Every day, men and women around the world armor up for battle and face an equally prepared foe. They are trained to kill and grudgingly accept the fact that they may not return home in one piece, or at all. Whether in our eyes their cause is just or not, there is a certain honor in taking up arms and putting your life in harm's way for something you believe in. It takes a special kind of courage and sense of duty to enter the arena as a warrior to fight other warriors.
But we find no honor and no courage in storming a mall and massacring unarmed civilians. We see no honor and no courage in bombing a church, or driving a truck laden with explosives into a bustling marketplace or launching chemical weapons against civilians. We see no honor or courage in shooting young girls on a school bus. We see no honor or courage in gunning down dozens of youth at a summer camp.
(It is also cowardice when a gunman enters a theater or a school or a workplace and murders helpless men, women and children, but that's an editorial for another day.)
Some people have a different opinion on courage.
After terrorists struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Bill Maher, former host of Politically Incorrect, said "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."
The late Susan Sontag, writing for the New Yorker, said "If the word ‘cowardly' is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to others. ... Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Sept. 11's slaughter, they were not cowards."
And the editors of the conservative American Spectator called the perpetrators of Sept. 11 "Brave and evil."
But Jonah Goldberg, writing for the National Review, argued that attacking defenseless citizens is always cowardly.
"Their cowardice lies in the fact that the ‘lucky' ones were able to say ‘I love you' one last time."
And Stephen A. Diamond, writing for Psychology Today, noted that while mass murders may seem to some to take courage, such courage is pathologically displaced and perverted.
"These cowardly violent perpetrators failed or refused to muster the courage to establish a place in and constructively contribute to society," wrote Diamond, a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist and author of "Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity."
Courage is traditionally defined as the mean between rashness and cowardice, noted Daniel Putman, in "Psychological Courage." Putman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley.
"Courage requires a balance of the proper desire to face the danger combined with reason."
While cowards who attack unarmed people believe they have a reason for doing what they do, their reasoning fails on so many levels.
As Hannah Arendt noted in "On Violence," violence is purely antagonistic and can't bring an organized existence to anything, let alone a new revolutionary paradigm. While violence can be used to remove something, it can never be used to replace it. However, it can be used to preserve power or restrict freedoms.
While Mao said "power comes out of the barrel of a gun," Arendt noted that command comes out of the gun, while true power requires no violence at all.
"Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it," wrote Arendt, noting that while it appears violence is effective at bringing about change, governments can fall only when their citizens realize the hypocrisy of the systems they live under and demand change.
As Immanuel Kant posited, "A revolution may well bring about a falling off of personal despotism and of avaricious or tyrannical oppression, but never a true reform in one's way of thinking; instead new prejudices will serve just as well as old ones to harness the great unthinking masses."
Or, as Roger Daltry shouted in "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss."
Arendt also noted those whose use of violence often delegitimatizes their own causes.
And while the rage of those affronted by policies they perceive to be unjust may be justifiable, noted Arendt, "rage and violence turn irrational only when they are directed against substitutes."
And that is what we have here -- attacks against substitutes: Innocent, unarmed men, women and children. While attacks such as that on the mall in Kenya are effective at instilling terror and provoking overreactions by those in power, it is not effective in winning over rational people.
And these terrorists are true cowards because rather than confronting the power that they accuse of oppressing them, they go after the easy targets. It's despicable, repugnant and inimical to justice.
Show some real courage and take on people who can fight back.