Between 1971 and 1973, he was commander of the Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA, which fought gun battles with British soldiers in a war that would cost 320 lives.
Arrested in Donegal near a car loaded with 5,000 rounds of ammunition and 250 pounds of explosives, he was sentenced to six months by a court whose jurisdiction he denied, “I am a member of the Derry Brigade of the (IRA) and am very, very proud of it.”
A Londonderry official called him “a cold-blooded ruthless terrorist (who) will weigh up the consequences of his actions only in terms of benefit to the IRA, regardless of the cost in human lives.” Another said he was a “fanatic … responsible for mass murder.”
He himself has spoken of the “legal and moral right of the IRA to kill a British soldier at any time,” and was once quoted: “Freedom can be gained only at the point of an IRA rifle, and I apologize to no one for saying that we support the freedom fighters of the IRA.”
He is Martin McGuinness. And the same March 13 New York Times that carries the picture of millions of Spaniards protesting the murderous terror attack on the Madrid trains has a photo of McGuinness chatting amiably with John Kerry before McGuinness spoke at Harvard.
Is it then true that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”? After all, many Irish consider McGuinness and his Sinn Fein comrade Gerry Adams, whom Bill Clinton invited to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day, as freedom fighters in the tradition of the “martyrs” of the “Easter Rising” of 1916, celebrated by the poet W. B. Yeats.
As the president swears eternal war on terrorism, it is time to ask: Who is a terrorist? Exactly what is terrorism? Have we not ourselves sometimes breached our commitment “never to negotiate with terrorists”? Have we Americans also engaged in terrorism?
Terrorism has been defined as the murder or massacre of innocent men, women and children for political ends. In that sense, 9-11 qualifies, as do the Hamas bombings of buses in Jerusalem.
But looking back over the 20th century, no fewer than three Israeli prime ministers have been accused of terrorism: Menachem Begin, whose Irgun blew up the King David Hotel and carried out the massacre of Palestinian villagers in Deir Yassin in April of 1948. Yitzhak Shamir, head of the Stern Gang that murdered Edward Lord Moyne in Cairo in 1944 enraging Churchill, who gave Moyne’s eulogy and assassinated U.N. mediator Count Bernadotte in Jerusalem in 1948.
Ariel Sharon, as head of Force 101, is accused of massacring scores of Palestinian villagers at Qibya in 1953 in a reprisal raid for the murder of an Israel woman and her children.
Nobel Prize winner Yasser Arafat has been charged in the cold-blooded assassination of U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel in the Sudan in 1973. His PLO is an umbrella group embracing organizations for whom the weapon of choice in the war against Israel is terror.
Nelson Mandela, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, did not get life imprisonment on Robben Island for sitting in at lunch counters, but if memory serves, for plotting terror to overthrow the regime.
Jomo Kenyatta, the “Grand Old Man” of Africa in the 1960s, was the leader of the Mau Mau in the 1950s. Ahmed Ben Bella led Algeria’s war of independence, in which terror was the insurgents’ weapon and torture the counter-weapon of the French.
During Tet in 1968, the Viet Cong went through the city of Hue with hit lists, executing 3,000 civilians. Within months, America was negotiating “peace with honor” with the V.C. US ties are now improving with Hanoi, where the body of Ho Chi Minh lies in state, as does that of Mao in Beijing and Lenin in Moscow. All three employed terror.
What is Nagasaki the atomic bombing of a defenseless city of a defeated nation other than an act of slaughter, killing 40,000 men, women and children in minutes to force Japan’s warlords to submit to America’s will?
But that was war, we say, and Japan was the aggressor. Does that also justify Dresden? Is air terror permissible in a just war if a nation can demonstrate it was the victim of aggression?
Saddam’s Iraq did not threaten us, did not attack us, did not want war with us, did not have weapons of mass destruction. Yet, we attacked, invaded and occupied Iraq. And when Iraqis attack our troops, we call it terror and we call them terrorists.
Is terrorism, then, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?
John Brown murdered men in Kansas in reprisal for the killing of Northerners and killed civilians in his raid on Harper’s Ferry to ignite a slave revolt. Brown was hanged as a terrorist. Yet the 1920s epic poem on the Civil War written by Stephen Vincent Benet would be titled, “John Brown’s Body.” And the first lines of the fighting song of the Union army were: “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on. Glory, glory hallelujah.”
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Or so it would seem.