Sunday, June 07, 2015

Quest for the unholy grail

Ron Hirschbein is an ironist, a man of the left who takes exception to American exceptionalism, one whose professional mission is to bring to light the mismatch between elite-produced propaganda and “what’s really going on.” A long-time philosophy instructor at Chico State University, where he focused on war and peace studies, Hirschbein now teaches grad courses online for Walden University and writes articles and books.

In “The United States And Terrorism: An Ironic Perspective” ($65 in hardcover from Rowman and Littlefield), Hirschbein traces the quest for the “unholy grail,” as he puts it: an academic definition of terrorism “that dissolves any doubt about the notion ... the final answer that reveals the essence of terrorism and determines whether American officials should be condemned or exonerated from charges of terrorism.”

Such a quest is doomed to failure, though, because the meaning of terrorism has changed with changing historical contexts. “I wrote this book,” Hirschbein says, “because I’m beset by radical and persistent doubts about prevailing accounts of terrorism.” His is an effort to overcome “historical amnesia” in noting that, in the past, “terrorism was praised as an indispensable strategy for winning wars (World War II), and for keeping the peace (the Cold War)” (think of the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction”).

Today, though, “we war against terrorism although we’re not entirely sure what it is.”

The book’s five chapters trace the contexts of terrorism in World War II, the “nukespeak” of the Cold War, the conflicts in Korea (“the forgotten war”) and Vietnam (“the war we can’t forget”), the post-9/11 world (where the “War on Terror targets subnational groups engaged in activity deemed unlawful”), and “Terrorism as Entertainment” (with an extended treatment of the “well-crafted” series Homeland).

Throughout, Hirschbein notes that “the salient issue is noncombatant casualties.” Critic Noam Chomsky “detects considerable irony in prevailing definitions that (appropriately enough) indict non-state, retail terror while ignoring the wholesale terror visited by the United States and other great powers.”

The book is a cautionary tale, a “guided missive,” about the dangers of hubris and the changing definitions of terrorism to suit those in charge.

No comments: