Nathan Hale

Terrorism: The Unsettled Legacy of Nathan Hale While the actions of our allies may be seen as courageous and bold, the opponent will view them as atrocious acts of terrorism. It has often been said that, "One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter". While this is a minimum definition that seems to often fit, it reduces the vital importance and clear understanding of what a terrorist is. It is critical to understand and identify what a terrorist is and what makes up a terrorist organization. There needs to be some level of universal agreement to insure international cooperation when the war against our enemies strays beyond the conventional armies. To be able to identify a terrorist, we must be able to define the terrorist whether it is an individual, an organization, or a sponsoring state.
Freedom fighters are generally defined as a local organization, possibly military or pari-military, that is fighting a military force that is believed to be illegally occupying the local territory (Ash 2001). Freedom fighters were instrumental in impeding Nazi aggression across Europe during WWII. Guerrilla warfare is fought by small bands of irregular soldiers usually against an oppressive government in their own country, and generally restricts its targets to military and government facilities.
The FBI, CIA, State Department, and United Nations all agree that to attain the label of terrorist they must target the civilian population (Beres n.d.). It may be an individual, a group, an organization, or a country that funds and advocates terrorism. Terrorism must use misappropriated violence or the threat of violence against the civilian populace to alarm or intimidate a government. The Department of Defense further defines terrorism as, "…violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives" (Beres n.d.). Though the definition will be less clear depending on the side you are on, the common thread is that terrorism attacks the public at large, has political or social ideology as it’s motivational force, and carries the threat to strike innocent civilians that may not be involved in the conflict.
Considering the case of Nathan Hale, we must necessarily speculate on his mission to New York in 1776. According to Thomas Fleming (1975) writing in New York Magazine Hale’s mission had been more than just a simple spy for Washington. The author asserts that Hale had been a part of a plot to burn New York City after it had fallen into British hands. Had Hale’s mission been restricted to spying, he would have been considered a freedom fighter and a heroic martyr. However, if the case can be made that he intended to burn New York City he would be labeled a terrorist. He would be attacking an innocent civilian target with unbridled violence for the purpose of causing mass destruction.
Fighting for a cause, even one we may disagree with, can be done with honor. The civilized world understands the limits of our sensibilities during armed conflict. International agreements have been reached to attempt to define the foul lines. Setting fire to a civilian city would be an atrocity on the order of My Lai in Vietnam. If that was Nathan Hale’s legacy, he deserved to be hung. If he was a simple spy, fighting for freedom, he died with honor and dignity.
Ash, T. G. (2001). Is there a good terrorist The New York Review of Books, 48(19). Retrieved July 14, 2007, from http://www.nybooks.com/articles/14860
Beres, L. R. (n.d.). The meaning of terrorism. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from http://web.ics.purdue.edu/lberes/terroris.html
Fleming, T. (1975, July 14). The true story of Nathan – The Torch – Hale: No wonder they hanged him. New York Magazine.

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