Terror Firma: Political Violence, Past and Present
Gray, John, New Statesman (1996)
Invisible Armies: an Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present
WW Norton, 576pp, [pounds sterling]25
The Foundations of Modern Terrorism: State, Society and the Dynamics of Political Violence
Martin A Miller
Cambridge University Press, 30 6pp, [pounds sterling]18.99
Calling up an image of pervasive mistrust and violence reminiscent of the totalitarian states of the last century, a celebrated historian records how many people "became informers even on trivial matters, some openly, many secretly. Friends and relatives were as suspected as strangers, old stories as damaging as new. In the main square or at a dinner party, a remark on any subject might mean prosecution. Everyone competed for priority in marking down the victim. Sometimes this was self-defence but mostly it was a sort of contagion."
This sounds like a description of the frenzied denunciations of Mao's Cultural Revolution, an impression reinforced when Martin A Miller, who cites the passage, writes: "Denunciations were frequently followed by suicide, to avoid the public spectacle of a humiliating trial in which one's entire family could be ostracised or exiled." Yet the great historian was not writing about the 20th century. The passage comes from a chapter on the emperor Tiberius in The Annals of Imperial Rome by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (c.56-117 AD), who entitled this chapter "The Reign of Terror".
For Miller, Tacitus's account illustrates a fundamental truth: political violence is perennial and any regime can become a vehicle for terror. We have come to think of terrorism as a type of insurgency in which disaffected groups operating beyond the control of any government use violence to attain their ends. In reality, it is states that have been …
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Publication information: Article title: Terror Firma: Political Violence, Past and Present. Contributors: Gray, John - Author. Magazine title: New Statesman (1996). Volume: 142. Issue: 5144 Publication date: February 8, 2013. Page number: 40+. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2013 Gale Group.
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