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Why the question mark next to John Brown’s name? Because his cause was good? Is there any doubt that he used violence and fear in an attempt to get the changes he wanted?
Because historians are divided over whether he counts as a terrorist or not. He pretty much fits the definition, though, even though his cause was just.
I love historical debates like this! :D Because it’s so so proof of how History Is Written by the Winners.
For example, if Puerto Rico for whatever reason decided to rise up against the US, of which it is a territory, the revolutionists would likely be considered “terrorists”… so why weren’t the founding fathers, who started the war to shove off England, “terrorists”? Basically, because we like them and agree with the results. ;)
One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, as the saying goes.
This is also why the “but but – I was protecting the innocent unborn babehs!?” defense never works for abortion clinic bombers or people who kill abortion providers; it doesn’t matter how you feel about their cause, they’re still engaging in destruction knowing it could end a life. Likewise, a vigilante can’t kill someone accused or even convicted of a horrible crime that “everybody knows” he did; it’s still homicide.
Puerto Rican independance enthusiasts did in fact attempt to murder President Truman and shoot up Congress. People died. Yup- terrorists.
“One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” is a call popular with terrorists wishing to legitimize themselves. Or with people talking of freedom fighters they wish to condemn. However, despite both sides fighting over who gets called what, there are in fact distinctions between the two. The American Revolutionaries, for example, didn’t go around shooting British civilians.
No, the U.S.’s founding fathers do not count as terrorists. When people say “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” it just shows they don’t know what “terrorism” means.
Terrorism is acts of violence directed at a civilian population, to make them so scared that their leaders back down and let the terrorists have their way. It’s a form of extortion, really.
While terrorists target civilians, freedom fighters oppose a military force on behalf of civilians. Terrorists want to force people into submission, and freedom fighters want to end oppression. They’re not the same thing at all.
The Founding Fathers would have been terrorists if they attacked random citizens and told England the attacks wouldn’t stop until they got independence. But that’s not what happened at all. They declared independence, the British used military force to preserve their control over the colonies, the colonists fought back against the military and eventually won after a series of military engagements. That’s not terrorism.
[You could look at the American Revolution as the second of three civil wars between feudal aristocracy and modern individual rights — the English Civil War in the previous century started it, and the American Civil War in the following century ended it. Acts of terrorism certainly happened during all three, and before and after, but to call the opposing sides and their leaders terrorists would be absurd.]
While I do agree with you that the Founding Fathers don’t count as terrorists, the line between the modern guerrilla fighter (regardless of whether they fought for “freedom” or not) and a terrorist is actually becomes really blurry. World War 2 actually represents a clear example of this: the majority of partisan actions in Europe and the Pacific were not directed against the occupying German and Japanese forces, but against their civilian collaborators. In other words, the French resistance spent the majority of the war killing fellow Frenchmen who threw their lot in with the Germans. This becomes really obvious when one examines the partisan movement on the Eastern Front, where partisan bands fought not only the Germans and their civilian collaborators, but even each other for either ideological or personal reasons. This extended to supporters, so a civilian village which provided food and shelter for a partisan band could find themselves attacked and slaughtered by a separate, rival partisan band as punishment. Or slaughtered by the Germans for helping partisans at all.
We do see this element at work in modern conflicts in Afghanistan and pre-ISIL as well Iraq. Insurgent forces there use suicide and vehicular bombs not just as a means. The reason behind targeting the civilian populace in modern guerrilla war is twofold:
First, to eliminate people who collaborate with the occupying and/or government forces.
Second, as a demonstration to show that the government/occupying forces are not, in fact, in complete control of the situation. This requires not just a few bombings and then sitting back, but a sustained campaign in order to show that not only can these actions be carried out, but that the insurgent can also escape retaliation. This does more then just spreading terror, although that is an element of the insurgents methodology, but also a means of gaining recruits from those sympathetic towards the movement by signalling the ability to resist.
With that said, we really can’t talk about guerrilla warfare in this style until the Napoleonic Wars, when the first modern guerrilla movements got started against French forces occupying Spain and France (indeed, the word guerrilla is derived from the Spanish word for war). The American Revolutionaries certainly were not terrorists but they were also not guerrilla fighters either.
You also have to distinguish between destruction of infrastructure (sabotage, bombing) and terrorism. If the point is to disable a facility so as to make it useless for war-related purposes, then that’s not terrorism, even if the target is civillian-owned and/or civillians get hurt in the process (“collateral damage”).
While the civilian/military distinction might be prototypical, it’s not a clear cut division in common usage. Iraqi insurgents have typically targeted U.S. military, but it’s not stopped most people from calling them terrorists, for example, and extortion of governments in the form of “The killing will stop when our demands are met” is a pretty standard form of conquest (killing their military usually, but not always, as in the case of “total war”). The distinction that might be more useful is the “terror” part of terrorism. I.e. “Let’s make people fear us, so they’ll let us have our way.” Prototypically in the form of making civilians in democratic societies fear for their safety, in order to manipulate policy makers by extension. It’s especially worthy of note here that in many cases of modern international terrorism, the goal is not usually actually to get the stated demands, but to prompt retaliation, helping to secure power at home by producing the target nation as a common enemy that people can be united against, in order to get attention away from potential political rivals. ISIS is a typical but larger scale example of this. ISIS has the stated goal to unite the various Islamic sects under a new Caliphate. The best way to do that is to convince others that there exists a powerful enemy to Islam, against which they can rally. Nobody will believe that, though, until they can convince the enemy to start acting like the bad guy they say they are.
Just using violence to get what one wants is not terrorism. You have to target non-involved third parties in order to fit that definition. At least in a moral sense. The legal definition of terrorism is overbroad to the point of being useless. To say nothing of the problems with trying to apply a modern law to a historical figure who lived in a completely different social and legal regime.
To call someone a terrorist has certain implications. Namely, their actions were not justified morally. With the 20/20 hindsight of 160 years of history, we consider slavery to be somewhere on the top 10 list of worst things ever, and I suspect that if we were to perform a necromantic ritual today and put John Brown (or any number of slaves who started their own rebellions… like Spartacus) on trial for terrorism, there is not a jury in the world (or at least, one that uses a jury system) that would not either nullify, or be irrevocably deadlocked. Hence the question mark.
Hmmm… “fits the definition.” That would depend on the definition, and they vary. But for the sake of argument, lets use the US Code, under which per Wikipedia, “terrorism is defined in Title 22 Chapter 38 U.S. Code § 2656f as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents”.
So were Brown’s actions premeditated? Yes
Politically motivated? Yes
Subnational group? For sure
Against noncombatant targets? That’s where it gets trickier. At Harper’s Ferry he was fighting the Virginia militia, so not exactly noncombatants there. In Bleeding Kansas, he was fighting pro-slavery raiders in essentially an undeclared war. Not sure.
Yeah, I’m not sure I’d still say it fits the definition. Go check out my Terrorism comic for a new and improved attempt!
Weathermen? I’m just going to assume that you mean that weather men all over are somehow controlling the weather in an attempt at world domination
It refers to the Weather Underground Organization, a 1970s radical leftist group whose goals included “the destruction of U.S. imperialism and the achievement of a classless world: World communism” and to “achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
They were the cause for a spate of bombings — including the Pentagon in 1972 and the United States Capitol on 1971 — in protest of the Vietnam War.
I honestly just thought he was talking about weathermen stressing the potential dangers of thunder storms to stay on my TV longer.
Also, you restricted the list to Americans, and you exclude our own Founding Fathers as well.
Worldwide, many groups have successfully initiated change with violence. Whether it’s justified or not is a separate issue. Some I can name offhand of the last 100 years are Lenin, Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela (via the MK), Daniel Ortega (of Sandinista fame), and Ayatollah Khomeini.
Strategically speaking, Chuck errs in thinking he can start a revolution by himself. *That* is one thing that never happens. Revolution is, by nature, the complete overturning of the established society. It was a road our founding fathers hoed, but they had an army and the support of at least 1/3 of the country.
“Revolution is, by nature, the complete overturning of the established society. It was a road our founding fathers hoed, but they had an army and the support of at least 1/3 of the country.”
Except there is a contradiction there. The American Revolution was not a revolution in the sense it did NOT overturn the existing society. It was, in fact, a attempt to PRESERVE the society that had developed in the colonies during Britain’s years of statutory neglect. That this meant having to establish a new country and a new government once it became obvious that Britain was determined to impose it’s will upon the colonies was something of a side-note to the main goal: the preservation of the “American” society.
The American founding fathers were also not revolutionaries in the sense that revolutionaries are not generally part of the existing ruling elite. That is, the colonies ruling elite… not the British. All of the Founding Fathers were major leader within the self-established ruling bodies of their respective colonies.
The part of the American Revolution that is indeed actually revolutionary is not, in fact, found within the War for Independence. It is found afterwards, with the constitutional convention and the establishment of the basic American governmental structure. The establishment of a government based almost entirely on enlightenment ideals of liberty and freedom was an extremely radical notion at the time and this is what made the American Revolution… well, a revolution.
One guy sparked the arab spring (granted, by burning himself alive rather than someone else). One guy sparked WWI.
More recent example, during the Bundy Ranch face-off between federal forces and armed militia-men from across the country, the federal government wanted to label the militias as terrorists, even though they took no violent action and no-one was hurt. In fact, they merely exercised their Constitutional rights to assembly and bearing arms. Can you really label someone as a terrorist if all they do is tell the government when they’re wrong and put themselves in the way in a non-violent, though armed, protest?
At the very least, they used armed force to prevent law enforcement officials from executing a judge’s order (U.S. v. Bundy, No 02:98-CV-00531-LRH-VCF, D. Nev. 10/9/13).
They also pointed guns at federal agents. Pointing a gun at a human is a misdemeanor in Nevada (NRS 202.290), as is drawing a gun in a “rude, angry or threatening manner” (NRS 202.320).
Nevada defines assault as “(1) unlawfully attempting to use physical force against another person; or (2) Intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm”, so I think they’re probably also guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.
And let’s not even go into all the possible conspiracy charges.
Um, the question wasn’t whether they were criminals, but whether they were terrorists. That’s a pretty damn big distinction…
One dude placing bombs isn’t a revolutionary. He’s a terrorist, plain and simple.
One could also argue that certain actions by the Allies in WWII were acts of terrorism, such as the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo. Curtiss LeMay’s entire doctrine of winning wars solely through air power is basically terrorism on a mass scale.
Nope. But, thanks for playing.
As we learned from Monty Python, that’s not an argument, it’s just contradiction. (“No it’s not.”)
By the US Code definition I stated above, they are not “terrorism” because they were committed by national governments. Whether they were “war crimes” is another matter. And those are almost always determined by the winner.