Terrorism is the systematic use of violence to achieve a specific normally political aim. It is not a new concept and groups using terrorism have existed throughout history. During the late 20th century advances in weapon technology allowed terrorism a new lease of life as small man portable weapons increased drastically in firepower. Sub-machine guns such as the Uzi and Mac-10 allow a single person to carry a small hard to spot weapon with a very high rate of fire, new explosives such as Semtex and greater availability of electronic parts for timer and triggering devices have allowed the terrorist to hit harder causing more damage than ever before. The aim of the Terrorist is not to kill a great number of people but too frighten a great number of people and in this aim Television has helped greatly. The former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once described the media as the oxygen of the Terrorist as without publicity the Terrorist can have but a limited impact, this is known as the Propaganda of the Deed. Terrorist groups are normally small such as the IRA and sometimes may only contain a few members such as the Baader-Mienhof gang. Frequently they gain money from illegal sources such as illegal drugs, pornography and smuggling as in the case of the Columbian M-19 group or even direct theft and armed robbery as in the case of the Baader-Mienhof gang. Terrorism is the weapon of the politically weak and few terrorist groups have any large scale political support and therefore have to turn to non political methods such as bombings, threats, hijacking and assassinations. It is important not to confuse Terrorists with Freedom fighters or insurgents who use more military style tactics, Terrorists have a very strong sense of self preservation and will often attack 'soft' civilian targets rather than risk direct confrontation with the security forces. Terrorists are more criminal than military and countries which have adopted a combined police/military approach to Terrorists have been more successful than those relying on a purely military response. During the Cold War many terrorists were trained by Soviet block countries and this is often called state sponsored Terrorism, with the Cold War over many of these groups died out as their funding disappeared and files were handed over to western security services by the Eastern Block countries. Terrorism has far from disappeared as we enter the 21st century as although the political terrorist is a dying breed the lone bomber (such as the Uni bomber) or small religious terrorist groups are becoming more common.
How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (28 May 2001), Terrorism, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_terrorism.html