Cliff May

The Battle of Algiers was to inspire such disparate revolutionaries of the ‘60s and ‘70s as the Irish Republican Army, the Black Panthers and the Palestine Liberation Organization (founded by the Arab League in 1964). In the years since, the logic of Pontecorvo/Ben M’Hidi has been appropriated by almost every self-styled revolutionary terrorist, from Ayatollah Khomeini to Osama bin Laden. It echoes in the West as well, not least on campuses and in the media, for example in Reuters’ facile formulation that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Or, as a former U.S. Ambassador and member of the “expert advisory group” to the Baker/Hamilton commission recently phrased it: “People are just as dead when bombed from the air, shot with a tank round, culled with a sniper shot, or stabbed in a bayonet charge as they are when killed by a suicide bomber or a roadside bomb.”

If that is the standard, one might as well also say that people are just as dead when killed on a battlefield or poisoned in a gas chamber, so what’s the difference and who are we to judge?

Nor, to some sophisticates, does it matter whether the cause is to maintain a colony, as it was for the French in Algeria, or to help stand up a decent government and get out – the mission of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries against whom America fights openly seek to establish totalitarian rule.

So whose cause is just and who -- if anyone -- should be given more latitude when it comes to weapons and tactics? What sense does it make to argue that we are bound by the strictest interpretation of the rules of warfare, but that we should not demand even minimal restraints from our enemies?

These are not easy questions to answer. Maybe that’s why Hollywood would rather worry about carbon emissions and whether the glaciers of Greenland are melting.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.