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Terrorism in the 20th Century Europe

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In modern times, there is a common misconception about terrorism as a new and unprecedented phenomenon. In reality, terrorism is not an invention of the present day. Historical knowledge is important in dealing with the subject of terrorism in the 20th century. Terrorism dates back to the 1st century when Zealots of Judea, an ancient terrorism movement, exhibited the current time terrorist aspects. Zealots conducted an undercover campaign for murder of Roman occupation forces and those Jews who were associated with the Romans. The group ultimately became open and was involved in mass murder at the fortification of Masada. After this, terror and barbarism became eminent and were massively applied in warfare and conflict, although the key components like communication means were lacking in those days terrorism. It was not until the 1795’s French revolution that the term terrorism was adopted to refer to the reign of terror started by the Revolutionary government. The French revolution was then exploited by other governments that used it to oppress their population. This paper seeks to illustrate that the 20th century witnessed many changes in the utilization and practice of terrorism that emerged as a hallmark of several political associations and technological advances that offered terrorists in Europe new mobility and lethality; it was taken as a state policy by several totalitarian regimes.

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Modern terrorism started in Tsarist Russia in the 19th century where the opponents of the Tsar regime had three aims including making it public of their grievances and gunner support by the ‘propaganda of the deed’ in order to weaken the government and separate the population. They also aimed at inciting the authorities in order to react excessively and cause global sympathy for their own cause (Enders & Sandler, 2011). It is clear that terrorism began long time before the First World War, although its real aspects started being felt globally in the 20th century and specifically in 1914, when the Austria-Hungarian heir was assassinated, which resulted in the provocation of the effects of terrorism (Blum, 2014). The goal was to force Austria-Hungary into conflict that could at the end be to its detriment, and that was exactly what happened. After the assassination of the Austria-Hungarian heir in 1914, a series of terrorism activities followed. This marked the civil war in the Balkan states being worse during the Second World War. Consequently, some cynical politicians like Milosevic attempted to connect the 1914s activities to the 1990s unraveling of communist states of Yugoslavia (Martin, 2012). This enables one to see the sequence of terrorist activities in the 20th century the way they relate. With the Serbia’s case, the proceeding one was worse than the previous one indicating that terrorism was under high utilization in Europe.

It is quite obvious that in the 20th century, Europe experienced many horrors related to terrorism which, in turn, caused wars. War involved the entire continent for two times; firstly, for four years between 1914 and 1918 and secondly, for 6 years between 1939 and 1945. There were internal disputes like in Balkans in between 1912 and 1913 and as late as 1990s. There were civil wars in particular states like Spain in 1930s as well as the Ireland between 1922 and 1923, Finland and Russia due to the Bolshevik movement, and the 1947 to 1949 war in Greece (Enders & Sandler, 2011). The 20th century went through great changes in the way terrorism was practiced. Various political movements used terrorism ranching from the extreme right to the far left of the political arena. Technological developments like the electric detonated explosives and automatic weapons were compact and offered terrorists especially in Europe another form of mobility and lethality. Terrorism was then used virtually as a state policy in a secrete way by some then dictatorial regimes like the Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany and the Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union (Martin, 2012). In these countries arrest, torture, imprisonment as well as execution were used with no legal procedures or limitations to develop a situation of fear as well as to promote adherence to the national ideology and the declared economic, political, and social objectives of those countries. In most cases, terrorism was associated with people or groups trying to destabilize or even overthrow present political institutions. Other famous terrorist groups of 20th century in Europe included West Germany’s Baader-Meinhof, Direct Action of France.

Most importantly, the use of advanced communication media greatly influenced terrorism across Europe. The 20th century experienced great growth in communication technology coupled with freedom of communication in most civilized states as well as those that were struggling to become civilized (Härter, 2012). Most terrorism acts were shown through the media such as television which was then gaining popularity. Terrorists could uncover planned actions grievances, political objectives, and threats by taking videos and exposing them to general public through television and radios. Most terrorists in Europe date back to the anarchists of the 19th century as they separated themselves from the governing political institutions and the unrealistic targets of their objectives (Enders & Sandler, 2011). The terrorist actions then, just like most of the 21st century, were not only aimed at the victims of the terrorism act, but they were rather objects exploited at the expense of third parties who were the main targets. Such information could only get to the main target by exploitation of the media. When these terrorist groups lacked enough support, extremists could cause violent acts to substitute their legitimate political actions. These were acts like kidnapping, bombings, assassinations, hijacking, and even skyjacking.

In 1920s all through to 1930s, another type of terrorism emerged - right wing fascist terror that was propagated by such individuals like Hitler and Mussolini. In the name of brown shirts and black shirts for Hitler and Mussolini, they used murder and violence in order to gain political power by intimidating their population and attacking its specific elements. A new wave of states anti colonial terrorism was created after the World War II in various countries (Blum, 2014). Terrorism was not restricted to any given specific group or part of the world. Terrorism occurred in diverse societies, but in one way or the other those acts of terrorism could be traced back as anti colonial attempts against the European countries which actually dominated all the countries that were colonized at that time. Struggles against the European colonists resulted in romanticizing of the revolutionary terror, an attitude that is clearly expressed in Frantz Fanon’s book, The Wretched of the Earth (Fanon, 2007). In this book, he notes that “violence is a cleansing force… frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction… makes him fearless and restores his self-respect” (Fanon, 2007). Terrorism was used by other states as well as terrorist groups after its successful application by most European nations. In countries across Europe, this period saw the development of government sanctioned death squads (Thomsen, Obaidi, Sheehy-Skeffington, Kteily & Sidanius, 2014). In the late 1960s throughout late 1970s, European experienced yet another growth in revolutionary terrorism like the Red Army Faction of Germany, France’s Action Direct, and Italy’s Red Brigades. They could assassinate and kidnap individuals who they blamed for economic recession and political domination. A good number of those groups were radicalized by the Vietnam War and situations of police harassment. Despite the fact that the numbers of these groups were small, they were very lethal. For instance, it is estimated that the Red Army had about 30 loyalists with over 200 sympathizers (Härter, 2012). The worst violence is said to have occurred in Italy. In bid to curb terrorist’s acts, Italy arrested over 1,300 leftist and 238 members of the right wing by 1983. For a long period, terrorism was used as an instrument of national policy. During those times, terror across European nations was used in attempts to eradicate counterrevolutionary elements across the entire population in order to save France from military defeat as well as anarchy. Moreover, it was used in order to suppress both hoarding activities and profiteering practices. Most nations across Europe that used terrorism as a state policy perceived the practice as a way of attaining justice (Thomsen, et al., 2014). It was used as a way of provoking authorities in order to enable them to react and formulate international sympathy.

Therefore, it is clear that terrorism in the 20th century was most successful when its goals were to end an unfair government regime or dictatorial leadership. However, terrorism has failed tremendously in toppling existing well established governments (Thomsen, et al., 2014). The most successful terrorists were those associated with separatist groups or nationalists due to support they received from their religious or ethnic perpetrators as well as from foreign powers that were opposed to the ideologies propagated by the running regime. As of the 20th century, this paper has shown how terrorism has shifted in its cause, techniques, and objectives (Enders & Sandler, 2011). First, there has been a change from government perpetrated terrorism to terrorism enhanced by people or independent groups. The US Department of State reported that there were at least 200 state sponsored acts of terrorism in 1987 to only 15 in 1998. Countries in Europe used to be among the major perpetrators of state sponsored terrorist groups and have not been in the list for more than 10 years (Härter, 2012). State sponsored terrorism is a clear illustration of the wide spread of terrorism utilization in the 20th century.

In addition, tightly composed terrorist organizations offered themselves too much amorphous terrorist organizations. Unlike strongly structured and defined leadership of mega terrorist organizations such as the Germany’s Red Army Faction, the Irish Republican Army as well as the Italy’s Red Brigade, other terrorist groups were more decentralized and had unstructured leadership (Blum, 2014). Therefore, attacking and finishing them was easier for their opponents. Towards the end of 20th century, there were more loners involved in terrorist activities. For example, there were the violent anti abortionists and people such as the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh who did not associate themselves with any terrorist groups. Others were xenophobes and racists involved in white supremacy as well as neo Nazi violence (Valentino, 2013). The century saw a growing number of terrorism groups perpetuated under religion instead of nationalism and ideologies as was the case at the beginning of the century (Blum, 2014).

Revolutionary and some separatist groups involved in terroristic activities reduced with time while religious organizations contributed tremendously to the number of groups associated with international terrorism. There were only two religion based terror groups around the world out of 64 international terror groups yet the number escalated to 26 out of 56 (Valentino, 2013).

This implied that the end of 20th century saw a reduction in number of terror groups in Europe since very few of these religious based terror groups were based or connected to Europe, rather they were from anti European states in Middle East and South America. Finally, the end of 20th century experienced a decline in the number of terrorist groups, although the few that were there became more deadly than before. This is unlike the beginning of the century when there were so many terror groups with no much effect. It is clear that terrorism was strongly used across Europe during the 20th century.

In conclusion, this paper has covered the 20th century terrorism in Europe and how it grew as the century started from 1914 and developed steady roots during the World War I and the World War II. Towards the end of the century, the form of terrorism had changed where there existed many religious based terror groups than the revolutionary and separatist groups as was the case. It has also put it clear that terrorists were brutal as they could use any possible means as long as their desires were addressed by the various authorities across Europe. This included murder, kidnapping, rape and arson. Although the number of terror groups reduced tremendously towards the end of the century, the few that existed were more deadly and resulted into violence that could lead to death of hundreds of people in a very short time. Generally, the paper has revealed that terrorism in the 20th century was carried out in countries where people’s rights and civil legal protections were practiced to the latter. The terrorist operations were intense and often carried out after extensive preparation and support operations. Finally, the paper also described how technology in weaponry manufacture as well as communication media propelled the 20th century terrorism. Therefore, the paper has illustrated the way that terrorism started and became a major tool by nations across Europe when they declared the activity as a state policy in order to strengthen their totalitarian regimes.

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