Thursday, October 16, 2008

What's an insurgent?

Before I get into this, let's have some full disclosure: I'm an American citizen who served in the United States Navy. During part of my enlistment, I was involved in Operation Desert Shield. I've never seen combat, never shot at a human being, never killed anyone, and never seen an insurgent in the context it is used in relation to the U.S. governments' war on terrorism. defines an insurgent as:
"a person who rises in forcible opposition to lawful authority, esp. a person who engages in armed resistance to a government or to the execution of its laws; rebel."

Prior to the Iraq war, I'd heard all kinds of names for the enemies of America, those immoral, undemocratic heathen monsters who would oppress those around them in the name of...well, something un-American. The United States has fought "slant eyed, yellow imperialists", "fascist krauts", "gooks", "ragheads", and of course the more civilized versions, "enemy combatants", "rebels", "opposition forces" and our favorite these days, "insurgents".

But who are these insurgents? Why are they fighting us? Why is it good when we kill them? These questions are inextricably intertwined and all vitally important to get answers to if we are going to condone sending American citizens off to die in our names.

We generally put the people in Iraq into one of three categories: Us (U.S. soldiers and citizens), Iraqis (the people we've liberated), and insurgents (people who want to kill people from the first two categories).

So who are these insurgents? Where do they come from? Certainly, some come from other countries, their radical beliefs dictating that they travel abroad and interfere with other countries political destinies in the name of their own religious and moral fervor. But most of the insurgents we kill are Iraqis(the people from category 2).

Yes, that's the ugly truth. We're killing the people we've liberated. The United States doctrine can be summed up as "accept the democracy we've forced on you, or we'll kill you". Of course that's an over simplification. But the truth still stands: When a U.S. soldier kills an insurgent, it's most likely an Iraqi that doesn't want us there.

I can't speak to the motivations of 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' who want to shoot at things or blow things up. I'd be willing to be that if you tried to pin them down on it, very few would have cohesive, rational explanations for it. (There's a great article here on the psychology of terrorism here.) By the same token, however, I'd be willing to guess that there are few Iraqis who have ever gotten up one morning and said, "That does it, I'm going to become an insurgent!" It's silly.

Imagine deciding you'd had enough of the Iraqi military standing on your street corner, and knowing that the Bush administration was one more or less set up by Malaki, you decided to rise up and restore your country to it's former glory. Would you call yourself an insurgent? Patriot maybe, although there's an entirely separate post on that word. Rebel? Angry Citizen? Probably, you'd call yourself an American. And that's what you'd be. Disagreeing with your government, even to the point of violence, does not change your nationality.

Words are powerful. Too often we let the government and the media (and pundits, and bloggers, and advertisers and spouses....) push phrases and concepts into our heads that have less than clear meanings. We have to step back from the hype, from the emotion, and examine what's being said. Every message we get, comes from someone else. It's a guarantee that that message had to be filtered through someone with an agenda. They've chosen their words carefully to exact a specific response from you.

The word insurgent has a purpose. It helps us delineate whether we've killed an Iraqi (or 'other non-American) who doesn't like the U.S. and our agenda, and one who does. We need to remember that. We need to remember that while most terrorists are very disturbed, dangerous people, it's the first phrase in the definition of an insurgent that is paramount above all else: "A person". The rest is all perspective.

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