Dad .. what’s a terrorist? by David Campbell
Surely even a child can understand the difference between good and
Dad … What’s a terrorist?
Well, according to the Oxford dictionary a terrorist is “a person who
uses violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.
Which means that terrorists are very bad men and women who frighten
ordinary people like us, and sometimes even kill them.
Why do they kill them?
Because they hate them or their country. It’s hard to explain …
it’s just the way things are. For many different reasons a lot of people
in our world are full of hate.
Like the ones in Iraq who are capturing people and saying that
they’ll kill them if all the soldiers don’t leave?
Exactly! That’s an evil thing called “blackmail”. Those innocent
people are hostages, and the terrorists are saying that if
governments don’t do what they want, the hostages will be killed.
So was it blackmail when we said we’d attack Iraq and kill innocent
people unless they told us where all their weapons were?
No! Well … yes, I suppose. In a way. But that was
an “ultimatum” … call it “good blackmail.
Good blackmail? What’s that, DAD?
That’s when it’s done for good reasons. Those weapons were very
dangerous and could have hurt a lot of people all over the world. It
was very important to find them and destroy them.
But Dad … there weren’t any weapons.
True. We know that now. But we didn’t at the time.
We thought there were.
So was killing all those innocent people in Iraq a mistake?
No. It was a tragedy, but we also saved a lot of lives. You see, we
had to stop a very cruel man called Saddam Hussein from killing a
great many ordinary Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein stayed in power by
giving orders that meant thousands of people died or were horribly
injured. Mothers and fathers. Even children.
Like that boy I saw on TV? The one who had his arms
blown off by a bomb?
Yes … just like him.
But we did that. Does that mean our leaders are terrorists?
Good heavens, no! Whatever gave you that idea? That was just an
accident. Unfortunately, innocent people get hurt in a war. You can’t
expect anything else when you drop bombs on cities. Nobody wants it
to happen … it’s just the way things are.
So in a war only soldiers are supposed to get killed?
Well, soldiers are trained to fight for their country. It’s their
job, and they’re very brave. They know that war is dangerous and
that they might be killed. As soon as they put on a uniform they become a
What uniforms do terrorists wear?
That’s just the problem … they don’t! We can’t tell them apart from
the civilians. We don’t know who we’re fighting. And that’s why so
many innocent people are getting killed … the terrorists don’t
follow the rules of war.
War has rules, dad?
Oh, yes. Soldiers must wear uniforms. And you can’t just suddenly
attack someone unless they do something to you first. Then you can
So that’s why we attacked Iraq? Because Iraq attacked us first and we
were just defending ourselves?
Not exactly. Iraq didn’t attack us … but it might have. We decided
to get in first. Just in case Iraq used those weapons we were talking
The ones they didn’t have? So we broke the rules of war?
Technically speaking, yes. But …
So if we broke the rules first, why isn’t it OK for those people in
Iraq who aren’t wearing uniforms to break the rules?
Well, that’s different. We were doing the right thing when we broke
But Dad … how do we know we were doing the right thing?
Our leaders … Bush and Blair and Howard … they told us it was the
right thing. And if they don’t know, who does? They say that
something had to be done to make Iraq a better place.
Is it a better place?
I suppose so, but I don’t know for sure. Innocent people are still
being killed and these kidnappings are terrible things. I feel very
sorry for the families of those poor hostages, but we simply can’t
give in to terrorists. We must stand firm.
Would you say that if I was captured by terrorists?
Uh … yes … no … I mean, it’s very difficult …
So you’d let me be killed? Don’t you love me?
Of course! I love you very much. It’s just that it’s a very
complicated issue and I don’t know what I’d do …
Well, if somebody attacked us and bombed our house and killed you and
Mum and Jamie I know what I’d do.
I’d find out who did it and kill them. Any way I could. I’d hate them
for ever and ever. And then I’d get in a plane and bomb their cities.
But … but … you’d kill a lot of innocent people.
I know. But it’s war, Dad. And that’s just the way things are.
David Campbell is a Melbourne writer.