Modern history

TERRORISM AND PROPAGANDA

Present-day terrorism is usually propagandist in purpose. Earlier in this century, anti-imperialist terrorism was, in the main, military and, in a sense, strategic. Thus, in the years immediately following the Second World War, three unrelated but contemporary terrorist movements sought by approximately the same methods to achieve the same results. These were the Greek terrorists in Cyprus, the Jewish terrorists in mandatary Palestine, and the Arab terrorists in Aden. All three were aimed, for the most part, against the military personnel and governmental installations of the imperial power in their own countries. All three had as their aim to persuade the imperial power that to stay would cost more lives than the colony was worth. All three succeeded broadly in attaining their objectives. Britain withdrew from Cyprus, abandoned the Palestine Mandate and recognized the independence of Aden. All three decisions were part of the general withdrawal from empire. All three were in significant measure influenced by the cost in blood and treasure that a continuing occupation would have imposed on an increasingly reluctant imperial power.

Later phases of terror in the postwar world were propagandist rather than strategic. The two most obvious examples are the Armenian attacks on Turkish embassy and consular personnel in the 1960s, and the campaign waged by the PLO and more particularly by its more militant components in the 1960s and '70s. More recent examples include terrorist actions against the governments of Algeria and, to a lesser extent, Egypt. The organizers of these actions must surely realize that attacking Turkey or Israel, Algeria or Egypt, is a very different matter from hastening the departure of a weary and already departing imperial power. The choice of target and terrain illustrate this change. In place of military personnel and installations, the new terrorists choose soft targets with much greater publicity value—embassies, markets, schools, tourists, airport lounges. In place of carefully selected military objectives, they choose those most likely to achieve maximum publicity, and instead of limiting their campaigns of terror to their home ground and their enemies, they extend them to the international scene and to uninvolved bystanders. Much of the terrorist activity carried on in the region at the present time has the same propagandist purpose—to impress, to persuade or to frighten.

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