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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card October 26, 2003

Fanatic Terrorism from the Past

Our current war against terrorism is not the first time that western civilization has faced a widespread terrorist threat.

A century ago, there were bombings and assassinations all over Europe and America. Followers of a radical, utopian ideology (and the wackos who used that ideology as an excuse for murder) murdered a Tsar of Russia, a President of the United States, a President of France, a Premier of Spain, an Empress of Austria, a King of Italy, and various lesser officials.

They also, occasionally, attacked random innocent civilians. The man who killed one person and injured twenty others with a bomb he placed in the Café Terminus in Paris said he chose that site because there came "all those who are satisfied with the established order, all the accomplices and employees of Property and the State, ... all that mass of good little bourgeois who make 300 to 500 francs a month, who are more reactionary than their masters, who hate the poor and range themselves on the side of the strong." (Quoted in Barbara W. Tuchman, The Proud Tower, p. 93.)

This group of terrorists called themselves "Anarchists," and their enemy was all government.

Why? Because they believed that all the evils of human life were caused by the interference of governments, which were merely tools of the rich to harm the common people. Strike down those governments, and the common people would, they believed, quickly establish a fair system of sharing the wealth and living in freedom.

Never mind that it is impossible for people to live together without government. Strike down one set of rulers, and quickly another emerges in its place -- and usually not a very nice one, either.

Look what happened when Communism fell in Russia: Almost at once, former Communists and opportunistic newcomers created the Russian mafia, which in the absence of legitimate state power came close to reinventing feudalism amid the ruins of the Soviet economy.

And the government that now struggles to restore public order and safety while protecting a nascent new economy is far more authoritarian than any of the pro-democracy forces in Russia ever wanted to see.

Power vacuums are always filled. The trick is to try to fill them with people who accept strict limitations on their own behavior -- in other words, rulers who obey the law and relinquish power without being forced to.

But the Anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries just didn't see that.

Oh, the earliest and brightest of the theorists gradually came to realize their mistake, and eventually began urging people not to act upon their earlier teachings.

Because those teachings were incendiary indeed. What they preached was a doctrine of assassination and disruption. And that message -- that the powerful and rich deserved to die for their crimes against the working people -- could not be retracted easily.

After all, the terrorists were not converted to the writers, but to the ideas themselves. And the fact that the writers later repudiated the extremism of their early works only told their followers that the evil rulers of the world had co-opted them.

Fighting the Anarchists was devilishly hard. Why? Because by their very ideology, they refused to organize. Organization was the evil they fought against. So unlike the Communists, who organized for revolution, or the socialists, who organized to try to win political power within the existing system, the Anarchists simply did not organize at all.

Therefore each bomber and each knife- or gun-wielding assassin acted completely alone. Most told no one in advance what they planned to do. When they were arrested, they couldn't inform on any other Anarchist terrorists because they didn't know any.

So the whole organization consisted of:

People who published Anarchist books and pamphlets calling (in semi-veiled terms) for assassination and terrorism in order to trigger worldwide revolt, and ...

People who became true believers in Anarchist ideas and did what they suggested.

How does a government fight a "conspiracy" like that? How do ordinary decent people respond to it?

In Spain, hundreds of "enemies of the state" were arrested -- some of them actual anarchists -- and many were tortured to the point where they confessed anything. Even advocating Anarchism through speeches, pictures, or publications could get you a life sentence.

This didn't stop the Anarchists. In fact, that was when the Spanish Premier who had initiated the harsh anti-Anarchist measures was assassinated ... by an Anarchist.

When U.S. President McKinley was assassinated by an Anarchist, it brought into office Theodore Roosevelt, who declared, "Anarchism is a crime against the whole human race and all mankind should band against the Anarchist."

As historian Barbara Tuchman writes, Roosevelt "urged that Anarchist speeches, writings and meetings should henceforth be treated as seditious, that Anarchists should no longer be allowed at large, those already in the country should be deported, Congress should 'exclude absolutely all persons who are known to be believers in Anarchistic principles or members of Anarchistic societies,' and their advocacy of killing should by treaty be made an offense against international law, like piracy" (ibid., pp. 107-8).

His views were not universally agreed with. Many were appalled by the laws that resulted; many urged that the way to combat Anarchism was to ameliorate the suffering of the working classes that provided some (but not all) of the recruits to the cause.

In some ways, the Anarchists were easier to deal with than today's organized terrorists. After all, there's a limit to what one person can do alone. Even the suicide bombers in Israel don't have to study bomb-making -- there are organizations that provide them with their deadly but concealable weapons.

So the immediate damage Anarchist terrorists could do was relatively small -- though their ability to get close enough to important or highly visible world leaders to kill them was uncanny.

But the public didn't care that the damage was, in the long run, relatively minor. There was widespread fury that bordered on mob rage, and fear that sometimes came close to panic.

At the same time, civil libertarians and the supporters of nonviolent (or less violent) labor movements were horrified at the actions governments took to fight Anarchism.

In Russia, where Anarchist assassinations came in the midst of a war with Japan, the government used the time-honored tactic of blaming the Jews, leading to pogroms: murders and beatings of Jews who had nothing whatever to do with Anarchism. (Who, after all, is more committed to the rule of law than orthodox Jews?)

Governments could not fight Anarchism without, in effect, becoming terrorists themselves; but governments that failed to fight Anarchism found themselves faced with public outrage -- and a very serious threat of being targeted for assassination themselves.

By contrast, today's terrorists are organized and supplied by governments and wealthy donors. They are supported by large numbers of Muslim extremists among the common people in nations whose governments make no effort to persuade them to do otherwise.

Unlike the governments who fought Anarchism, governments committed to fighting today's brand of terrorism actually have someone to legitimately fight: terrorist organizations and the nations that harbor and support them.

But at the same time, just as it happened a century ago, the governments of the civilized world are divided against each other and riven with internal dissent.

What finally ended Anarchism as a source of terrorism?

World War I. Bloody revolutions in Russia and elsewhere. Fascism.

Nothing like having a million men die in the trenches, or having the population oppressed by state terrorism far worse than the feeble efforts of Anarchists, or suffering through the chaos of genuine, bloody anarchy.

All the ideas of the Anarchists were disproven or shown to be trivial.

My fear is that the only way to end the wave of terrorism that is finding recruits among impoverished and frustrated and extremist Muslims in so many nations of the world will be similar.

The best answer to extremist Muslim views is to live in a country ruled by extremist Muslims. Citizens of Iran under the ayatollahs and Afghanistan under the Taliban are far less likely a recruiting ground for anti-western terrorism.

But the fanatical Taliban and the fascist Ba'ath parties were not brought down by internal revolution -- they were brought down by outside invasion (with much cooperation from the people who hated the fanatic regimes).

And I fear that the only thing that will cure the Muslim people of their current love affair with terrorism (for even though the terrorists are few, those who openly sympathize with their barbarities are many and their critics are virtually silent) is the savagery of total war.

The only alternative is the kind of limited, surgical war that America has been waging in Afghanistan and Iraq. The cost of such a war is not trivial, but it is also not total.

But if America and Britain lose heart and do not complete this kind of war, the terrorists will regard our retreat as proof that they were right and Allah supports their actions. More terrorism will surely follow, and the war we failed to complete now our children will have to complete later -- and under far less advantageous circumstances.

The terrorists want a world war between all of Islam and everybody else, because they believe that in such a war Allah will give them the victory and the entire world will become Muslim (or at least be ruled by Muslims).

So leaving them alone will not cause them to leave us alone -- it will encourage them to provoke us more.

Giving more aid or support to Muslim nations will not be seen as generosity, it will be seen as tribute or ransom money, and the credit will go to the terrorists ... thereby inviting further acts of terror. (This is the pattern that the Palestinian terrorists have already demonstrated for years.)

That is the thing that the advocates of "peace" just don't seem to understand: Peace cannot be achieved unilaterally. When an enemy is determined to make war -- even a pathetically weak and under-armed enemy -- then a war will be fought ... or the enemy will become your conqueror.

War postponed never becomes easier to fight, or less costly in lives and treasure. And those who mock President Bush as a "cowboy" or even, insanely, claim that America (or "the Jews") staged 9/11 just so we'd have an excuse for war will not, if their views prevail, bring about peace. They will simply bring about far more death.

And if we abandon this war, then a day will almost certainly come when all of us will look back with deep regret to the time when we might have rid the world of the scourge of extremist Muslim terrorism (meanwhile liberating more than a few Muslim nations from tyranny) at the astonishingly slight cost in blood and horror, compared to most wars, that we have paid so far in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But we're Americans. We neither study history nor learn from it.

Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.


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