Neither Their War Nor Their Peace
Against the Myth of Unity

October 1, 2001

By Wolfi Landstreicher


If we are to believe what the mass media and the politicians tell us, all of the people of the United States are indeed now united in a common feeling and a common goal. We are all one in the desire to fight terrorism. Every difference is forgotten in the name of ridding the world of this scourge.

In fact, this unity that is proclaimed so loudly and praised so effusively is a fairy tale. It could not be otherwise. “Terrorism” is a buzzword that has not been adequately defined by the government or the media. While we may all recognize the attacks of September 11 as terrorist acts, there are too many doubts as to what else may fall under this definition. This raises the question of what role the U.S. has played in acts of terrorism through out the world or where the line between acts of terrorism and acts of war is. Is this a time for patriotism? Or maybe for some serious questioning of what those who rule us have done and will do?

Even the varieties of sorrow, fear and pain felt due to these attacks differs from person to person. I am sorry that thousands died in these attacks and that their loved ones are suffering from the loss. But I feel no sorrow for the damage to monstrous buildings symbolizing the economic and military power of America. And what I fear is the type of repression against dissent and revolt that we can expect in this country in the name of this “war on terrorism”—what I fear is the terrorism of the state against those who oppose it which of course will call itself the defense of freedom.

So what is this paper? A voice raised against the myth of unity, an expression of revolt against the call for war the American state has issued, because it will not be a war against terrorism, but against the struggle for freedom.


As the American state calls the world to a “war against terrorism”, it carefully avoids explaining what it means by terrorism. What need is there? We all can see that the acts carried out on September 11 were terrorist acts. The indiscriminate killing of the passengers on the flights and of the workers and visitors at the World Trade Center most of whom could not be implicated in the making or executing of U.S. foreign policy and the political motivation behind these actions combine to leave no question of their nature. But here we begin to develop a definition for terrorism. It could be defined as the use of indiscriminate violence to achieve a political aim, generally through the spread of fear within a given population.

A brief look at the origin of the word could clarify things further. The word “terrorism“ was first used to describe the policy put into practice by the newly formed republican state in France in 1793, also known as the Reign of Terror. The purpose of this policy was to eliminate all opposition to the new state through mass executions of everyone who might be considered a threat to the newly formed state, regardless of any proof or of the political or social positions of those killed. The aim was not so much to eliminate the old aristocrats, many of whom might easily be useful in the new regime as to suppress the continuing revolution that was threatening to bring down the new regime. The justification for this terror was that the new state was the rule of the people and so enemies of the state were enemies of the people. Thus the first recognized terrorist activity was an act of indiscriminate violence institutionalized by a state that justified its actions on democratic and humanistic grounds for the purpose of suppressing opposition and revolt. For approximately the next hundred years, terrorism was recognized as a policy of certain states by which they used indiscriminate violence to establish and enforce their power. It was only in the late 1800’s, when widespread revolt began to express itself openly often in violent ways that the word come to be applied to revolutionary violence as well.

It is normal in the evolution of languages for the meanings of words to transform, but not to be turned on their heads. For this reason, terrorism can only be a meaningful term of it keeps some of its original characteristics. I would argue that terrorism is best understood as either the use of indiscriminate violence or the threat of indiscriminate violence in order to induce fear in a population with a political aim, or the use of the threat of violence by a state to enforce its power over its own or another population.


A basic part of this definition is that terrorism is always an act of power intended to induce fear. If we look at this definition it becomes obvious that at one time or another all states use terrorist methods. It is inherent to their functioning. Since the United States is currently the most powerful state on the planet, it is clearly implicated in terrorist activities throughout the globe. But the false choice in Bush’s ultimatum to the world is more immediate than this. In calling for a “war on terrorism” rather than on specific people or nations, Bush is calling the world to a war with a far more nebulous enemy than even the war on drugs. Such a war can only be carried out through a strategy of increasing the repressive power of the state. Because no state dares to define terrorism too precisely since all states would be implicated in such a definition, states will decide arbitrarily, based on their own needs, what constitutes terrorism, and we can be sure that this conception will be broadened to encompass any serious revolt. This war will be waged as strongly against the so-called “internal enemy” as any external enemies. This will definitely mean increased police spying, harassment, searches, detentions, based solely on the fact that the state has decided one is a terrorist threat. In other words, the nebulous nature of a war on terrorism guarantees that it will increase the atmosphere of psychological terror which is the greatest weapon of every ruling class and every state against those they rule. The most disturbing aspect of this situation is that most people will accept this. We are always more frightened of the terror we don’t know than of the one we face every day. So repressive state terror will most likely go forward with the democratic support of those who are ruled in the name of a war against terrorism. But some of us have been fighting against terrorism for years. We have been doing so precisely by fighting against the ruling order and its police and military institutions that are the main source of terrorism world-wide. No state can lead a sincere battle against terrorism, because terrorism has been a strategy of state all along, a strategy to which every state will turn whenever it has need to do so. The only way to put an end to terrorism is to put an end to the state. And by this I mean every state in the world.


Every American knows by now that Osama bin Laden is the current Devil of American foreign policy. He is the one who seems to be behind the attacks of September 11. We are informed that he is a Saudi Arabian from a wealthy family who holds to an extreme fundamentalist version of the Islamic faith. Hardly a likeable fellow. The only problem is, that like all devils, he is partly myth. Not that he doesn’t exist or, for that matter, play a leading role within certain terrorist networks. He is such a power, but the various states now lining up to volunteer in the “war against terrorism” know quite well that he is not the lynchpin in world-wide terrorism. He is simply a major player specifically within the terrorist networks that have associations with Islamic fundamentalism. But another fact that has been mentioned, but not explained is that bin Laden was once a CIA operative. He learned what he knows from this intelligence agency of the U.S. government. What was he trained for? To carry out terrorist activities for the CIA, or so one would have to assume. Like so many of America’s enemies of the past several years, bin Laden is also a former ally who has gone renegade. This is the sort of company that all states seek, the sort of allies every ruling class courts. Why then trust ‘our’ leaders when they call us to fight these terrorists they trained?


Because I was born in 1955 and grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, my conception of World War 3 was that of nuclear annihilation, that unthinkable destruction of all life—or at least human life. It was so frightening that most people chose to put it out of their consciousness, but it nonetheless remained a subconscious fear in the back of our minds. The change in the past couple of decades in world power relations has largely put this possibility, rightly or not, out of our minds. But if we thought that World War 3 was no longer a possibility, recent events should change our minds about this.

Since the attacks of September 11, president Bush has called on all of the nations of the world to join in a war against terrorism. This is not a call to a metaphorical war, but to real battle involving arms and deaths. The enemy in this war is a nebulous practice (kept unclear intentionally since a clear definition of the enemy would undermine state aims) that can be seen everywhere—particularly if those in power are the ones making the determination. Such a phantasmic yet terrifying enemy meets a need that the U.S. government has had since the fall of the Soviet Union. It presents an ongoing threat to national security that justifies both increasing military and police powers. This enemy exists both externally and internally. In the name of defending the abstract freedom that the U.S. claims to represent, this enemy justifies the practical suppression of the freedom to rebel or act for oneself. Since, in spite of the use of Osama bin Laden as the face of this devil, it will, in fact, prove to be a faceless enemy—an omnipresent threat, this war and the emergency measures put into effect in its name need never come to an end. The newly formed Internal Security Council, the increased capacities for federal police agencies to spy on us, the increased policing of the borders, the erosion of ‘rights’ that many take for granted (but that have never been more than a grant from the state anyway) will have no reason to end, since this phantom will continue to haunt the shadows, and the state will be quick to point fingers whenever anyone forgets this. Even before the attacks the word terrorism was being flung around loosely to such an extent that even a computer geek who showed too much skill and imagination could be called a cyber-terrorist.

So this is the face of World War 3: an ongoing war against a faceless enemy defined by the state—thus, a war of the state against all who oppose or even seriously question it. Yet a war which most of those ruled and exploited by the social order of the state will support because they fear this faceless enemy the state has named. Only when we realize that the state is itself the terrorist will the real nature of this war become clear. It is the social war of the ruling class against those they rule, in which the ruled, as always, are the cannon-fodder.

There will be no end to terrorism until we put an end to the state.

-- wolfi landstreicher - email
(415) 430-2160 x6003 - voicemail/fax

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