This answer is usually described as ‘a matter of perspective’. It is claimed that one side’s heroes are ‘naturally’ seen as the other’s villains.
As an example (and a safe one at that from an era that is long gone), Chingis (Genghis) Khan remains a hero to Mongols and large numbers of Central Asian people of Turkic or Mongol origins. Elsewhere, he is generally viewed with horror.
But this ‘explanation’ is surely not good enough. It cannot be the case that we do not know what is right or wrong.
We should be able to determine without any doubt who the ‘freedom fighters’ are as against ‘evil terrorists’ who exact death and destruction. Shouldn’t we?
Perhaps, the freedom fighters are the evil terrorists.
And likewise, the evil terrorists are also freedom fighters.
Regardless of whom we support, both warring sides usually see themselves as freedom fighters.
This is the case even with clearcut cases of aggression, as we saw in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yet the Americans tend to justify their regular aggressions around the world as somehow in the cause of ‘fighting for freedom’, and they describe their hapless victims and their rudimentary weaponry as ‘evil terrorists’ with ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
And both ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘evil terrorists’ regularly employ violent means with ease. Mercilessly. Brutally. Often against unarmed civilians by design.
There is so much beauty in the world. Yet human beings seem to always find a way to fight rather than negotiate.
We all hate. Even though we are ashamed of admitting it, it is undeniable that love is not the only driver in human relations.
But we justify our hate through some ideological self-deception that paints a picture of a ‘just’ cause such as ‘freedom’ in our minds.
A wonderful act of propaganda turns mass murder into an act of love for ‘freedom’ or ‘country’ or ‘god’ or some such balderdash.
So a short answer to the question put is: There really is not much of a difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist!
A freedom fighter is a terrorist because he fights with hate and a brutal determination to kill, and without hesitation usually.
There is no real ‘lesser of two evils’. Rather, there are two hateful, murderous evils trying to portray themselves as angels to themselves and others.
From a neutral perspective, villains and heroes behave in the same manner in war, and it is only in the judgement made by others that they become separated as ‘opposites’ in a ‘moral’ sense.
And therein lies the central weakness of ‘morality’ as a driver for war. No cause justifies war.
Instead, I would suggest we should focus on restraining the link between our naturally existing hate and our propensity to violence.
We have managed to remove ourselves from the food chain. So it is time to relax and put a lid on our ‘hate’ and ‘fight’ instincts, and thereby become more civilised.
Better to fight it out on a football field than a battle field.
On the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of “Mlada Bosna” (Young Bosnia), which is said to have led to World War I.