The horrible events in Boston a few years ago brought out the worst in some people.

I really do not understand those who believe that there is no difference between the actions of terrorists and the actions of the United States military. And I say this not just because my father spent 28 years in the Air Force and served in Viet-Nam twice.

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On Facebook, someone  awhile back posted a photograph of a row of dead babies supposedly killed by an American drone in Afghanistan and suggested that America is no different than those we call terrorists. At a press conference, a reporter once asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney if U.S. bombings that kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan constitute an “act of terror” given the labeling of the Boston Marathon bombing as “terrorism.” The reporter specifically referred to a U.S. airstrike that killed eleven children, in addition to referring to “a seemingly endless line of Afghan civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. government.”

Some people have suggested that we Americans are hypocrites for reacting with outrage over the events in Boston given that what we’re doing (through our military) every day in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world is just as bad, if not worse. Just a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing, similar sentiments were expressed by the American poet and songwriter Amanda Palmer in a poem she posted on her blog.  It was written sympathetically from the point of view of the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, arguing that we need to understand things from his point of view given how horrible the United States behaves in the world.

This all too common attitude of equating U.S. actions with terrorism is both incredibly offensive and flat out insane.

It is indeed awful when innocent civilians are injured or killed as a result of U.S. military activity (though not all reports of such things are true or accurate, but that’s another issue altogether). Such deaths are what are known as “tragedies.” Such deaths are not murder. They are not terrorism.

There is a significant difference both morally and legally between murder and manslaughter. This is a concept recognized by all civilizations, from ancient times to the present.  For instance, in the Mosaic Law recorded in the Bible, c. 1400-1200 BC:

“This is the rule concerning anyone who kills…a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities [of refuge] and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities."  (Deuteronomy 19:4-7)

The U.S. Government does not try to kill children. Children are not targets of our soldiers. If children die or suffer injury as a result of U.S. actions in Afghanistan or elsewhere it is a tragic accident. The U.S. military does all it can to try to avoid harming innocent civilians. That it sometimes fails is not the result of malevolence.

Terrorists, on the other hand—for instance Timothy McVeigh, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the like—do purposely target children. They delight in killing innocent people. Killing innocent people is their goal when they place bombs in office buildings, at the Boston Marathon, or fly aircraft into skyscrapers.

Beyond that, the terrorists of the world regularly and purposely place women and children around their installations, using the innocents as human shields in the hope that we won’t risk attacking them, but knowing that if we do, then their deaths can be used to demonstrate just how evil America is.

It strikes me as odd when I see the photos of people killed in drone attacks. Who would carefully line up dead children and then snap gruesome pictures of them? Why would they do it?  And how do we even know that an American weapon was responsible for their deaths?

But more to the point, why are so many in the U.S. and around the world willing to take the word of people who gleefully kill civilians, take hostages and cut off their heads, issue and carry out death threats against cartoonists and novelists, stone women for the crime of being raped, hang homosexuals, and kill Christians and Jews simply because they are Christians and Jews? Are the Timothy McVeighs of the world really trustworthy sources of information?

Look, this is not hard. If a police officer accidently kills someone in his or her attempt to catch a criminal—as for instance in a hostage situation—that is tragic. But the police officer is not the moral equivalent of the criminal who took the hostage. And the unfortunate accidental death of a hostage, in that situation, is charged against the criminal, since the criminal is actually responsible for creating the situation that led to the hostage’s death. 

Why do some people find it so hard to tell the difference between Al-Qaeda and the United States? 

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