The Wrong Hands: Popular Weapons Manuals and Their Historic Challenges to a Democratic Society

By Ann Larabee | Go to book overview

1
The science of Revolutionary Warfare

In a Chicago courthouse in 1886, a condemned man stood before the judge to make a final argument for his innocence in a case of murder and political conspiracy. His road to the gallows began in a violent confrontation between demonstrators and police at an evening labor rally. A fuse-lit grenade had been thrown, the police had opened fire, and bloody mayhem had ensued, leading to the deaths of eight police officers and at least three civilians, dozens of injuries on both sides, and the defendant’s arrest for murder. Yet the prosecution had been unable to present any substantial evidence of his material association with the bomb. Using his printed words and his reading materials, the prosecution had constructed him as one of the masterminds behind a massive conspiracy, and the newspapers had painted him a violent, animalistic monster bent on the destruction of civilization, a symbolic enemy of order. August Spies’s crime was vague encouragement; his public words had made him an accessory before the fact.

One of the texts introduced against him and his seven codefendants was a slender volume, Revolutionäre Kriegswissenschaft—The Science of Revolutionary Warfare. It was mostly a compendium of directions for making high explosives, bombs, and other covert weapons, written in a conversational style as if among friends. Like nineteenth-century pyrotechnics manuals, it included curiosities like blowpipes, invisible ink, and exotic poisons like curare and ptomaine taken from corpses.1 Very occasionally the text would identify the potential targets of these homemade weapons in the tone of a mean-spirited joke. Describing a well-known inflammable compound often used for arson, the text observed: “Clothes, of course, burn well. In this regard experiments were made in France with detectives, and those experiments have warmed them up pretty lively.” Of a successful experiment involving a forged iron globe filled with dynamite, it suggested: “Just think, if this bomb had been placed under the table of a gluttonous dinner party, or it had been thrown through a window on the table what a beautiful effect it would have had.”2 This sensational content fulfilled the expectations of most readers of the city’s daily

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The Wrong Hands: Popular Weapons Manuals and Their Historic Challenges to a Democratic Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Science of Revolutionary Warfare 15
  • 2 - Sabotage 36
  • 3 - The Anarchist Cookbook 64
  • 4 - Hitmen 90
  • 5 - Monkeywrenching 108
  • 6 - Ka Fucking Boom 131
  • 7 - Vast Libraries of Jihad and Revolution 152
  • 8 - Weapons of Mass Destruction 171
  • Conclusion 185
  • Notes 191
  • Selected Bibliography 221
  • Index 239
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