A Brief History of Terrorism

A Brief History of Terrorism

“Terrorism is above all an act of communication.”- Max Boot

It never hurts to review history to learn about the issues we confront today, all the more so in the aftermath of the attack on the Boston Marathon.  Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal that sheds significant light on the history of terrorism. The Futility of Terrorism WSJ 4/16/13

President Obama’s initial reluctance to label the bombing of the Boston Marathon an act of terror was odd; his correction of the record on Tuesday was welcome.  Explosives… are the signature weapon of terrorists.

It is no coincidence that the era of modern terrorism began at almost the same time that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite: 1867. There had been a few isolated terrorist gangs before then—which is to say, groups that murdered civilians in order to further a political or religious agenda.  …the late 19th century saw the flowering of the first age of international terrorism, featuring such organizations as the Ku Klux Klan, the Irish Fenians, the Russian Nihilists and the anarchists who operated in both Europe and the Americas.

Terrorism is above all an act of communication, insofar as terrorist groups are too small and too weak to fight conventional armies in the open field. Unlike guerrilla groups, most purely terrorist organizations don’t even attempt attacks on security forces; they prefer to strike “soft” targets such as the Boston Marathon, where they know that their actions, the more heinous the better, will attract widespread publicity.

If you want to know why terrorism has spread so much since its modern origins in the 19th century, the growth of the mass media is a large part of the explanation.  …terrorists have more ways than ever before to get out their message. They strike precisely because they know that their acts will generate feverish coverage…

So the Boston Marathon bombing got the blanket news coverage its perpetrator(s) presumably wanted.  While some terrorists have changed history, few if any have achieved what they set out to achieve [a political or religious agenda]…

[H]istory suggests that it may be a while before the culprit or culprits behind the Boston bombing are caught, if indeed they ever are. Meanwhile, we must do our best to make sure that the terrorists don’t achieve their objective—to terrorize us. (Block quote credit Max Boot, WSJ- 4/17/13)

You can follow Mr. Boot on Twitter @MaxBoot.  Learn about the Council on Foreign Relations here and follow them on twitter @CFR_org.

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