Throughout history, violence has been used to affect political change. Riots have led to revolutions; revolutions to wars; wars to unimaginable atrocities. The 20th century has witnessed violence on an unprecedented scale. Captured in the lens of the world’s media, political violence has grown into an epidemic of terror.
At the turn of the century, anarchism was the savage catalyst. In 1911, police lay siege to anarchist assassins in a London Street. The anarchists wanted to purify the world of the old elites, Indiscriminate violence became their creed. In New York in 1920, 40 people were killed and 300 people injured by the arbitrary destruction of a bomb on Wall Street.
Anarchism was world-wide, When King Alexander of Yugoslavia visited the South of France in 1934, he became the victim of the most ominous anarchist weapon, assassination. 20th century assassins have become as potent as the century’s leaders, They have sparked wars, toppled governments, terrorized the world.
In 1968, Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Bobby Kennedy, America was thrown into turmoil, The terror of the assassins was absolute; one of the most powerful political families in history has lost two sons to their bullets. In Russia, the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family saw a People’s Revolution turn into State Terrorism. Lenin’s radical and violent ideas of revolution had led the Bolshevik’s to power, His secret police, the Cheka, maintained it. When an attempt was made on Lenin’s life in 1918, 800 people were killed in revenge. The violence of the Red Army swept through the Civil War which followed the Revolution, Its leader, Leon Trotsky had claimed every State is based on terror. In 1940, he became he victim of such terror when the new leader of the communist state Josef Stalin had him murdered. Stalin’s paranoid and genocidal ”Great Purges” had terrorized a nation for 8 years. By 1938, 20 million people had perished.
Nazi Germany epitomized State Terror under the despotic leadership of Adolf Hitler. He rose to power through widespread intimidation of the Weimar Republic. The Sturmabteilung or SA were his weapon, But when Brownshirts demanded more status, Hitler ordered the murder of over 400 SA officers. The Night of the Long Knives was a glimpse of the nightmares to come. Heinrich Himmler was the chief architect of that nightmare, He shared Hitler’s obsession with an Aryan master race, Together they manufactured the genocide of the Final Solution. As many as 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust.
The violence of guerrilla warfare has been a feature of the 20th century. Mao Tse Tung’s vision of a guerrilla army swimming invisibly in the sea of the people has inspired revolutions around the world. Mao was born into a peasant community, Convinced of their virtues, he built his army around them. Rural peasants had little chance in open combat, But guerrilla fighters dedicated to a ”long war” in the countryside could encircle the city and seize power. Fidel Castro’s rebels won a war in the Cuban hills. In 1959, his revolutionary force defeated General Batista’s regular army. In Vietnam, General Gap’s Viet Cong turned military weakness into a strategy for victory. His invisible guerrilla force defeated one of the mightiest armies in the world. The protest movement against the Vietnam War radicalized student opinion in the west, Guerrilla tactics switched to the city in an atmosphere of urban revolution.
In Germany a group of students inspired by a cocktail of Marxism and Maoism formed the Badder-Meinhof gang, Through a campaign of bombing, kidnapping and murder, they tried to incite government repression and so promote revolution, But revolution never came, The gang leaders committed suicide in prison.
In Peru, guerrilla warfare forced a complete breakdown of democracy; brought 1/3 of the country under military rule; and prompted a counter-insurgency campaign of terrifying brutality. In 1968, university professor Abimael Guzman founded the group Sendero Luminoso in the name of Mao’s ”Shining Path to Communism”. Within 15 years, the fanaticism of his supporters created one of the world’s most ruthless terror organizations. From their small rural bases, Sendero entered the cities, Their goal: to kill all representatives of the modern state and destroy all foreign influences. The army’s response to Shining Path violence became uncompromising; Punish the peasant communities suspected of shielding the guerrilla forces its only tactic was to match brutality with brutality. The people of Peru were caught in a crossfire of violence, The cruelty and terror of the revolutionaries and the government were indistinguishable.
Reactionary regimes have abused their power all over the world. Latin American has produced some of the most invidious. By the late 1970s, 2/3 of the sub-continent lived under military dictatorships. Human rights and the rule of law became redundant, Defeat of subversion was the top priority. But most military coups have had a measure of civilian support. Over 2 million people elected Juan Peron to the presidency of Argentina in 1946. His use of torture, censorship and exile was hidden behind the veil of popular appear afforded by his superstar wife, Eva. After Person’s death in 1974, political violence erupted between right-wing death squads and left-wing terror groups. Once again the military stepped in, In 1976, Person’s third wife Isabel was deposed by General Jorge Videla, He became de facto president, and set up a three-man military junta, But behind the smokescreen of conventional manoeuvres, the regime propped itself up, with a hidden ”Dirty War”, Over thousand Argentinians were kidnapped, tortured, murdered. The victims became known as the Desaparceido (the Disappeared). The full extent of the butchery came to light in 1977, when the Mothers of the Disappeared began to protest against the abduction of their children. Many still maintain their vigil.
In El Salvador, the military was trained, armed and financed by the United States for 20 years, Their official target was the Marxist guerrilla force, the FLMN. But in reality, the military’s death squads waged a wanton campaign against anyone it considered a threat to its absolute power. Appalled by the carnage, Catholic Churchmen spoke out for the oppressed of El Salvador. Priests became enemies of the state, Leaflets were distributed, Be a Patriot, Kill a Priest, they said. In February 1980, the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero begged US President Carter to stop funding the governing Junta, A few weeks later, whilst celebrating the sacrifice of the mass, he was killed by a single bullet. Romero’s death was a powerful catalyst for more violence, Fighting between the army and the FLMN lasted a further 11 years. 11 years in which military death squads committed 95 percent of atrocities against the innocent people of El Salvador.
Hunger stalks the slums of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The shanty towns gave birth to the world’s most notorious death squads, the Tontons Macoute. Their reign began in 1957, under the dictator Papa Doc Duvalier. “The Haitian people know only one leader in the Haitian Republic, This leader is Doctor Duvalier”. Duvalier ruled Haiti with a vicious mix of cruelty and superstition, the Tonton Macoute were Voodoo bogeymen said to drink the blood of their victims. When Duvalier’s son Baby Doc took power in 1971, the ranks of the Macoutes swelled to 300 thousand. 15 years later a military coup ousted Duvalier, The people rebelled against the stranglehold of the Tonton Macoutes, But they were powerless. Reborn as FRAPH, the terror of the death squads continued unabated.
In May 1958, the city of Algiers welcomed one of the most prodigious political leaders of the century, General Charles De Gaulle. In her turmoil over colonial Algeria, France had elected and lost presidents, Only de Gaulle could save France from civil war. In his speech, de Gaulle avowed that there was only one category of citizen in Algeria: Frenchmen. But he knew that Algerian independence was inevitable. The Algerian nationalists had begun the rural uprising in 1954, As colonies were fighting for independence around the world, France was determined to hold on to Algeria, Half a million troops were sent to crush the conflict escalated into a vicious war. Atrocities were reported on both sides; Europeans were massacred, rebels were tortured and murdered. Nationalist terror tactics in Algiers were met by violent French retaliation. As the FLNs cause gained ground, de Gaulle yielded towards the possibility of Algerian self-rule. But the European community showed it would oppose even de Gaulle rather than accept independence, Break-away generals in the army led three White Revolts, French settlers fought the authority of Paris in the streets. Out of the failure of the white rebellions rose l’ Organisation de l’Armee Secrete, the OAS. It struck at the very heart of France and its leader; numerous attempts were on de Gaulle’s life. By 1962, public opinion on both sides of the Mediterranean had tired of the violence, After 7 years of bitter fighting, independence was granted to Algeria, Over 1 million people had died in one of the most violent colonial struggles of the century.
In India independence brought tragedy, The boundaries drawn up by the Partition of India and Pakistan became battlefields. Over 1 million people were slaughtered as refugees fled their homes to join the new states allied to their religions. The feast of violence devoured even Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu apostle of non-violence, He was killed by a Hindu fanatic in January 1948. 3 decades after Partition, the legacy of communal violence re-emerged in the Indian province of the Punjab. In 1981, a Sikh preacher, jar nail Singh Bhindranwale emerged as he leader of an extremist group demanding an independent Sikh state of Khalistan, Bhindranwale and his gunmen turned the Golden Temple of Amritsar into an armoured fortress. Following the escalation of atrocious violence against Hindus, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the expulsion of Bhindranwale. On 5th June, 1984, the whole of Punjab was sealed off, journalists were escorted out of the state, After dark the army stormed the Golden Temple, Sikhs loyal to the Indian army washed the blood from the floors of their holiest shrine, 80 soldiers were killed during the siege, Bhindranwale and over 600 hundred of his militant followers were dead. The siege alienated moderate Sikh opinion, Violent disturbances erupted across the state. Four months after the storming of the temple, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikn members of her bodyguard, Only the appointment of her son Ragiv as prime minister quelled the ensuing communal bloodshed, the fiercest since partition.
Ragiv’s leadership was tested in 1987, India became involved in one of the most violent separatist struggles by the Tamils of Sri Lanka. For 10 years a bloody war had raged between Tamil separatists and the majority Sinhalese, Distinct in race and religion, the Tamils sought autonomy in the north of the island, The militant ”Tamil Tigers” spearheaded the struggle, Trained in the ethnically related Indian province of Tamil Nadu, the Tigers became one of the most formidable guerrilla groups in the world. When the Sinhalese government responded with violent attacks on Tamil areas, Ragiv sent in Indian troops to police a proposed peace treaty, But the treaty failed. Indian intervention only served to strengthen Tamil militancy, A new unit, the Black Tigers began an even more violent campaign. In 1991, a Tamil suicide bomber assassinated Ragiv Gandhi, His funeral marked the end of an Indian dynasty.
In Ireland in 1916, a secret brother hood tried to overthrow British colonial rule by force, But within 5 days their revolution was in ruins, Hundreds were deported, 15 of the leaders were executed, Irish nationalism stirred like never before. Eamon de Valera and guerrilla leader Michael Collins began a terror campaign against the British army in Ireland. 200 thousand joined their partisan Irish Republican Army. British fought fire with fire, importing its own hard men, the Black and Tans, Their savage reprisals became legendary. Ireland buckled under the strain of the onslaught, After 6 exhaustive years, a Treaty was reached, Ireland was divided into an independent catholic south and a Protestant-dominated, British north to be called Ulster. Once again, partition brought bloodshed, Civil war was waged over irreconcilable differences. Over 40 years later, the legacy of partition exploded in Ulster, Catholics had long suffered under the Protestant majority. In 1968, the Civil Rights Movement was formed, Peaceful protest marches erupted in response to police aggression. The IRA re-emerged as the Provisional IRA, self-proclaimed successors to the freedom fighters of 1916. As the conflict escalated, British troops were sent to keep the peace and protect the catholic minority, But the IRA soon changed the perception of the British army from saviours to oppressors. In January 1972, the British parachute regiment open fire during a civil rights march, 13 people died. It became known as ”Bloody Sunday”.
Spain has also faced a long and bitter separatist campaign, The people of the Basque region have sought a State of their own for centuries. The radical group ETA began terrorizing Spain in 1959, ETA formed during the dictatorship of General Franco, Its members were popularized as resistance fighters against his suppression of the Basque people. In December 1973, they staged their greatest coup: the assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s chosen successor. Violence escalated in the 80’s, Inspired by the IRA, a new radical wing of ETA ignored growing public doubts, Hundreds were killed in indiscriminate bombings. But the public voice was heard in 1997, In July, 5 million people across Spain protested at the murder of town councillor Miguel Angel Blanco. Throughout the world people have wrestled with their own moral dilemma between the desire for self-determination & the need for peace.
In the 20 century, religious fervour has been as powerful as any political ideal. In Palestine it radicalized one of the most violent conflicts in the world. The heart of the Arab-Israeli crisis is Jerusalem, the holiest of all cities, For Muslims it’s where the Prophet Muhammad rose into heaven, For Jews, it’s where Solomon built the Temple. Centuries of persecution of the Jews culminated in the horrors of Hitler’s Holocaust, The survivors demanded self-determination; a homeland, a return to Palestine, Following months of massive immigration, the end of the Second World War brought the Jewish Revolt against the British mandate in Palestine. An underground Zionist army, the Hagannah, and 2 militant groups, the lrgun Svai Leumi and the Stern Gang began the fight for Jewish Statehood, In restricting the influx of Jews into Palestine, they believed that the British had betrayed the Jewish people, They unleashed a relentless campaign of violence against the British army.
In July 1946, the lrgun delivered its most dramatic attack when it blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the British Administration, 91 people were killed. The relentless violence forced the British to abandon its mandate to the United Nations. As Jewish statehood neared, violence between Jews and Arabs erupted. For the Arabs, the State of Israel meant the destruction of a way of life they had known for centuries. In their eyes, the Jewish terror campaign had worked.
On 14th May, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Hagannah army announced he establishment of the State of Israel, With it came the Partition Plan. Nearly 9000 Palestinian refugees fled to neighboring Arab countries, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan all became embroiled in the conflict. The horrific spiral of violence in the Middle East had begun. In the early 1960s, Palestinian grievances turned to action, From their base in Jordan, the guerrilla group Fatah under the leadership of Yasser Arafat pledged he violent destruction of Israel and the return of the Palestinians to their homeland. Palestinian violence escalated with the formation of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In September 1970, they held three jets to ransom on Dawsons Field in Jordan, As a world-wide television audience looked on in horror, they blew up the striken symbols of western technology. The world awoke to the menace of international terrorism. In 1972, Lod International Airport in Tel Aviv was attacked by Japanese sympathizers to the Palestinian cause. Just 4 months later, the Munich Olympics were blighted by one of terrorism’s most infamous act. The Palestinian group ”Black September” stormed the Israeli athletes’ dormitory, They killed 2 of them and took 9 hostages. The German police planned an armed rescue, But in the confusion of the gun battles, all the hostages, a German policeman and five terrorists were killed. Following the atrocities of 1972, Jordan expelled the Palestinians, Their relocation to Lebanon destabilised a region already in religious turmoil. The Israeli invasion of 1982 attempted to clear Southern Lebanon of the PLO forces. after a 2 month seige of Beirut, the Palestinians left under a multi-national protectorate, As many as 30 thousand people had been killed, the majority civilians. In August, under the authority of Israel, Christian Phalangists raided the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatilla, What was meant as a search for remaining terrorists became a massacre, 2000 Palestinians were killed. 20 years after the -Day War, the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories continued to live in poverty. A new generation which had grown up under Israeli rule was inspired by the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Islamic fundamentalism radicalized the youths of Gaza and the West Bank, They began the Intifada. The Palestinian ”war of stones” was met with live Israeli ammunition. The uprising saw the birth of ”Hamas”, In attempts to derail the peace process, its military wing became responsible for yet more violent atrocities in Israel. Despite Hamas violence, the interim peace accord of September 1993 gave Palestinian Authority to Gaza and a portion of the West Bank. Yasser Arafat’s return to Gaza was seen as the first step on a long march to peace. But peace is still a long way off, Radical Palestinians continued to pledged the destruction of Israel. The oldest ideology of all, religion, commands some of the most violent acts in the world today.
As the end of the century draws near, there seem to be no distinction between politics and religion, as the driving force for today’s violence. Religious fundamentalism is the new revolution. Revivalist Islamic groups are amongst the most deadly. In 1983, an Iranian-backed Hezbollah suicide bomber attacked the US marine barracks in Beirut, 241 servicemen died. 30 years after the struggle for independence, the streets of Algiers echo with revolution once again. Following the cancelled elections of 1991, a brutal war of terror has been fought between the Islamic Front and the military. Over 100 thousand people have died in the new civil war. In February 1993, a bomb in New York’s World Trade Centre killed 6 people and injured thousands. The work of anti-Western militant, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef has highlighted the reality of a broad international terrorist force united by religion.
Fundamentalist terrorism is world-wide, The radical right-wing militia movement in America uses the Bible to legitimize its violence against the government. In April 1995, militia-man Timothy McVeigh planted a bomb in the Federal Building in Oklahoma, It was the deadliest terrorist act ever committed on US soil; 168 people were killed. The rescue operation was broadcast live on television, The whole of America watched as firemen carried the bodies of children from the rubble.
As the end of the century approaches, the level of indiscrimination violence is forcing the world to listen. Japanese cult leader Shoko Asahara preached that an apocalyptic war would destroy society. In 1995, members of his doomsday group Aum Shinri Kyo released poisonous nerve gas on the Tokyo underground, 12 were killed, 550 injured. lf religion is the driving force for terrorist of the future, will biological or even nuclear weapons be their instrument?
Throughout the 20th century, the same mistakes have been made again and again. Ideologies the world over have created an escalating culture of terror. Always caught in the crossfire of the ”Politics of Violence”, the innocent.