There has been an historic transition in which Type I terrorism and Type II terrorism are being combined. Type I terrorism consists of acts by individuals or small groups that aim to impose terror on other individuals and groups, and through them indirectly on their governments. Type II terrorism is the imposition by a government on groups of local or foreign populations. The new type of terrorism — Type III — is carried out by a substantially larger group of individuals, is aimed directly at a national population, and has all the components for success. The article deals with how this new terrorism, at very little psychic cost on the perpetrators, disrupts personal and historic memory through large-scale catastrophe organized for that purpose. Type III terrorism is made easier by the ready availability of high-level technology. Target nations will not have open to them the conventional responses, and will have to devise new, preventive measures.
Most 20th-century discussions on terrorism seem to me to have missed the point that, short of an unlikely act of international will, we have passed irreversibly through an historic transition.
Terrorism is a method of coercion of a population or its leadership or both, through fear or traumatization. What usually has caught our attention was an act that attempts to impose terror, by individuals or small groups, on other individuals or groups, and through them indirectly on their governments. I will call this Type I terrorism. The record shows that such acts, from the bombing of buildings to skyjacking, in virtually every case have had three characteristics. They have been carried out with conventional, i.e., paleotechnic means. They become part of a long and numbing series of such acts (one study reported 2400 attacks by foreign terrorists on the U.S. between 1983 and 1998). But above all, while they usually gain their fundamental aims of attracting worldwide attention for a time, of perhaps scoring a victory over a rival gang, and of satisfying a lust for blood by assassinating innocent people at relatively low risk, they have in most cases been failures— failures with respect to the long-range objective of coercing fundamental government policies. One recalls here the dismissive remark in a letter of September 1870 from F. Engels to K. Marx: "Terror is for the most part useless cruelties committed by frightened people to reassure themselves." The situation is completely asymmetrical when we turn to Type II terrorism, namely the imposition of terror by governmentson individuals or on groups of local or foreign populations. Although less frequent than Type I, such acts have claimed in the 20th century a far larger number of victims. Above all, they have largely succeeded in their avowed aim, from Mussolini's bombing of the Abyssinians and the killing of all men in the town of Lidice in reprisal for the killing of one man, down to the "Christmas bombing" of Hanoi in 1972. (There are only a few cases of failure, e.g., the German Blitzraids on England, and the coercive acts of French military groups and colonsin Algeria.)
It is my judgment that the asymmetries are now being dissolved. There will be a progressive fusion of Types I and II terrorism that began with the process of governments co-opting and arming terrorist groups for transnational purposes; the legitimization of terrorism as part of so-called "national liberation" actions; and, most ominously, the training, arming, and financing by various countries of networks of international terrorists. The last of these enables the two previously distinct types of terrorist agencies — states with potentially biblical scales of terror, and relatively independent small groups with limited powers of devastation--to collaborate, merge, or act, in secret or in more or less open collusion, in the new, Type III terrorism.
To understand the potential of this form, one must not stop with a prognosis of likely technicalmeans. The new technological capabilities in the present context — e.g., nuclear and other spectacularly destructive physical means, or biological and chemical (binary) weapons — form only one part of the context. Neotechnic means can vastly increase the scale of damage, and through television can almost instantly and repeatedly spread the news and imagery of the act; but by themselves they need not coerce a determined people. One should be equally concerned with the other components that are essential to the successful act of terror. For whether it is carried out by individuals, a group, a state, or a coalition of these, terror succeeds or fails on a "stage" that has four components, each of which is subject, in our time, to the enlargements of opportunity or scope:
1. The technological capabilities available to the terrorizing group.2. The current model of normal or "regular" life as perceived by the targeted group.3. The historic memory (including folklore and other social myths) of the affected group.
4.The international-political situation in which the terrorizers and their victims find themselves.
Revision, at certain points, of a paper with the same title, presented at the Conference on Terrorism, held at Stanford, California, 1976, and published in TERRORISM: An International Journal, vol. 1, nos. 3/4, 1978 (pp. 265-276).
Copyright © 2002, Gerald Holton
To see this point clearly, one must realize that the methods of terror of Type II, from the earliest historic period to our own, involved not merely inflicting horrid casualties, but succeeded when they produced a drastic modification of the traditional perception of society and nature within which human life had previously been thinkable. It is through this modification that the victim is disoriented, robbed of integrity, and made manipulable. That is the chief lesson of one of the primal examples of traumatization, namely, chapter 11 of Exodus: Not until the tenth plague, one that disrupted the whole familial and social fabric of Ancient Egypt, was the level of terror high enough to coerce the pharaoh's decision. Another example is that of the Mayas, otherwise successful and valiant warriors, who are said to have been put to flight by the very appearance of Spaniards on horseback, who were thus representing a psychologically intolerable fusion of incommensurables. The modern terrorist may well try to determine consciously where the most effective place is in the personal and historic memory of his or her intended victims, in order to insert the crowbar there. Conversely, a group and its leadership that fears victimization by terrorists might examine both the weak spots in its society that could at least partially be protected, and also what may be the hate-producing elements in the potential attackers' worldview and grievances that might be ameliorated.
Precisely because this subject is so rarely considered in such discussion, a digression will be useful to elaborate on, and to distinguish between, personal and historic memory. The former, at least on the surface, is characterized by the remnants of specific and individual joys and traumata. On a deeper level, to which long, thin roots penetrate from the surface, there are the universalized aspects that form the subject of the search for lawfulness in modern psychological studies.
Historic memory, partly of factual and partly of mythic events, can be regarded as a subset located within deep personal memory. A good part of its contents are the possibilities of moving, ominous, foreboding, uncanny, magical happenings that are expressed in creation myths and apocalyptic myths, and in the stories that transform common personal events such as birth, danger, escape, and death — the realm of storytellers about the events in ancient kingdoms, exploits of armies and leaders, or great natural catastrophes (such as the eighteenth-century earthquake that devastated Lisbon and so helped change the Western optimism of the century). While these stories and myths may seem ethnocentric in a specific population, there are important invariants here too. Thus, the Motive-Index of Folk Literatureby Stith Thompson contains a classification of narrative elements through an enormous range of cultures and time periods; but it is significant that the antithetical couple, "world calamities" and "establishment of natural order," is among the very first "mythological motives" listed.
The potential of using this psychological ground as part of a stage for political action has been known for some time. Thus, in Réflexions sur la violence(1908), a manual long influential in terrorist movements, Georges Sorel counseled the revolutionaries of his time to take advantage of these "social myths," as he termed them. He noted that
"...the framing of a future...may be very effective....This happens when the anticipations of the future take the form of those myths, which enclose with them all the strongest inclinations of a people, of a party, or of a class, inclinations which recur to the mind with the insistence of instincts in all the circumstances of life; and which give an aspect of complete reality to the hopes of immediate action by which, more easily than by any other method, man can reform the desires, passions, and mental activity."
He argued that it made no sense to discuss how far such a myth can be taken literally in detail as future history: "It is the myth in its entirety which is alone important: its parts are only of interest insofar as they bring out the main idea." He proceeded to show that this conception can be used both in its positive and its negative sense. That is, not only can a social myth stabilize a social order, but its destruction and replacement by another myth can be, and indeed has to be, the condition for the radical transformation of a society. This, in his view, was the function of "Proletarian violence" and "plainest brutality." The aim of this violence is the institution of a counter-myth, in the specific case of interest to him, the myth of "the General Strike...the myth in which Socialism is wholly comprised." His whole essay, far from a call to violence for its own sake, had the grandiose aim to "confront man with a catastrophe" that would signify "absolute revolution." While one might well doubt the details of Sorel's conceptions, the method of transformation through a large-scale catastrophe organized for the purposeis in our technologically more advanced era an even more powerful conception than it was in Sorel's time.
Another famous manual for using widespread terror in the service of an ideology is of course Leon Trotzky's book Terrorism and Communism(University of Michigan Press, 1961), written within two years of the Bolsheviks' victory in the Russian Revolution. Thus, in his chapter titled simply "Terrorism," he writes with confidence passages such as these: "The problem of revolution, as of war, consists in breaking the will of the foe, forcing him to capitulate and to accept the conditions of the conqueror" (p.56)...."Are we expected to consider them [the measures] 'intolerable'?" (p.57)...."As for us, we were never concerned with the Kantian-priestly and vegetarian-Quaker prattle about the 'sacredness of human life.'" (p.63)
1 Conversely, the Mayas, being well advanced in the study of solar astronomy, are said to have been much less vulnerable than earlier European peoples to the appearance of solar eclipses.
2 Thompson, Stith, Motive-Index of Folk Literature (Bloomingdale, IN: Indiana University Press, 1932-36).
3 Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence,trans. T. E. Hulme and J. Roth, with an introduction by Edward A. Shils (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1950).
The key role of historic memory in the success of Type II terror acts becomes immediately clear when we consider the particular part of modern historic memory that refers to actual traumatic happenings which disrupted the familiar environment of human life. The chief example that comes to mind is of course the release over Hiroshima and Nagasaki of artificial, man-made suns that rained down heat, gamma rays, and radioactive fallout — an injection of a new, essentially cosmological object into the ecology of human experience. Secretary of War Stimson accurately observed to the members of his scientific panel advising on the use of the bomb on 31 May 1945, prior to its first test over Alamogordo, that they should consider the atomic bomb not "as a new weapon merely but as creating a revolutionary change in the relation of man to the universe." More than even most of the scientists present, Stimson seems to have realized early that the weapon was outside the normal frame of causality, not only of the intended victims but also of the victors.
The use of the atomic bomb is a classic case of successful traumatization by Type II terrorism. But the historic memory contains other examples that share some of the same parameters, even if not the same scale or duration of effect. Thus in some quarters, the impact of the injection in October 1957 of a new artificial moon, Sputnik, was near-hysteria, the more so as the object had been made in a country thought to be threatening, and (as far as the public was concerned) was made in secret. A more relevant case was that of the replacement of natural air by a deadly gas produced by the Germans in World War I. The Allies were initially terrified, but they soon absorbed the weapon into their own war plans. Thus, as noted by Gilbert F. Wittemore, Jr., by March of 1918 the United States research group had developed a simple and efficient process for the production of the large supplies of mustard gas that had been ordered by the United States military in September 1917. "By the time of the armistice, the Edgewood plant was producing 30 tons of mustard gas a day. Chemists later pointed with pride to this accomplishment, noting that it was not their fault that these vast quantities of gas had not been fired in American shells. The gas had been ready and waiting: the army had failed to provide the artillery shells.
The case, and the condition of non-use in Western society since, illustrate a maxim that state-controlled terror weapons lead to proliferation, just as do other weapons, but that there may then ensue a balance of terror — that peculiar state in which each side exhibits the behavior of both terrorizer and victim.
The historic consciousness of our time contains also another case that future historians may put on the list of developments that uniquely characterize the twentieth century. I refer to the discovery by the civilized world, at the end of World War II, of the existence of the Nazi camps for genocide — or, more properly, of final proof that bore out the evidence long available to those who cared to know. The process by which these concentration camps were used systematically to destroy specially selected and identified groups of the population under German domination was calculated to serve a triple purpose.
Not only were the camps designed to eliminate people. They also were factories to "harvest" them methodically, rapidly, and on a huge scale. Nothing in the exhibit area of Auschwitz has been more shattering than the carefully sorted, huge piles of eye glasses, shaving brushes, trusses, children's wear, human hair, and so forth, the last of such shipments to the German homeland, abandoned when the camp was liberated. (It is a small part of the evidence of the involvement of large numbers of people in the transport and other aspects of the undertaking.)
But it is generally overlooked that a third purpose of the camps was precisely that they would act also as a terror weapon. Certainly, at least the segment of the population that was the target of these camps was sufficiently aware of their existence, and consequently was traumatized by the threat to such an extent that the vast operation in which millions were killed could be carried on with considerable efficiency in terms of manpower needs. The existence of the Gulag in the Soviet Union was more generally known within the country; the disappearance of millions forced into those camps also had a paralyzing effect on the psyche of most in the population at large — although with splendid exceptions.
The use of systematic state terror in what became the Soviet Union has been most authoritatively described by Richard Pipes in his book, The Russian Revolution(Alfred A. Knopf, 1990). Chapter 18, "The Red Terror," traces its early stages to Lenin's writings, as in an essay of 1908, where he first used the concept of "extermination" of class enemies. Once in power, the Bolshevik dictatorship made terror part of its state policy. Lenin's Commissar of Justice wrote in 1920: "Terror is a system...a legalized plan of the regime for the purpose of mass intimidation, mass compulsion, mass extermination," all directed to segments of the state's own population. Eventually, the Soviet security police were given a free hand to end the lives of millions of citizens that it regarded as "enemies." Concentration camps, called by that name, had been first ordered to be set up by Trotzky and Lenin in August 1918, as part of the "Red Terror." By 1923, there were 315 such camps. In the Stalinist U.S.S.R., they grew ever larger and more numerous.
This is not the place to pursue this particular legacy of that tragic century to world history. But in the absence of any agreements, incentives, or other forces that would tend to discourage continued development and use of terror of both types, we may expect the tacit taboo on this particular Type II terror weapon to be overcome also. The campaigns of "ethnic cleansing," e.g., in Serbia and Rwanda, came close to this model in recent years.
4 Quoted in Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975), pp. 204-205.
5 Gilbert F. Wittemore, Jr. "World War I, Poison Gas Research, and the Ideal of American Chemists," Social Studies of Science 5(1975): 151.
6 The same theme of efficiency is found in the detailed operations of the camps. Thus, I have seen in the archives in Auschwitz records of experimental research to determine the number of calories needed in the food supply to keep the average inmate not so weak as to be unable to work in the labor sections of the camp, nor so strong as to survive for more than some nine months at the outset. Moreover, when the available food supply was tuned to this particular aim, camp inmates could be persuaded to do a great deal for relatively small favors (e.g., being rewarded by scooping a ladleful of soup from the bottom of the kettle, where there might be some potatoes, rather than from the top). Thus the camps were policeable with less manpower.
The Success of Terror
I have argued that cataclysmic events, the perpetration of enormities, and other precipitous changes in the human condition, stretch personal and historic memory beyond the limits of the accommodations of the ordinary elastic range; they make a plastic deformation, leaving the psyche different, distorted, and ready to crystalize experiences around the wound in new ways. When we ask what lessons the historic memory of our time has drawn from these events, one finds that the most prominent response is, of course, self-protection on the conscious level. The atomic bomb and the Holocaust are rarely made part of educational curricula. On the contrary, for the masses the chief vehicle for presenting terror situations has been banalization(and exploitation). Examples are such movies and TV productions as Hiroshima Mon Amour, "Hogan's Heroes," The Night Porter, Mel Brooks's The Producers, Lina Wertmüller's Seven Beauties, and, most recently, videogames using Nazi protagonists in full uniform.
The second lesson that the planned use of calamities as Type II terror weapons has left in historic memory is that on the whole they were successful, and, moreover, that the use of the weapons did not produce counterbalancing, severe psychic costs to the user. Hence, there is no reason why future adventures along this line should not be seen "safe" enough by the perpetrators. The effect that the dropping of the first atomic bombs had on the leadership and population of the Western Allies is an illustrative case in point. When, in response to the reasonable likelihood that the Germans would preempt them, a number of scientists working on the design and manufacture of the bomb (James Franck, Eugene Rabinowitch, Glenn T. Seaborg, Leo Szilard, and others) pleaded in June 1945 (in "A Report to the Secretary of War") that the bomb should not be first used on a civilian target, one of their chief arguments was that "the military advantages and the saving of American lives achieved by the sudden use of atomic bombs against Japan may be outweighed by the ensuing loss of confidence and by a wave of horror and repulsion sweeping over the rest of the world and perhaps even dividing public opinion at home."> Their advice was of course not heeded, and the explosions had their intended traumatizing effect on the Japanese leadership. None of the expected "loss of confidence" and "wave of horror and repulsion sweeping over the rest of the world" materialized, at least not for some time. Quite the contrary. The New York Times, in an editorial on 7 August 1945, for example, hailed the Hiroshima bomb as "the magic key to victory [which] has been found in America....The new bomb...is the crowning demonstration of Allied technical, scientific and material superiority over the enemy."
Moreover, the Timesdeclared under the heading "Science and the Bomb," that the scientists had better shape up and learn a lesson from the event:
"University professors who are opposed to organizing, planning and directing research after the manner of industrial laboratories because in their opinion fundamental research is based on 'curiosity' and because great scientific minds must be left to themselves have something to think about. A most important piece of research was conducted on behalf of the Army by precisely the means adopted in industrial laboratories. And the result? An invention is given to the world in three years which it would have taken perhaps half a century to develop if we had to rely on prima donna research scientists to work alone. The internal logical necessities of atomic physics and the war led to the bomb. A problem was stated. It was solved by teamwork, by planning, by competent direction, and not by a mere desire to satisfy curiosity."
The intensity of violence in that war had become enormous even without the atomic bomb. While the War Department's announcement concerning Hiroshima said the destruction force equaled the load of 2,000 B-29s and more than 2,000 times the blast power of what previously had been the world's most devastating type of bomb, it also said that more than 400 fighters and bombers pounded Tarumizu in Southern Kyushu on that same day in just one of the other actions. On the next day, more than 225 B-29 "Super Fortresses," escorted by 140 P-47 Thunderbolt Fighters, dropped about 1,500 tons of demolition bombs on the city of Yawata. (Yawata was one of the Japanese cities that had been publicly warned by the Air Force that it would be destroyed.) Like the first nine biblical plagues, such devastation could somehow still be made of a previously known kind of order (or disorder). But the new bomb provided a discontinuous jump to an unimagined higher order of magnitude. In this respect, it was beyond the usual use of weapons in war, which have traditionally served primarily in the physicalincapacitation of the enemy and the subsequent conquest of his territory.
Indeed, the only objection to the use of the new weapon that found its way to the front of TheNew York Timesin the first days after its use was a story under the heading "Vatican Deplores Use of Atom Bomb. Official Press Office Says the Weapon Has Created an Unfavorable Impression."
The New York Timeswent on to reprint part of the Vatican's Osservatore Romanoeditorial that deplored the development of the atomic bomb by reminding its readers about a story concerning Leonardo da Vinci: "He planned a submarine, but he feared that man would not apply it to progress, namely to the constructive uses of civilization, but to its ruin. He destroyed that possible instrument of destruction." The accusing finger was clearly pointing at the scientists involved — and to this day, it is generally they who are singled out when the popular mind tries to assess responsibilities in this case.
In late November 1945, an opinion poll showed that only 5 percent of the public was opposed to the combat use of the atomic bomb. Harry Truman, who made the decision to use it, shared with the electorate the opinion that the bomb was a legitimate weapon. As Truman wrote to a clergyman shortly after the Nagasaki explosion:
"Nobody is more disturbed over the use of atomic bombs than I am, but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and the murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast, you have to treat him as a beast."
It is a capsule illustration of what Erik Erikson has called "pseudo-speciation," a process by which an "enemy" traditionally is deprived of membership in the human race proper, thus solving the problem of guilt, if only on the surface.
7 Quoted from the Report as reprinted in The Project Physics Course Reader, Unit 6, The Nucleus(New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), p. 206. Edward Teller maintained that he also was sympathetic to the aims of that group in 1945: "[In a letter by Einstein in 1945] it was emphasized that one should not use the atomic bomb except by way of demonstration. I also was of the opinion at that time that this was correct. In my opinion, it would have been sufficient to explode the bomb at a suitably harmless height above Tokyo....On the other hand, it was Oppenheimer who quite explicitly recommended the release of the atomic bomb." (Translated from the interview "Professor Haber stellt vor: Edward Teller," Bild der Wissenschaft[October 1975], p. 106.) However, the contemporaneous documentation, e.g., in the J. R. Oppenheimer papers in the Library of Congress, appears to lead one to a rather different conclusion.
8 The New York Times, 8 August 1945, p. 1.
9 This is obviously simpler to do in peacetime than in the middle of a war. The Vatican paper might have counterposed Leonardo's supposed action with the declaration of the Italian scientist Nicolo Tartaglia, who in mid-sixteenth century had kept his treatise on ballistics to himself — until the Turks advanced: "Today, however, in the sight of the ferocious wolf preparing to set on our flock, and of our pastors united for the common defense, it does not seem to me any longer proper to hold these things [scientific discoveries of use in warfare] hid, and I have resolved to publish them partly in writing, and partly by word of mouth, for the benefit of Christians so that all should be in a better state either to attack the common enemy or to defend themselves against him."
11 An analogous process that tends to work toward the same end might be called "pseudo-professionalization." It allows scientists and other "experts" not to oppose an insufficient political and sociological act or view, by regarding themselves incompetent to deal with the uses others make of their work.
Since operationally the condemnations that both Type I and Type II terrorism have received so far have generally been ineffective, there is no reason to think that Type I terrorists will continue to limit themselves to paleotechnic means and to essentially unsuccessful missions. On the contrary, the same dynamic that escalated the technological sophistication of state terrorism is bound to act also within individual and group terrorism of Type III. Therefore three developments may be expected. One is the attempt by one or more states to disseminate, not directly but through hired gangs, both the technology and also the cultural ground for successful terror, i.e., to secure the marriage of advanced technology and the intent to traumatize through cataclysmic disaster. The second is that gangs, not necessarily or openly associated with states but motivated by a fervid ideology (analogous to the case of the Bolsheviks), will perform that same sinister marriage on their own.
Third, a nation targeted for the new terrorism will not have open to it the conventional response — i.e., a balance of terror against an identifiable Type II threat. Therefore it will have to devise new measures, both for making terror acts unacceptably costly to each or all probable instigators, and for initiating policies that might defuse the conditions likely to be animating the potential terrorists.
There is a final point. As Type III terrorists scale up the levels of activity, chances are that some terrorists may experience technical failures, particularly in their early preparations. Any attempt to produce damage on a very large scale requires a certain amount of technical mastery that may not be easy to transmit locally to what previously would have been merely a band of Type I terrorists. The distance in competence between the supplier of the new weapon on the one hand and the operator on the other hand can be very large, even in the cases where such weapons are used by advanced states in warfare.
However, even "failures" of weapons (nuclear, chemical, or biological) on the scale of Type II agents but in the hands of Type III agents could be attended by enormous deleterious effects, devastating to life in unintended areas. It may well be that precisely such a catastrophic "failure" could serve to mark the full extent of the discontinuity in world history.