What history can tell us about killing civilians to advance a cause
A very informative discussion. Thanks. A correction (I'm an editor by profession) -- the FLQ during the October 1970 crisis kidnapped two men. One was James Cross, a British consul and the other, Pierre Laporte, was Minister of Labour in the Quebec government. It was Laporte who was murdered, not James Cross.
Thanks for this very informative piece. I despair ... but hopefully the fighters on all sides will exhaust themselves and folks will come to see there is no choice but a political compromise.
With all the emotional responses I mostly skip now, your article was unique in that you take a step back and ask the critical question, but does terrorism work? Hats-off Mr Ling.
There's a lot of words here Justin....but I'm going to answer your question without reading any of them.
Resistance to oppressive regimes can take many forms....but the more oppressive the regime, and the more constraining the steps it has taken to disarm any resistance whatsoever, the more likely it is that what resistance does materialize will be terrifying for someone. Was the Warsaw Ghetto uprising terrifying? I suspect so, and not only for Nazis.
When the oppressed forces have very little power or movement or engagement....its a bit much to expect they will confine their resistance to military targets. In all likelihood, they won't be able to get very close to the centre of power....so they have to attack on the margins.....wherever they can find an opening.
They also know they are most likely going to die in the attempt...so resistance is unlikely to be widespread.....most people went peacefully to the gas chambers....a testament to how gentle most humans are, even under duress.
But asking this rhetorical question assumes you know what Terrorism is....and how you can separate the terrorist goats from the child slaughtering legitimate users of force. I think its a mug's game.
What we all should know is that human beings usually don't walk into extinction....or genocidal murder...without a fight. That the Nazi's.....and Nazi collaborators were able to convince so many to do so, is a testament to the Terror the Third Reich was able to generalize.
What Hamas did was pretty terrifying....but I suspect the civilians in Gaza has learned to live with the terror of attacks on civilians for over 16 years now. What goes around, sometimes does come around.
I'd rather ignore Israel, one feels so hopeless to effect any change in the situation; Israel can't even be discussed on this continent, the way it can be in the pages of Ha'aretz.
I must recommend Gwynne Dyer again, and I'm pretty sure it's his "Ignorant Armies" (2009) which discusses terrorism and its history in close detail. Dyer points out the one kind of terrorism that routinely succeeds, that JL missed here: state terrorism.
Dyer's examples are painful: Dresden. Nagasaki. Hiroshima. In all three cases, there was very little military value to the target. (Hiroshima had a fair-sized military base, but an atomic bomb? No.) The purpose was to make the enemy stop by making them afraid of dead civilians. Dyer did not distinguish that from a pub-bombing, save in scale.
Terrorists often fail because they are amateurs with poor funding. When professional military, with budget, apply terrorism at scale, that can succeed. (Japan surrendered, though only after the President stated clearly that they would destroy city after city after city.)
Please note that the subsequent Cold War has had nation-states frightened into not fighting with each other, because nuclear bombs would then cause mass civilian casualties, has always been called "The Balance of Terror". We are still too afraid of our own mass civilian casualties to risk putting an end to the war in Ukraine - Putin is still exercising that same State Terrorism.
We need a guidebook to help us distinguish which of the belligerent parties is the terrorist. Is it the one without uniforms, smaller budget, exercises control over a smaller population, ... ?
Thanks for this piece. It has given me some much needed scope. I've enjoyed your work for some time but this one has convinced me to subscribe.
Thank you for this hopeful analysis, because it is indeed “easy to despair”. Ireland did reach peace, despite the horrific terrorism. The lessons of terrorism you share, albeit without the fuel of social media, give me hope for Israel and the Palestinians.