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Terrorism and Late Nineteenth Century Essay Sample

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The purpose of this paper is to give a brief overview on history of terrorism and how it impacts the United States. Additionally, this paper will provide some insight on the previous and current presidential administration’s attempts to protect this great nation from terrorist acts


Ever since the Al Qaeda’s attack of September 11, 2012, against the United States, our nation has implemented counterterrorism policies to combat jihadist terrorism. Sadly terrorism is not a phenomenon. This paper will take a very brief look at terrorist events against America. It is important to define terrorism as a systematic way of implementing terror via violent means of coercion. Terrorism is usually driven by political, religious or ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of innocent bystanders. Terrorism is also defined as an unlawful act of war and violence (Terrorism research). “The single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term,” President Barack Obama stated on April 11, is the possibility that terrorists might obtain a nuclear weapon. The second biggest threat to world history’s mightiest military state, it goes without saying, are terrorists without nuclear weapons but armed with box-cutters, rifles or homemade explosives (The Oval, 2012). History of Terrorism

Where do we start to address the origin of terrorism? David Rapoport a religion Scholar and political scientist published a 2004 essay outlining forms of terrorism, these forms are known as the “ four waves ” of modern terrorism: the “ Anarchist Wave, ” stretching from the 1880s through 1914; the “ Anti-Colonial Wave, ” spanning the 1920s through the 1960s; the “ New Left Wave, ” from the 1960s through the 1990s; and the “ Religious Wave, ” which began with the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and persists to this day (25). Anarchist terrorism was the first wave, when the United States was well known as a haven for revolutionaries fleeing persecution in Europe (26). It is similarly true of the latter half of the twentieth century, when the United States emerged not only as a victim but also as an architect and financial supporter of transnational terror.

The history of terrorism deals yet one more blow to American exceptionalism, showing that the United States has never stood entirely alone on matters of violence, rebellion, and political conflict (26). Terrorism is not only generic to Muslim extremist. It is safe to say terrorism in America started before we became a nation. Many earlier types of violence lend themselves to an intuitive link with the concept of terror. Massacres of Native Americans, for instance, were violent, political, planned, communicative, and carried out beyond the auspices of the formal state, the basic criteria used by the terrorism scholar Bruce Hoff man in his attempt to pin down a definition. For a nation born of revolution and guerrilla warfare, an equally compelling starting point might be the War of Independence. Perhaps George Washington, was America’s first terrorist leader. At the very least, as Fellman points out, it seems inappropriate to leave out the trajectory of political violence that led from John Brown to the Civil War to the brutal clashes of Reconstruction.

Ann Larabee has argued that the Civil War produced both the technology and the training that made postwar terrorism possible. The relationship between war and terrorism remains one of the most promising, complexes, and understudied areas in the developing historiography (Patriot Act, 2001). Whether or not the rise of anarchist and revolutionary violence in the latter half of the nineteenth century marks the sole starting point, it does seem to constitute a significant turning point in the United States as elsewhere. The mid-nineteenth century brought the rise of dynamite and other modern explosives, technological innovations that improved the ability of revolutionaries to strike anonymous blows from afar. In addition, as Hardman noted in the 1930s, revolutionary movements around the world began to develop the first full-fledged theories of terrorism.

Today, we tend to think of terrorism as a secretive, hidden, and particularly irrational tactic, rarely conceived in terms of logic or strategic aims. But its nineteenth-century practitioners were surprisingly open in discussing the tactic’s virtues and pitfalls and in fostering their own definitional debates. Their conversations, in turn, led to changes in public discourse, as police and government officials began to seek labels for the revolutionary threat in their midst. It was in the late nineteenth century, in short, that technology, theory, and political discourse combined to produce something recognizable as modern terrorism — the basis for Rapoport’s framing of this era as a first wave. Equally pressing issues emerge from the history of American racial conflict, the single most widespread type of politicized violence in the nation’s past and the most notable absence in Rapoport’s global chronology.

Many histories of terrorism mention isolated instances of racial violence in the United States. Nowhere, however, does this anecdotal evidence transform any larger chronological framework or suggest new ways of considering the issue. This is perhaps because such violence, as Hofstadter pointed out, is “ diffuse and hard to cope with. ” The Reconstruction-era Klan certainly meets any garden-variety definition of a terrorist organization; its actions were nothing if not violent, political, well planned, and intended to communicate a message. The case becomes somewhat less clear, however, by the late nineteenth century, when spectacle lynchings and so-called race riots emerged as enforcement mechanisms for the developing system of Jim Crow. In making his case for reparations, the Harvard University law professor Charles Ogletree has described the 1921 Tulsa race riot as “ the most tragic example of domestic terrorism in America’s Revolutionary terrorism, which began to fade by the mid-1920s, racial violence underwent a shift in the interwar decades, moving from open, spectacle lynchings to forms of clandestine violence — bombing attacks, premeditated murders — more easily recognizable as variants of terrorism.

What followed the anarchist wave, in Rapoport’s telling, was the age of anticolonial terrorism (1920s – 1960s), characterized by nationalist uprisings around the world. This violence differed from that of earlier episodes, according to the standard story, in at least two important ways. First, terrorism against civilians emerged in the context of anticolonial conflicts often dominated by more conventional military tactics. Second, the practitioners of terrorism made direct claims on territory, seeking to become the governing class. The United States gets short shrift in most global overviews of this period. With the exception of episodic attacks by Puerto Rican nationalists, the United States remained relatively insulated from the anticolonial surge, at least in terms of violence committed on American soil. The relative absence of terrorism as an issue in U.S. domestic politics during these years underscores the peculiar nature of American empire, with its preference for temporary occupation over direct annexation.

It also heightens the contrast with later decades, when Americans gradually became accustomed to thinking of themselves and their institutions as targets for international attack. Finally, it obscures the often-aggressive role of the U.S. government in fostering what was arguably “ terrorist ” activity abroad, especially through the Cold War – era cia. The reprieve on the domestic front came to an end in the 1960s when Americans experienced a major comeback of terrorism on U.S. soil. Some of the earliest violence of the decade looked remarkably similar to previous episodes: Klan dynamiting, lynching, and assassinations aimed at civil rights workers and African Americans. Historian Jeremy Varon has argued, it is at least as compelling to view rising New Left militancy in international terms, as part of a global revolutionary conversation on the merits of terrorism, armed resistance, and urban guerrilla warfare. “ New Leftists were not only implicitly united across national boundaries by their shared opposition to oppression, their commitment to democratic participation, and their use of militant direct action as a means of protection; ” he writes, “ they were also consciously internationalist. ” 30 Seen from that perspective, the United States ’ narrative fits neatly into Rapoport’s global New Left wave, beginning in the 1960s and stretching into the 1990s.

Yet in the case of the United States the implications of the “New Left” label are somewhat misleading. Throughout most of the twentieth century, right-wing terrorism has more than matched the violence of the Left; even at the height of “New Left” activity, the Klan was a far more significant force than the Weather Underground. Why then does right-wing violence play such a minor role in the literature on terrorism? Part of the answer is political. Reactionary violence tends to attract less attention from government officials and therefore attracts less attention from terrorism experts. But some of the answer may lie in the nature of the violence itself. Modern right-wing violence, whether perpetrated by the Klan or the likes of Timothy McVeigh, has often focused. Globally, the most significant strain of terrorism to emerge as a policy concern during the 1960s came from the Middle East, a by-product of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Bruce Hoff man identifies the hijacking of an El Al flight in July 1968 as the founding moment for “ modern, international terrorism, ” the day that Palestinian militants expanded the scope of their tactics — from making direct attacks on the Israeli government to bringing their fight to the rest of the world. It was also an issue in Afghanistan, where the United States supported the mujahedeen resistance to Soviet occupation in the 1980s. 32 In the social science literature on terrorism, both the Iran hostage crisis and the rise of the mujahedeen are deemed exemplars of a trend — pioneers in “ new terrorism ” or, in Rapoport’s construct, part of the religious wave. Like its New Left predecessor, the “ religious ” or “ new terrorism ” framework encompasses both domestic and international violence — in the case of the United States, this means both Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden.

The sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer made that connection well before 9/11, traveling the world to interview abortion clinic bombers, members of the Irish Republican Army, and Japanese cultists, as well as Zionist, Sikh, and Islamist assassins. He concluded that what mattered in each case was a cosmic, apocalyptic outlook divorced from particular political objectives. “ All these instances share two striking characteristics, ” he wrote. “ First, they have been violent — even vicious — in a manner calculated to be terrifying. And, second, they have been motivated by religion. ” 33 The 9/11 attacks killed a greater number of people than many previous acts of political violence and spurred a far more dramatic state reaction. But the tactic was not entirely new; nor was the nature of the social and political response. 35 Bush and Obama Administration Policy

In the 1970s, U.S. officials appeared to view terrorism as a minor annoyance within the larger Cold War struggle. But it remains difficult to say anything definitive about U.S. counterterrorism policy during these years. In 2005, acting under the auspices of the 9/11 commission, Timothy Naftali assembled the first historical survey of U.S. counterterrorism policy in the twentieth century, beginning in the 1950s and moving through the harried debates of 2001. 31 The Bush’s national security strategy policy, “War on Terrorism,” and the Obama Administration “Overseas Contingency Operation are basically the same, which show that both administrations share the same vision for the American people. American national security policy since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon over a decade ago has been aimed primarily at defeating “terrorist” enemies by fielding military assists first to Afghanistan, then Iraq and now again in the Afghan theater with tributaries extending into Yemen, Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Somalia and the Philippines.

America is committed to combating terrorism on all fronts and currently there are several al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and about 94,000 U.S. troops, so far, plus 40,000 NATO soldiers, and about 100,000 mostly higher paid “contractors” performing military duties (Riechmann, D., 2012). Bush was credited for creating Department of Homeland Security to develop policies to combat terrorism against the homeland, and the USA Patriot Act – October 26, 2001 (The USA Patriot Act, 2001). Obama is credited for widening the Afghan war and to penetrate Pakistan and Yemen has to kill al-Qaeda’s leader/master-mind Osama bin Laden and several other key members and ending the war in Iraq (The Democratic Hub, 2012). Conclusion

Scholars who study the issue seem less than convinced of the importance of terrorism’s history in the U.S. context. “Contrary to the conventional wisdom widely accepted during the 1980s and 1990s — and even now after the 9/11 attacks, reads a 2007 terrorism survey, “the United States was not completely spared the phenomenon of terrorism in the course of its history, although it may be said that until now terrorism never had a significant impact on the country’s political and social life.” 36 The persistence of this narrative suggests that U.S. historians have not been nearly as successful as Hofstadter predicted (and as the historical profession might believe) in putting violence at the center of American history. It also underscores one of the great ironies in studying the history of terrorism. At least since the Haymarket bombing in 1886, Americans have been losing their innocence on the subject, discovering that the United States is not exempt from political violence on its own soil. The claim that terrorism does not have a history or presence in the United States, in other words, has a long history of its own.

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