Oklahoma bombing

Today is the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma, the second worst terrorist attack in U.S. history to date. 168 people died. I’ve tried to write something about what happened and the government response, but it keeps getting more political than I really want, so I’ve given up. Terrorists are the enemy of civilization.


  1. etbe said,

    April 20, 2010 @ 3:31 am

    How do you define a “terrorist”?

  2. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    April 20, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

    I would say that a terrorist is somebody who attack civilians in an attempt to change society in some way. I would say that a terrorist always acts with some sort of political motivation, by definition. For example, I would say that Theodore Kaczynski was a terrorist, but John Muhammad was not (Muhammad said his murders were part of a jihad, but as far as I know he never said what changes he wanted). I would say that for an action to count as terrorism, it must involve an attack on civilians. For example, the bombing of the UN Building in Baghdad was terrorism, but the attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq were not.

  3. ari said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 7:55 am

    So, the American troops in Iraq were terrorists? (Guantanamo, they changed the Iraqi society in a way, their war was with ideological reasons (I believe there were also some connected with oil, but this as well might be wrong).
    Do you agree?

  4. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 9:30 am

    When judging whether somebody is a terrorist, intention counts. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent occupation, did not intend to attack civilians. Of course civilians were hurt, and that was bad. But it was, in the sanitized phrase, collateral damage. I think that for an act to be terrorism it has to include an intent to attack civilians. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was an act of war, not an act of terrorism.

  5. etbe said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

    Does attacking non-civilian targets with gross disregard for whether civilians may be hurt or killed in the process count?

    Also in the case of government agencies you can have honorable people following legal orders that originate from people with terrorist motives. A direct order to kill or torture civilians or enemy soldiers who surrendered is illegal, as is an order to prevent accused criminals from being subject to the legal system. It seems that many soldiers at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo bay are criminals who obeyed illegal orders.

    Of course no matter how you define terrorism, the history of the CIA in South America will provide some examples of the US government being a terrorist organisation.

  6. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

    Gross disregard of civilian casualties is certainly relevant. And, as you say, it does certainly appear that illegal orders were given at Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo, although I’m not sure that terrorism is the right word for that.

    For that matter, I’m not sure that CIA activities in Latin America, though reprehensible, count as terrorism. I think it’s useful to use the right words to describe actions, while agreeing that the actions are bad, counterproductive, and sometimes even evil. Targeted assassinations of political leaders, and funding and arming of opposition groups, are not, I think, examples of terrorism. Arming an opposition group which then practices acts of terrorism is a tricky case; it may be terrorism or it may not, I’m not sure. All that said, you may be thinking of CIA activities that I am not recalling.

  7. ari said,

    April 26, 2010 @ 12:28 am

    There is indeed a case when all these cases won’t count as terrorism in your definition. And it is if they are made because of money. Terrorism is when evil is made out of …idealistic…not rational… ideas. When money are involved, the ideas are a way too materialistic. People fear the terrorism, because it is unpredictable. If there are economic factors for the war in Iraq, it would be predictable and so it won’t be a terroristic act.
    There is another definition of terrorism – what the others do to me is terrorism, what I do is a fight for freedom (or some other good ideas). I hope your definition is not something like this.

  8. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    April 26, 2010 @ 6:37 am

    My definition, such as it is, doesn’t say anything about who is taking the action. What I am trying to avoid is labeling any violent action that I don’t like as terrorism.

    Idealistic ideas can be rational. In any case, what I said was a “political motivation.” It’s reasonable to question whether money could be part of the motivation. I think it could. A group could use terrorism in an effort to take over the government and make themselves rich. But, e.g., asking people to pay a ransom to avoid an attack is criminal but is not terrorism.

    Terrorism doesn’t have anything to do with predictability. The recent bombings in Iraq, or the bombings by the IRA in London were sadly predictable, but they were still terrorism.

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