Watching Rogue One yesterday (thoughts on that here), the interplay between the various factions among the Rebel Alliance, and former members of the Alliance, brought this subject back to mind. What sorts a terrorist from a guerilla fighter? Villain from hero?
The debate over the definition of terrorism is actually surprisingly fraught with politics, but mine is this:
- Terrorism, the use or threat of violence by non-state actors to cause or inspire terror for political ends. It is ethically and morally reprehensible and usually counter productive to the aims of the organization using terrorism.
States can certainly use terror as a weapon as well, but that is a war crime or crime against humanity, depending on how it is used. and by which part of the state.
- Guerrilla Warfare, is irregular warfare usually conducted by non-military persons against the military, security and structural forces of a state. Guerillas often use their ability to blend in with the people to their advantage and try to minimize their infliction of non-combatant casualties, their attacks are designed to weaken the power and legitimacy of the targeted state with the intention of overthrowing it. It is a legitimate, if little liked, branch of warfare.
States use counter-insurgency (or COIN) tactics to try and divorce guerrilla movements from their support in the general populace, these tactics often shade into government sponsored tactics especially when used by authoritarian regimes.
For historical examples, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) of the Anglo-Irish War (1919-21) were guerillas, the modern IRA factions (1969-current) veer between terrorism and guerrilla warfare, leaning more towards the former. The Chechen independence forces started as guerrillas and became terrorists after brutal Russian tactics crushed their bid for freedom from the Russian state, the move to terroristic tactics cost the Chechen what support they had among the Russian people.
Modern reporting tends to blur these two types of violence together, any attack against the United States or its allies by irregular forces is called terrorism, regardless of target type or purpose of the attack. Terrorism is an overused word and overuse of it blurs understanding of current situations.
But, back on track, in Star Wars, the Rebel Alliance seeks to be guerillas but the implication in Rogue One is that some, perhaps quite a few, of the factions had moved into terrorism against the Empire and some had been cast out because of it. This is an excellent moral conundrum that most rebel groups will encounter sooner or later (probably soon) and make for good drama and conflict in games.
Just some things that have been bouncing around in my head for a while, make of them what you will.