The History of Terrorism

The History of Terrorism

Terrorism is a menace to mankind and this menace has its roots in the history dating back to the great historical events like the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and so on. The term terrorism has been defined in many ways. For an example, it can be denoted as an act of "destruction of people or property by people not acting on behalf of an established government for the purpose of redressing a real or imaginary injustice attributed to an established government and aimed directly or indirectly at an established government" ("Definition of Terrorism", 2002). On the other hand the UN General Assembly defined terrorism as "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them" ("Various Definitions of Terrorism", n.d.). In both the definitions it is observable that terrorism is an unjustified act of destruction that is committed to gain some political or economic advantages, and such acts of terrorism is quite visible in major historical events starting from the American Revolutionary War till the heinous attacks of 9/11.

The history of terrorism in the United States of America

The act of terrorism in the history of America can be traced back in the historical event famously known as the Boston Tea Party. On December 16, 1773 a loosely knit secret organization of the American colonists known as the Sons of Liberty, that supported the American independence from the clutches of the British domination, illegally boarded three British East India ships, housing tons of tea, at the Boston Harbor and eventually devastated the storage of tea by throwing away almost 45 tons of tea into the harbor (Zalman, n.d.), and this act can surely be termed as an act of terrorism as the Sons of Liberty's objective was to destruct property of the British Empire in order to accomplish some political gains. It should be kept in mind that modern historians and political analysts have argued that the Boston Tea Party incident should be "considered as an act of terrorism, since it was property sabotage designed to bring to wide attention the political objectives of a non-state group, the American colonists" (Zalman, n.d.).

But it would be a folly to identify the Boston Tea Party incident as the first act of terrorism in the realm of American history and this is because way back in 1622 the trace of terrorism can be found in the Powhatan Native Americans' attack on the small town, Jamestown, resulting in the killing of most of the residents of the town ("The Powhatan Indian Attack of March 22, 1622", n.d.). In this brutal attack the Powhatan troop killed more than three hundred settlers including men, women, and children and the list of dead included the name of George Thorpe who was known for his friendly stance towards the Indians, and moreover, the Indians not only brutally killed their human opponents but also devastated the plantations, the livestock and the crops ("The Powhatan Indian Attack of March 22, 1622", n.d.). And all these actions must be considered as nothing less than a heinous terrorist attack.

In the 1860s, the United States of America witnessed the formation of the country's first terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan. The Confederate Civil War veterans like Captain John C. Lester, Major James R. Crowe, John D. Kennedy, Calvin Jones, Richard R. Reed, and Frank O. McCord founded the first Ku Klux Klan in 1866 with the objective of establishing the supremacy of the whites over the blacks, denying the latter some major civil rights through the implementation of criminal acts including hate crimes, lynching, and other acts of domestic terrorism ("About the Ku Klux Klan", n.d.). The Ku Klux Klan emerged as the first true terrorist group in the United States after the Civil War and still now it is maintaining its threatening presence though in a more advanced manner and with proper disguises. It is a fact that "Since its inception, the Ku Klux Klan has seen several cycles of growth and collapse, and in some of these cycles the Klan has been more extreme than in others. In all of its incarnations, however, the Klan has maintained its dual heritage of hate and violence" ("About the Ku Klux Klan", n.d.). 

The history of the United States is shrouded by incidents that can be termed as acts of terrorism. It would be wrong to think that the attacks of the 9/11 were the first terrorist attacks experienced by the modern Americans and this is because America did experience the brutality of terrorism way back in 1886 through the bombing at Haymarket Square in Chicago during a labor rally ("Terrorism in Historical Perspective", n.d.). Act of terrorism was also experienced by Americans in 1910 at the Los Angeles Times Building on the occasion of a labor dispute and also in 1963 at Birmingham ("Terrorism in Historical Perspective", n.d.). Moreover, on November 24, 1917 a bomb supposedly planted by anarchists killed nine police officers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and on September 16, 1920 forty people were killed and three hundred were wounded when an explosive-laden wagon exploded on Wall Street ("Terrorism in Historical Perspective", n.d.). So, it is observable that before the 9/11 attacks United States and its populace had the experience of how brutal terrorism and terrorist attacks can be.

Influence of the Russian Revolution and the Irish Republican Army on terrorism in the western hemisphere

It is an interesting fact that the Russian Revolution and the terrorist acts committed during this Revolution actually influenced the acts of terrorism in Ireland and specifically it influenced the activities of the Irish Republican Army, a nationalist militant organization founded by Michael Collins, "devoted to the integration of Ireland as a complete and independent unit" ("Irish Republican Army", n.d.). Michael Collins meticulously implemented the terrorist strategies of the revolutionaries of the Russian Revolution in order to drive the British away from Ireland and it has been said that Collins "has studied the tactics of Russian revolutionaries from the 1880s with a vision that the historic facts can be used to drive the British from Ireland" (Gadek, n.d.). Influenced by the strategies of the Russian Revolution the Irish Republican Army (IRA) adopted the tactics of bombing public places, murdering political candidates and hostages, and they adopted such heinous policies, just like the Russian Revolutionaries, in order to combat their adversary (who in this case was the British government). The IRA under the leadership of Collins executed myriads of terrorist attacks which eventually led to the freedom of Ireland from the domination of the British government in 1921 (Gadek, n.d.), and this was a victory for both Collins and the IRA, the acts of terrorism and all those devastating tactics used by the IRA are still now followed by terrorist organizations across the globe and specifically in the western hemisphere. And this is evident in the fact that still now terrorist organizations in the western hemisphere adhere to the strategy of bombing in an expansive manner to disrupt the daily lives of the common civilians and thereby, disrupt the smooth functioning of their targeted governments. Moreover, it should be admitted that not only in the western hemisphere but across the globe terrorist organizations, influenced by the terrorist acts committed in the Russian Revolution and embraced by the IRA, still now follow the policy of underground movement and this has become a primary characteristic of each and every terrorist organization all over the world.

The Differences in left-wing, guerilla ideological terrorism and the recent trend toward right-wing, religiously motivated terrorism

The discussion about the history of terrorism will remain incomplete if it does not include the information about how gradually terrorism based on leftist ideology declined and how as its substitute, the right-wing, religiously motivated terrorism came into being. There are some specific differences to be found in the terrorism based on the leftist ideology and the mode of terrorism based on the rightist ideology. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union the left-wing, guerilla ideological terrorism dominated the sphere of violence but after the Cold War the right-wing, religiously motivated terrorism emerged as the most widespread form of terrorism in the world. The primary difference between these two forms of terrorism is that, while left-wing terrorism was targeted against the status quo, and was in favor of "some form of wealth redistribution, as a means to social and political equality" (Zalman, n.d.), the right-wing terrorism is mainly based on the ideologies of racial supremacy and religious supremacy. For an example, the Al Qaida can, to some extent, be considered as a right-winged terrorist organization whose objective is to spread the word of the supremacy of Islam over other religions of the world. It is noteworthy that "Left-wing extremism often has developed from working-class movements seeking in theory to eliminate, not preserve, class distinctions. Communism evolved from left-wing extremism" (Seger, 2001), but the right-wing extremism is actually meant to fanatically establish the supremacy of one race over other, one religion over the other, and this mode of terrorism is gradually devouring the human society and gradually pushing it towards verge of extinction. Furthermore, it is a fact that "Although the current domestic terrorist threat within the United States is focused on right-wing extremists and white supremacists, left-wing extremists are alive and well and have several objectives. Some of these groups want to replace the government with a Marxist-Leninist system. Others want to carve out a new nation in the southeastern United States where the "national territory of Kush" would be established" (Seger, 2001).

Effects of the introduction of weapons of mass destruction into terrorism on the methodologies of preventing and detecting terrorism

Not only in respect of the United States but in respect of almost all the countries across the globe, the introduction of weapons of mass destruction into terrorism is surely the most recent threat. It should be admitted that after the attacks of 9/11 the concern regarding the use of weapons of mass destruction in the realm of terrorist attacks has increased massively. It is a fact that "The continuing possibility of terrorist attacks using nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons is an ongoing concern in the national security policy arena in the face of a clear trend among terrorists to inflict greater numbers of casualties" (Bowman, 2002). Now it is becoming difficult for law enforcement agencies along with the departments like the Department of Homeland Security to trace links for future terrorist attacks only by detaining suspicious individuals or preventing the entry of citizens of particular country into the nation. And this is because the introduction of weapons of mass destruction into terrorist operations has made it possible for the terrorist organizations to use biological weapon without directly sending their volunteers physically to spread terrorism within a country. The concerned agencies now have to change their methodologies in fighting the war against terrorism and this is because the threat is now of the use of biological, nuclear, and peculiar weapons in the sphere of terrorism. Now it is crucial for the government and the national security agencies to emphasize more on the policies of enforced disarmament to be imposed on nations acting as potential centers of manufacturing nuclear weapons. And this disarmament policy should be the primary step in minimizing the chances of the use of weapons of mass destructions by the terrorist organizations. So, it should be admitted that after the attack of 9/11, where airplanes were used as weapons of mass destruction, it has become difficult for law enforcement agencies and national security agencies to assume the next mode of attack that could be embraced by terrorist organizations.

Modern terrorism and the reshaping of the Department of Homeland Security's Mission

It is a truth that the United States of America is the core target of myriads of terrorist organizations and the evolution of terrorism and methods of terrorist attacks has forced the Department of Homeland Security to include more and more issues within the arena of its mission. Due to the ever-changing nature of terrorist attacks and due to the use of advanced technologies including the cyberspace in terrorism the Department of Homeland Security has included within its mission the processes of preventing terrorism and enhancing the national security, securing and managing the borders of the United States, enforcing and administering immigration laws, safeguarding and securing cyberspace, and ensuring resilience to disasters ("Our Mission: Overview", n.d.). Modern terrorist organizations are recruiting intelligent people skilful in controlling and managing the cyberspace for spreading the words of terrorism and for communicating with other terrorist agencies across the globe. And that is the reason why, to combat this modern form of terrorist approaches, the Department of Homeland Security has reshaped its mission and included some specific measures within the sphere of its objectives and missions. It is now a part of the mission of the Department of Homeland Security to analyze and reduce cyber threats and vulnerabilities, to distribute threat warnings, and to coordinate the response to cyber incidents to ensure that the computers, digital networks, and cyber systems of the United States remain protected from terrorist intrusions ("Safeguard and Secure Cyberspace", n.d.).

Modern terrorism and the positive changes in the relationships between federal, state, and local government agencies, and private corporations within the United States

The attack of 9/11 was one of the brutal terrorist attacks the world has ever witnessed, and though it should be termed as one of the most tragic events that has ever occurred in the history of mankind, it is a fact that the 9/11 attacks ushered some positive changes in the relationships between the federal, state, and local government agencies, and private corporations within the United States. It is noteworthy that after the mentioned terrorist attack some important changes are noticeable in the sphere of the U.S. administration. For an example, "At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been created, the "wall" between law enforcement and intelligence has been nearly obliterated, some law enforcement organizations are being directed to become more like intelligence agencies, and the foreign intelligence community is being fundamentally reformed" (Steiner, n.d.). Moreover, it should be kept in mind that it is through the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security that close collaborations have now been established between primary government agencies and private sectors in respect of waging the war against terrorism and protecting the country from any further massive terrorist attack. Besides, in this relation it should be conveyed that the Department of Homeland Security "launched the National Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign Challenge, which called on the public and private sector companies to develop creative and innovative ways to enhance awareness of cybersecurity" ("Collaboration at the Department of Homeland Security", n.d.). So, judign from this angle too, it can be said that the advent of modern terrorism, in spite of posing severe threat to the security of the United States of America, has also resulted in the strengthening of the relationship between the federal, state, and local government agencies, and private corporations within the United States.


The United States of America has a long history of evolution of terrorism. It is perhaps the only country in the world which has always remained the target of massive terrorist attacks. Starting from the American Revolution to the 9/11 attacks Americans have witnessed different forms of terrorism and has adopted strategies to cope up with these various forms of terrorism. It is a fact that both left-winged and right-winged terrorist organizations, influenced by the tactics used in Russian Revolution and embraced by the IRA, have rendered efforts to disrupt the daily lives of the common Americans and spoil the efforts of the government to ensure peace and prosperity within the country, but the establishment of new security agencies and federal departments along with the formulation of new policies to tackle terrorism has now equipped the government thoroughly to wage a decisive war against terrorism and secure the United States forever from the menace of terrorism and brutal terrorist attacks. 


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