George Bush defined 9/11 as a “cowardly attack” and the perpetrators as “cowards,” and in discussions of piracy I have very often seen the Somali pirates referred to as “cowards” or “cowardly.” I wonder why we seem to use that word to the degree that we do; why we apply it so often to anyone who attacks us, regardless of the nature of that attack.
I can think of a lot of terms to apply to someone who sits at the controls of an airplane and deliberately flies it into a building at the cost of his own life for a greater cause that he believes in deeply, but I do not think that “coward” would be one of them. I can think of a lot of terms for three guys in a lifeboat refusing to surrender to hundreds of military people on ships armed to the teeth and able to blow them out of the water in a heartbeat, but I hardly think I would call them “cowardly.”
Are they cowards because they attack unarmed civilians even though, in the case of the Somali pirates, they have killed no one? Does that make our Army and Marines cowards when they kill unarmed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan? Before you say it, no, that was not by accident; I’m referring to air strikes and artillery called in on houses to take out snipers on the roof. I’m not calling our troops cowards, I don’t for a minute think they are, I’m asking a question.
Psychologists use a term “projection.” It’s a phenomenon whereby one accuses another of possessing one’s own shortcomings as a method of denying those shortcomings in one’s self. It’s a method whereby I blame you for things going wrong, while I continue to cause them to go wrong. (Sounds like a bunch of Republicans, but I digress.) Think about that the next time you hear someone lecturing about “cowardly attacks.”
Are we calling them cowards in order to deny that we are afraid?