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South Africa

July 12, 1988

Allan Gerson's criticism of Michael Dukakis for accepting that South Africa be labeled a "terrorist state" (Op-Ed Page, June 27) may well be sound. He is certainly right in thinking that not every repressive or racist form of government is properly called "terrorist"; and that what distinguishes terrorism from brutality in general is that "terrorism" is "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets."

The targeting of innocent civilians by governments or rebel groups as a means to achieve political goals should always be morally censured, but Americans in particular must have a problem in holding this moral view consistently. For if we did, we would have to notice that this is precisely what we did when we targeted and annihilated the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to further the political goal of Japanese surrender at the close of World War II. We are guilty, in other words, of terrorism against the Japanese people on a gigantic scale. Without a clearheaded acceptance of this, we cannot repent for it, nor can our conscience be clear enough to make coherent moral evaluations about "terrorism"; what it is, and what we should do about it.

MICHAEL D. AGLION

Los Angeles

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