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It isn't surprising that President Reagan calls attacks on military advisors and U.S. Embassy officials in San Salvador terrorist attacks and insists that a terrorist killed the marines in Lebanon. He thus doesn't have to admit that we have been waging war in those countries and that at least a few of the citizens are fighting back. Whether or not we are on the side of right, if we support the contras in Nicaragua or the government in San Salvador, we are 'supporting one side in a war. By doing so, we make legitimate targets of American military personnel and the U.S. officials directing our efforts.
It's not just our leaders who get confused. The Sandinista government is using state terrorism against its own population, just like every other communist country in the world. That fact by itself destroys the argument of Americans who think we should be supporting that government.
When we don't distinguish between terrorism and war, we can't be true to our ideal of the right of all people to fight against their government for just cause. This has happened with our new treaty of extradition with Great Britain. By agreeing to no longer deny extradition to Great Britain on political grounds, we have in effect excluded it as a country against which people have a right to revolt.
We should extradite the bastard who bombed a church, blew up a car on a crowded street, or murdered civilians delivering groceries to British Army headquarters. But, confused over the difference between a terrorist and a rebel, we will now extradite also the insurgent who attacked a military target. We no longer recognize a right to revolt against the target of our own Declaration of Independence.
Is he a terrorist or is he a freedom fighter? It's easy to tell. Is he aiming at an innocent civilian, or at someone who was already aiming at him?
Mack Tanner serves in the U.S. diplomatic corps in Bangkok. His article on Thailand appeared in the July 1986 REASON.