on a uniform they become a target.
What uniforms do terrorists wear?
That's just the problem ... they don't! We can't tell them apart from the civilians. We don't know who we're fighting. And that's why so many innocent people are getting killed ... the terrorists don't follow the rules of war.
War has rules?
Oh, yes. Soldiers must wear uniforms. And you can't just suddenly attack someone unless they do something to you first. Then you can defend yourself.
So that's why we attacked Iraq? Because Iraq attacked us first and we were just defending ourselves?
Not exactly. Iraq didn't attack us ... but it might have. We decided to get in first. Just in case Iraq used those weapons we were talking about.
The ones they didn't have? So we broke the rules of war?
Technically speaking, yes. But ...
So if we broke the rules first, why isn't it OK for those people in Iraq who aren't wearing uniforms to break the rules?
Well, that's different. We were doing the right thing when we broke the rules.
But Dad ... how do we know we were doing the right thing?
Our leaders ... Bush and Blair and Howard ... they told us it was the right thing. And if they don't know, who does? They say that something had to be done to make Iraq a better place.
Is it a better place?
I suppose so, but I don't know for sure. Innocent people are still being killed and these kidnappings are terrible things. I feel very sorry for the families of those poor hostages, but we simply can't give in to terrorists. We must stand firm.
Would you say that if I was captured by terrorists?
Uh ... yes ... no ... I mean, it's very difficult ...
So you'd let me be killed? Don't you love me?
Of course! I love you very much. It's just that it's a very complicated issue and I don't know what I'd do ...
Well, if somebody attacked us and bombed our house and killed you and Mum and Jamie I know what I'd do.
I'd find out who did it and kill them. Any way I could. I'd hate them for ever and ever. And then I'd get in a plane and bomb their cities.
But ... but ... you'd kill a lot of innocent people.
I know. But it's war, Dad. And that's just the way things are. Remember?
David Campbell is a Melbourne writer.