We all think we know what a "terrorist" is, but when we try to define the word, it becomes slippery. What differentiates a terrorist organization from a regular military? Certainly the people that used boxcutters to fly airplanes into skyscrapers were terrorists. But what made them so? Why is flying an airplane into a building different from flying cruise missiles into a pharmaceutical factory? Why is blowing up a building full of marines "terrorism" and firing rockets from a helicopter into a bomb builder's apartment building not? Does it matter if your cafe is blown up by a kid with strapped on explosives or by bombs falling from the sky?

Usually we say a terrorists targets civilians in order to demoralize an enemy which they cannot overcome directly. Soldiers try to directly attack enemy combatants, but may kill civilians in the process. Why is it OK to kill a hundred civilians in the process of killing thirty combatants, but deliberately killing ten civilians is a heinous crime? For that matter why is it nobler somehow to kill the 17 year old boy who has been pressed into service for his country by economic realities or a draft than the 50 year old woman who through random chance own never had to serve?

Bombing a city to negate it's military capability was an accepted mode of warfare in WWII. London endured the Blitz. Dresden was firebombed, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cities that had weapons facilities but had been untouched by war before the US detonated atomic bombs over them.

Most terrorist organizations have as their goal to create a nation. When and if they succeed, they somehow transform into Revolutionary Armies. It is only recently that we have come to recognize the religious fundamentalist terrorist such as Al Qaeda or Operation Rescue. These organizations generally have aims outside of nationhood per se. Though it still can be argued that Al Qaeda's goal is to get American imperialists out of their (Holy) nations.

But historically, American revolutionary soldiers were considered terrorists. As were the Irgun, the pre 1948 Jewish resistance against the British colonialists (they famously bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where the British viceroy had set up shop.) The PLO were (and by many, still are) considered a terrorist organization until Hamas came along and were even more terroristic than the PLO, allowing the older organization to become the proto-government known as the Palestinian Authority. So where do we draw the line?

The only consistent differences between a "terrorist group" and an "army" are that the army wears uniforms and has the resources of a nation supporting its actions. Terrorists are soldiers that do not have the means to fight fair.

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