Terrorism, Anarchism and the American Way of Life

Recent events in Boston are truly tragic and a grim reminder that terrorism has or has the potential to become a normal way of life for Americans. It is upsetting to consider that you (my students) are growing up  in the post 9/11 world and do not know American life before “terrorism” became a common word. When, for example,  flying was an afterthought and the only terrorist I was aware of had a terrible temper and wore a silver fish bowl as a mask (See picture). What this changing way of life entails may be a future post.

But, this difference in generational points of view is one of the first “walls” I have noticed that separates me from current students in that although we are living through this era together, I have a different perspective on what the American way of life was and thus what it currently is (and perhaps what it will become). This is not abnormal to experience these differences. If anything it helps me understand those generational walls placed between my Grandma and her Depression era experiences to her perceived excesses of my childhood during the 1980s or my parents who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and its impact on the American way of life during the Cold War.

All that said, I often marvel how assigned readings in class can coincide with current events – even the tragic. For example, in US History this past weekend you were to read Chapter 16, Section 4 about the end of World War I and what this meant for the United States heading into the 1920s.  The fact most students answered incorrectly, (True or False) “The GID/FBI was created immediately after terrorists thought to be from Russia exploded bombs in Boston and other American cities in 1919″ shows some of you may not have thoroughly read the text (ahem), while others who did read were shocked at the similarity of current events and still answered False. This couldn’t have happened before… could it? The 1919 bombings actually  occurred within minutes of each other in 8 different cities and another 30 bombs sent through mail were intercepted before they exploded!  A excellent historical tour and description of an even larger bombing by anarchists in 1920 in New York can be found here.

As a teacher I hope to make historical events relevant by connecting them to current events and there are many directions to take this particular convergence of material. Terrorism in the teens and twenties was considered anarchism – what is the difference between what we call terrorism today and anarchy? What are similarities and differences between the American public/government reaction to the 1919 and 1920 bombers and their ethnicities to those of recent violent acts in 2001 and 2013? In addition, the link above references that the early 20th century bombers may have been responsible for the bombing of a Milwaukee Police Station. You can search this Milwaukee Journal data base for reactions to the November 24, 1917 bombing and determine any similarities to the violence we witnessed in Boston. More questions to discuss… When and why did this earlier era of terrorism end? How do you see terrorism ending in our era? in what ways will 21st Century terrorism be remembered? Discuss any generational walls you have noticed between yourselves and other family members.  I look forward to reading your responses.

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10 thoughts on “Terrorism, Anarchism and the American Way of Life

  1. Mr. Lese,
    First of all I would just like to say that I think the idea of a blog to talk about current ideas outside of class is very cool and interesting. Defining the difference between terrorism and anarchy, I personally see terrorism as an act of violence that begins because of religious, political, or other personal beliefs. Anarchy on the other hand deals more with the loss of power and authority of a state. Terrorists do not have any authority holding them back because they are usual working alone; a state in a time of anarchy must have had a type of government to enforce laws and keep order over a group of people, not just an individual. Comparing the 1919 and 1920 bombers to today’s Boston bombers, there are multiple differences and similarities. One similarity is that the bomb used in the Boston bombing had thousands of BBs in it, similar to the metal scraps which the New York bomb had on September 16, 1920. A difference between the two bombing is that the Boston bombers were Russians (more specifically from Chechnya), while the 1920 bombers were from Italy or were disciples of Luigi Galleani (a native of Italy.) Another difference is that the Russian brothers acted alone, without the help of anyone else. Galleani had many disciples who performed these bombing (which were directed against politicians, judges, and even a Milwaukee Police Station!) The act of terrorism in Boston, I believe, is just the beginning of several plots against the United States. I believe that in my lifetime, terrorism may never be stopped. The rest of the world has come to recognize the United States’ superpower status, and other countries would like to bring us down in order to build themselves up. Peace will not come without America losing power and having other countries even out the playing field. There seems to be no difference between my views and my parents’ views differ on the subject of terrorism. Both my father and I believe that terrorism is becoming “the usual”. In summary, there is a distinct difference between anarchy and terrorism, and terrorism in the past is similar and different from terrorism today. These views do not seem to be different in my household, as both my parents and I have the same ideas as to when terrorism would likely end.

    • Thank you, Austin for having the courage to be the first of what may be several replies to this blog. Great job weeding out that although there was “suspicion” that the 1919 bombers were Russian, they actually turned out to be Italian. If you recall, the Boston police initially thought the actual bombers were two Saudis standing at the marathon (and there are varying theories on these guys) but it turned out to be Russians. I wonder if other students could continue to analyze and expand on the way the United States responded to these two terrorist acts and how similar or different. (Think of the cartoon I showed in class of the 1919 feds sweeping up Russian nationals.) There was widespread fear and condemnation of Russians and communists after their actions during World War I.

      You also do a wonderful job discussing anarchy and terrorism and I will withhold comment to see what others may say. I wonder what Americans thought about the possibility of terrorism ending in the 1920s and how it would compare to today’s perspective? Did they feel the US would have to lose power to gain peace?

      Maybe follow up with your parents and see what their view of the “American way of life” is and whether they think that has changed after 9/11, for example.

      Great start!

  2. To the question: “How do you see terrorism ending in our era? in what ways will 21st Century terrorism be remembered?”

    As time goes on, I do see more terrorism happening. Things like the Boston Bombing will occur more and we will have to adapt. Our era will be remembered for a huge increase in terrorism. I strongly believe that there will be more and more acts of terrorism in my lifetime, which is extremely frightening and sad. Terrorism will end when it wants to end. You can not put a date or a year on it because who knows how long it could go for.

  3. To answer the question “How do you see terrorism ending in our era? in what ways will 21st Century terrorism be remembered?” you would have to look deep into our past. Terrorism has been going on for a long time and will continue to grow. It is a world wide issue. The two biggest terrorist attack in America in my opinion are the attack on the world trade centers in 2001 and the Boston Bombing. They truly opened Americas eye to what happens daily in some places of the world. In our era terrorism is increasing due to all the crazy citizens that promote violence. I remember Mr. Lese talking about how his kids and all of us will have to live in violence and attacks growing up. It is truly sad and pathetic in my opinion. I don’t believe it will ever stop. How could we stop people from doing what they believe is right and necessary to make a change?

  4. As you stated in your blog post most people got the true and false question about the 1919 bombings wrong. This makes me wonder if one hundred years from now if the current generation will not be aware of such events as 9/11 and the Boston Bombings. In 1919 the Bombings of 1919 were hot news just how the Boston Bombings are today, but one thing that troubles me though is that the early 20th century is not known as an age of terrorism. I think this may be because there were other very important events like the Great Depression and World War I that overshadowed the 1919 Bombings. Currently it would not sound outlandish to call the early 21st century an age of terrorism but if another very important event happens it may alter what this era will be known as.

  5. In response to the question, “When and why did this earlier era of terrorism end?” I pose another question. What true evidence is there that the bombings in the 8 cities were indeed from Russia? If they are in fact from Russia, I can understand how it is labeled as an act of terrorism. If not, I do not believe we, American citizens, can call it a terrorist attack. In these cases the intent is not as significant as the source of the bombs. I also feel that if the recent bombing in Boston were a terrorist attack, why not attack a government building to hurt the U.S. infrastructure? Despite the many shootings such as the Wauwatosa spa, Oak Creek, and Sandy Creek, I do not think that the amount of terrorism has increased significantly. These shootings did not show any sign of international hatred toward the entire U.S., therefore I have reason to believe that they were merely horrible accidents.

  6. The question “How do you see terrorism ending in our era? in what ways will 21st Century terrorism be remembered?”, was asked and struck me as a rather important or key part to this article. I would like to start by saying, I don’t see terrorism ending anytime soon, and sadly, we will have to live and come to that realization soon. With some many countries, and terrorism organizations despising the U.S it seems far fetched that terrorism will come to an abrupt halt. I could see America weeding out terrorism in the new future, but at what cost? Our freedom? I could see the government placing cameras at every street corner, background checks before you purchase firearms or chemicals, or the tracking of American or foreign peoples by the U.S Government. I as an America would not be okay with changes like that, I am not willing to give up my freedom and always be “watched” in order to take a shot at preventing terrorist attacks.

    In addition, I see the 21st century being viewed, or possibly even nicknamed “the violent century” or something along those lines. When I think of the 21st century my mind immediately skips to 9/11, the war in Iraq, the Boston Bombings, the constant violation of the Geneva Convention, the aurora massacre, the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and the killing of Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Ladin. These are just a handful of instances that would lead me to believe the 21st century would be remembered as the “violent century.”

    In conclusion, I don’t see terrorism ending abruptly in the U.S anytime soon. The only way I see a abrupt ending to terrorism is with the freedom of the american people. Finally, due to all the terrorist accounts, and events taking place throughout the world I see the 21st century being viewed as the “violent century” or something similar.

  7. Answering the questions, :When and why did this earlier era of terrorism end? How do you see terrorism ending in our era?” I think the answers deal with the American policies and our involvement in other countries. I think the terrorism in the 1910’s ended because the hate wasn’t really there. The U.S hadn’t really done much to anger the Russian terrorists, and they eventually stopped their terrorism. Another reason is that law enforcement became tougher after those terrorist attacks. The FBI was created and was involved in the catchings of the terrorists. The power of the FBI and other law enforcement may have scared off some of the terrorists. Our problems today are due to the ways we have gone into other countries and killed many people. Especially in the Middle East, drone strikes and other weapons kill many innocent people, which angers the people in those areas. We have also shown that we are often incapable of stopping terrorist attacks before they happen, so there is nothing to be afraid of. Terrorists don’t care if they’re caught after the event takes place. Terrorism will get worse and worse until we learn how to stop the attacks before they happen, and until we stop invading countries for no reason. I would be pretty angry if some country invaded my homeland for no apparent reason and then killed my innocent neighbors, friends, and family.

  8. To follow up on the question “How do you see terrorism ending in our era?”, I would say that there is no way to end terrorism. It has been present since the beginning of mankind. Though the technology used in the past was not nearly as advanced as it is now, the act of inflicting violence on a group of people to strike fear in them and/or for political aims has been present for a VERY long time. I do not think that there is a chance of preventing terrorism all together and I also do not think that groups like Al Qaeda can be ended all together. We have been trying to put an end to the group for over twenty years and all we have accomplished was suppressing the violence (just a little bit). Yeah, we have taken out leaders like Osama Bin Laden, but guess what happens when one leader is killed? Another one steps in. The only way to fully put an end to Al Qaeda is having another World War, but that is insanely stupid, considering all of the nuclear weapons in various countries. Also, America is not in any position to enter another war because our economy is very poor. So I do not see terrorism ending because the groups are too spread out, and another World War would lead to the largest amount of total destruction the world has ever witnessed.

  9. 1. Today we believe anarchy means to have no government and terrorism means acts resisting the government.
    2. The terrorism started during the Red Scare because the people of society were already messed up because of the strikes that occurred.
    3. I do not see terrorism ending.
    4. If it ended, it would be remembered as evil and cruel. Not necessary and avoidable.

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