Culture and Society

What is the difference between terrorism and guerilla warfare?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
  • HowStuffWorks

    HowStuffWorks

  1. Revolutionary terrorism, sub-revolutionary terrorism and guerilla warfare have all proven to be useful tactics for small resistance movements fighting large, powerful armies and police forces.

    Both guerilla warfare and terrorism are methods of warfare that use violence as a persuasive deterrent, with the intention of achieving some political goal. Both are also often used when a small or disenfranchised force is facing a clearly superior military power that could not be defeated through a straightforward fight. The key difference between guerilla warfare and terrorism is that guerilla warfare tactics focus on chipping away at a superior military force, whereas terrorism tends to deliberately target civilians. Guerilla warfare has existed for centuries. For example, the Scythians engaged in guerilla warfare against the much larger and much more powerful Persian Empire in 512 B.C., and the Scythians eventually prevailed. Viet Cong fighters used guerrilla warfare tactics against the U.S. military in Vietnam, wearing down American popular support for that war and leading to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. In contrast, members of al-Qaeda hijacked commercial airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center, attempting to kill as many noncombatants as possible in order to inspire fear and unease. The former instances illustrate guerilla warfare; the latter illustrates terrorism.

    The kind of terrorism performed by a small group against a larger, more powerful group can be broken down into two categories: revolutionary terrorism and sub-revolutionary terrorism. When terrorism is used to overthrow a government, it is called "revolutionary terrorism." If the terrorists simply want to change a political or social structure, without changing the government itself, the behavior is called "sub-revolutionary terrorism." One example of sub-revolutionary terrorism would be the lynchings performed by the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S. South, which began some time after the Civil War. White supremacist members of the Ku Klux Klan used brutal violence and fear to undermine support for the increased rights and liberties that African Americans were beginning to experience. The targets of the violence and terror were civilians.

    According to the U.S. government, terrorism is "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents." Terrorists usually target civilians and non-military government employees in order to further their ideology. They're often independent of any official national government, so it's difficult to locate and track them as a result.

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