A dangerous question to raise in today’s climate. where even amateur historians are justifiably reluctant to offend ethnic sensibilities and professionals can risk their reputations and careers on one unguarded comment. But the recent debate over the passing of the late Quessam Soleimani at least briefly focused attention on the question of definition: what is terrorism and who can be justifiably viewed as a terrorist?
Retroactively applied to the Apache Wars, the question might be immediately dismissed on the perfectly rational grounds that we cannot judge another, past culture according to today’s ethical and moral standards. But many of today’s historians don’t hesitate to apply their own value judgments to the antebellum South, the “Lost Cause” and the entire history of the American people. If we’re to truly understand our shared history here in the American Southwest, we need to honestly confront the past.
I don’t believe I directly applied the label to Nana himself in my book, but I certainly described his Raid as classical terrorism: the application of violence against a civilian population to exert pressure on the society’s leadership.
Terrorism is inherently a political act, and “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In that sense, Nana would certainly to prefer to be known as a terrorist rather than considered a common criminal, which is how he was viewed by most of his white contemporaries.