The Good, the Bad, the Terrorist?
Terrorism by nature is difficult to define. Acts of terrorism conjure emotional responses in the victims as well as in the practitioners. No two writers agree on what is terrorism. Even the U.S. government cannot agree on one single definition. The old adage, One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter is still alive and well today (Terrorism Research Center: Definitions 1). Although many people believe that terrorism is evil, it is merely misunderstood because there is no set definition. Terrorist are responsible to most of the freedom movements in every country.
Terrorist have used violence to get their point across to the public. These acts are often necessary for the success of the movement or cause. The use of this violence can be justified in several ways. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs has been used by terrorist to describe their actions. Terrorism has been used by governments and against them. It has been used as part of a campaign by guerrillas who have widespread support and by small groups. Terrorism has been used in societies where grievances can be expressed freely and where free speech is suppressed. In a well organized guerrilla campaign, for example, the main goal might be to destroy the governments military forces. The violence is limited to acts which will achieve that objective. This might be destroying a factory which is making arms, or putting out of action part of the government army, or bombing an airfield so that it cannot be used by government aircraft. In some cases, the use of terrorism appears to be a reaction to the disintegration of law and order. A stable society has normally evolved peaceful ways of keeping order and handling disputes between its members without violence. Once law and order breaks down, as they do in civil wars, members of society have to defend themselves in different ways.
There may be in a situation where government forces are using terrorism and guerrilla forces the same methods in return. Other groups in society start using violence to defend this right and so a climate of terror emerges. What little law and order remains is maintained solely by the strongest groups using fear (Freeman 43).
Terrorism has been used by groups of the right in an attempt to uphold the established system. In Northern Ireland Protestant extremist groups have used terrorism against those fighting for a united Ireland. There have been similar groups in Italy and Latin America Fighting for the return to more authoritarian and conservative forms of government.
There are many different kinds of terrorism, this makes defining the word difficult. Guerrilla warfare is used in most revolutions and is a form of terrorism, whether it is indiscriminate terrorism (example: the bombing of a public places) or terrorism aimed only upon the government. Terrorism can also be used by a government to control its people. War between countries is a place were terrorism is used immensely in order to strike fear into an enemy (The Encyclopedia America 523). Terrorism is often a weapon of last resort.
Most revolutions began as guerrilla terrorism. The American Revolution started out as terrorist acts against England. The Boston Tea Party is a prime example of terrorism. Colonial revolutionaries sneaked aboard an English Tea Merchant Ships, where they threw hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of tea into the Atlantic Ocean. Americans today think of that incident as a stride to freedom, but the English look at it as the beginning of countless terrorist acts. The Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1962 in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) included among its definitions of terrorist as anyone who went on strike if an essential service was put at risk as a result. These strikes led to the revolution of the Zimbabwe people from the Rhodesia (English) government (Freeman 21). In South Africa, the burning of the Identification cards and the bombing of several military bases by the A.N.C. (African National Congress) was the beginning of an independence movement against the Afrikaners. Terrorism is often the start of a revolution that makes the country and even the world a better place. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) would argue that they too are fighting a colonial government, the British government, which is continuing to occupy part of Ireland (Freeman 41).
One of the most important duties of any government is to maintain law and order. It usually does this through a system of laws which are enforced by a police force (Terrorism Research Center: Information Terrorism 3). In democratic countries, these laws are drawn up and approved by representatives of the people as a whole. These conditions are not common in the modern world. In all too many places basic human rights are suppressed. The laws are made by a minority, sometimes with no pretence of discussion at all. The most extreme form of government terrorism is what people might call a reign of terror. This phrase was first used in the French Revolution, during which the Revolutionary Tribunal sent increasing numbers of the people to their death (1793-1794). As panic and tension built up, terror was the order of the day.
Any suspected enemy of the people (persons against the revolution) could be round up and often ended their life under the guillotine. Maximilien Robespierre, the leading figure of the Revolutionary Government, believed that terror could be used to create a new Republic of Virtue. The enemies of the people were sacrificed to protect others who might follow their example (Freeman 13).
The government of the former Soviet Union used terrorism mainly through wide-ranging laws which enabled it to pick up opponents on charges such as spreading anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda and disseminating fabrications known to be false which defame the Soviet state and social system. The combination of vague laws with the possibility of detention without trial is one of the commonest forms of government terrorism. This form helps keep the people from revolting during drastic times of government trouble such as war recovery and financial difficulties.
Many anti-terrorists today believe that the governments of today and yesteryear have used terrorism during wars. These acts can be the bombing of a city, an assassination, even the threat of a new deadlier weapon. Between 1936 and 1939 Spain was revenged by a bitter civil war. The Republican government had been faced with a right-wing nationalist uprising, which had received support from the Fascist governments of Germany and Italy. Guernica a small town in the Basque region of Spain (Republican government territory), was saturation bombed by German planes. The center of the town was left in flames and perhaps a thousand civilians were killed. This marked a new phase in war – the indiscriminate bombing of a civilian populous (Freeman 7). The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States were acts of terrorism. Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the President Truman, remarked: My own feeling was that in being the first to use it we had adopted the ethical standards common to barbarians in the dark ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion. The atomic bombs used by the American Armed Forces struck fear into every nation on every continent. The beginning of the Cold War was a direct cause of this terrorism (Freeman 8).
Some people have argued that terrorism has a simple cause. It is a weapon of the poor against the rich, of the oppressed against the oppressor. It only occurs when there is a grievance that cannot be voiced in any other way. Looking back at the sort of situations in which terrorism has been used against governments, we can see that a simple defination is not enough. Also, there are so many cases of oppression and poverty where terrorism has not been used. Terrorism has been used by separatist movements, who wish to form an independent nation by breaking away from the current government. One of the best-known is ETA, a Basque nationalist movement which wishes to establish a separate Basque state in northern Spain and souther France. ETA has carried out a long campaign which has included the assassination of a Spanish Prime Minister, and the leaving of bombs in Spain’s tourist resorts. The gunmen who occupied the Iranian Embassy in London were also separatists. They wanted greater independence for the province of Khuzistan. In Holland in 1975 a group hijacked a train as part of a campaign for the greater independence movement of South Moluccan Islands in Indonesia. In Qubec in 1970 the Front de la Libration de Qubec carried out kidnappings and a murder on behalf of independence for French-speaking Quebec. Separatist movements have been a common source of terrorist attacks.
The word terrorism has many definitions. Several of the meanings depict all terrorists as evil villains that love death. Others make terrorists out of almost everyone. The multitudes of meanings even makes the practitioners contemplate if they are terrorist or not. Terrorist have actually made the earth into a better place; terrorist acts have brought good changes to countries they have stopped thousands of unnecessary deaths, and have even stopped wars. The reign of the bomb wielding maniac is over they have been misunderstood from the beginning, the era of the misconceived over zealous radicals has begun.
Freeman, Charles. Terrorism. London: Batsford Academic and Educational Limited, 1983.
Thomas, Benjamin. Terrorism. The Encyclopedia America International Edition. Vol. 26. 1995 ed.
The Terrorism Research Center: Definitions. Online} Available http://terrorism.com/terrorism/def.html.
The Terrorism Research Center: Information Terrorism. Online} Available http://terrorism.com/terrorism/itpaper.html.