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Unknown Soldiers - How Terrorism Transformed The Modern World [Hardcover]

Matthew Carr
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: New Press (2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861977301
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861977304
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 328,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matt Carr has been a freelance print and radio journalist since the early 1980s. In addition to presenting radio features and documentaries from Spain for the BBC World Service and Radio 4, he has written for a range of newspapers, journals and magazines including Esquire, the New York Times, History Today, The Observer, Marie Claire, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Geographical Magazine and Le Point. He has also been a regular contributor to The First Post online magazine and the IPS news agency.

He is the author of the acclaimed memoir My Father's House (Penguin Books, 1997), which has just been republished for the first time as a Kindle book; Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain (New Press 2009: Hurst & Co 2010), which was selected for the New York Times Editors' Choice in January 2011; The Infernal Machine: an Alternative History of Terrorism (Hurst & Co), published in the United States as The Infernal Machine: A History of Terrorism from the Assassination of Alexander II to al-Qaeda (New Press, 2007;and Dispatches from a Gated Continent (2012 Hurst & Co/New Press, an investigation of the treatment of refugees and undocumented migrants in Europe to be published in the UK and the US in the autumn.

His next book Sherman's Ghosts: Terror, Destruction & the American Way of War is due to be published by New Press this autumn.

In addition to frequent appearances on British, American and Canadian radio as a guest contributor, usually on terrorism-related issues, he has lectured and given seminars in a number of British universities, schools and cultural and educational institutions, including Derby, Newcastle and Nottingham universities and the Cervantes Institute in London.

He blogs regularly on politics, terrorism and counterterrorism, books, history, cinema, music and other things that interest him at: www.infernalmachine.co.uk

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Matthew Carr's "The Infernal Machine" has an approval blurb from Mike Davis on the back, and that is an accolade not lightly ignored. And for good reason: the book is an excellent and well-balanced history of terrorism, understood as a specific method (or range of methods) for political movements to achieve their goals. Carr's history ranges from the assassinations of Czarist officials in 19th-century Russia and the infamous anarchists of the fin-de-siècle to the Rote Armee Fraktion and Al-Qaeda, giving a systematic and balanced overview of the various terrorist campaigns that have gripped the attention of the world, whether briefly or during prolongued conflicts. The author's narratives of the different terrorist campaigns and the major individuals involved in them is engaging and exciting, which is all the more impressive because of the balanced approach he has towards terrorism as a method of achieving political aims. Although it has throughout the age been condemned as the height of immorality and as Satanic nihilism, and though rejected as political practice by Marx and Lenin both, Carr shows that more often than not terrorism is a method used in cases of despair, by groups that have much conviction but are politically and militarily weak. Often the figures involved are themselves hardly enthousiastic about the means used and only rely on methods of assassination and indirect warfare because of the enormous difference in strength between them and their opponent.

In this context, it is interesting to note how Carr makes a thorough comparison between the 'traditional' terrorism, actions by individuals or small groups to assassinate major figures in order to provoke repression and/or revolt, and the more common post-war method of the 'urban guerrilla'.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent needed perspective and "reality check" 28 May 2007
By L. F Sherman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Descriptions, explanations, and histories of terrorism have been "one-eyed" - lacking depth perception and without perspective to find their way. History has been written by the establishment and terror defined to exclude "state terrorism". Worse still, accounts have covered up actions that have been government provocation and extreme measures that inspired escalation of conflict. Anger, fear, labeling undermine any hope of truth and understanding. Strong simplistic answers meet emotional needs and belief is inversely proportional to facts and analysis.

The very language of reporting misleads and corrupts implying responsibility and guilt. One would not sense that Israel used every method of terror before the Palestinians did excepting suicide bombing, or that civilian deaths of Palestinians have generally been at least six times as high as Israelis. Israel was founded on successful terror and several Prime Ministers were active with the Stern Gang, Irgun, and other elements. The School for the Americas (renamed but not discontinued) has trained thousands of state terrorists in Latin America. The Contras are terrorists too. Carr at least mentions such things, albeit not greatly emphasizing them. That in itself is a great improvement over "politically correct" writing that is more common.

Terrorism is a strategy of the weak, politically driven, identity based, associated with nationalism and sometimes justified by religion. Violent suppression may reinforce a sense of moral justification. Often terrorism eventually works, discredits governments, and conflict is resolved - counter intuitively - by negotiation and compromise.

Carr briefly tells of terror in the French Revolution then Imperial Russia where, after the introduction of dynamite, the "infernal machine", the bomb, became the tool enhancing the capacity for resistance from minorities committed to a cause believed to be just. A terrorist assassination was a major immediate cause of World War I (hardly more "civilized" than terrorism?).

Cases include Ireland, Mau Mau, Basques, Red Brigades, Japan, Palestine, Israel, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Nicaragua, and others. Many examples are vaguely familiar and here become 3-D and Technicolor. Some lessons can be drawn regarding the political nature of terror, relative success as a strategy for the weak, and blowback of most efforts at suppression. But summaries of key examples rather than a `political science' analysis is the focus. The perspective and openness retelling both sides are what make the book distinctive and valuable. The greater objectivity is greater value.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terror in a Historic Context 21 Jan 2008
By J. J. Kwashnak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Many of the books to come out in the aftermath of 9/11 tried to look at the new (to Americans) phenomenon of terror attacks in the context of that attack - meaning in terms of a religious only context. Now that some time has passed, Carr brings us the movement of terrorism as a political tool. He does an excellent job providing an overview of the development of terrorism as a continuum from the late19th century Russian movement to try to violently assassinate Alexander II thus bringing down the stardom. He acknowledges that one man's terrorist can be another man's freedom fighter, especially as he wades into more populist terror activities such as in Northern Ireland, and Lebanon. In the work Carr shows the common threads that bind together all the terror movements, be they radical Marxist, Algerian or Argentinean opponents of government or the more modern religious based terrorism of Al-Qaeda or suicide bombings in Israel.

This terrorism is not examined out of context, and Carr spends a lot of time contrasting the terrorists with the responses of established governments in efforts to root out the terrorists, even to the point of adopting terrorist tactics in order to sway public opinion against the terrorists. Some readers may not agree with Carr's dim view of terrorism vs. state military action - how blowing up a civilian building by an individual is terrorist while the strategic bombing of civilian buildings by the military is acceptable. This view may rankle some but to Carr's credit he consistently applies it across the board. Some of the terrorist movements he writes about may to some point be "understandable" to the author, he does not romanticize them. In a world where even a body like the U.N. cannot agree upon a definition of terrorism, and thus cannot fully condemn it, Carr attempts to cut through the language and his definition, and by applying it to modern history shows the definition of terrorism is a moving target, albeit one with common threads. You may not agree with all that is said, but you will get a much better idea of how terrorism has come to be a force in the modern world.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The lesson is it's not terrorism we should fear, it is the excesses of counter terrorism 3 April 2007
By azphil - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Carr in this book details that citizens of a nation should have more to fear from the counter terrorism measures their governments take than the terrorism they seek to eradicate. In most of the cases mentioned in the book the military counter measures have killed a hundred, if not a thousand, times more people than the terrorist acts that created the emergency. It is a salutary lesson for us that those who would save our civilization are not only more capable of violent actions, but given their control of the military they are more lethal than the terrorists.

No one espouses that states should not confront violent elements within their realm, however in many cases the cure has been more lethal to the average citizen than the desease.

Destroying the values that make a civilization in order to save it makes for a perverse logic that actually does the terrorists work for them.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Infernal Machine - Great Start, Weak Finish. 9 Mar 2009
By Phil - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The "Infernal Machine" is a survey of terrorist activity from anti-Tsarist Russian groups in the latter part of the nineteenth century to the war with Al-Qaeda as of 2006, when the book was published. It provides an informative look at the lesser known terrorists incidents and reactions to them of a hundred years ago, as well as reminding us of the turmoil of the early Arab-Israeli conflicts and the Algerian war, continuing with the brutal guerrilla wars in Latin America, Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States in the 1960's-70's. The last part of the book concentrates on Palestinian and Islamist terrorist groups from the 1980's to the present day.
Mr. Carr draws several conclusions from the study of all of these groups that may seem startling or unusual to many readers: 1) Whether it is the Russian Tsar in the 1870's or the American President in 2001, the countries suffering terrorist attacks generally present the danger they pose as being a threat to civilization in general. 2) Since the terrorists are seeking to destroy civilization itself, they must be no less than bloodthirsty maniacs, sadistic murderers, or brainwashed individuals completely committed to a totalitarian ideology or an extremist view of religion. 3). Naturally if terrorists are portrayed as being little better than mad dogs, then it follows that nations are justified in using their military forces to track down and kill the killers, or as the saying goes, to "terrorize the terrorists" by using any and all means necessary. .
4) But these characterizations and responses by nations reacting to terrorist attacks are very one-dimensional at best, and may be downright cynical and self-serving at worst. 5) Terrorists often come from groups that have been so oppressed and mistreated for so long that they turn to violence out of desperation and as a last resort. Their murderous behavior of targeting civilians for execution shows both the seriousness with which they take their cause, and is usually the only "military" response they can offer, since they are too few or too poor to hope to meet and defeat a modern military force on the field of battle. 6) Finally, no matter how deadly the terrorist attacks are (even the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon), they pale in comparison to the sheer numbers of innocent people killed in retaliation by modern artillery and laser-guided bombs.Usually the governments responding to these attacks also clamp down on civil liberties in their own country in the name of increased security against the terrorist threat.
Now all of this is great build-up, and I could not wait to see what the author's more nuanced and realistic approach to terrorism would be. You ready? Here it is: "...societies that seriously wish to eliminate or reduce such violence need to address the wider causes and grievances that inspire it (terrorism) and accept their share of responsibility for even the most ostensibly 'evil' terrorist acts."
One of the many incidents that Mr. Carr describes in his narrative is the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise liner, The Achille Lauro, by Palestinian terrorists. During this hijacking an American tourist, wheel-chair bound 69 year old Leon Klinghoffer, was shot and dumped overboard by the terrorists. Mr. Carr's prescription, it seems, would be for us as Americans to examine the wider causes that produced such a murderous rage in the hijackers, and to own up to our part in this ostensibly 'evil' act.
Aside from such soul-searching on our part, what practical action does the author think we should take in response to such an atrocity? Your guess is as good as mine.
But if you are looking for a book that wants to make sure you understand how oppressed the terrorists are, and how you (as a member of a "Western" society) "forced them into it", so to speak, then this is definitely the book for you.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of terrorism and urban guerrilla struggle 2 Oct 2010
By M. A. Krul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Matthew Carr's "The Infernal Machine" has an approval blurb from Mike Davis on the back, and that is an accolade not lightly ignored. And for good reason: the book is an excellent and well-balanced history of terrorism, understood as a specific method (or range of methods) for political movements to achieve their goals. Carr's history ranges from the assassinations of Czarist officials in 19th-century Russia and the infamous anarchists of the fin-de-siècle to the Rote Armee Fraktion and Al-Qaeda, giving a systematic and balanced overview of the various terrorist campaigns that have gripped the attention of the world, whether briefly or during prolongued conflicts. The author's narratives of the different terrorist campaigns and the major individuals involved in them is engaging and exciting, which is all the more impressive because of the balanced approach he has towards terrorism as a method of achieving political aims. Although it has throughout the age been condemned as the height of immorality and as Satanic nihilism, and though rejected as political practice by Marx and Lenin both, Carr shows that more often than not terrorism is a method used in cases of despair, by groups that have much conviction but are politically and militarily weak. Often the figures involved are themselves hardly enthousiastic about the means used and only rely on methods of assassination and indirect warfare because of the enormous difference in strength between them and their opponent.

In this context, it is interesting to note how Carr makes a thorough comparison between the 'traditional' terrorism, actions by individuals or small groups to assassinate major figures in order to provoke repression and/or revolt, and the more common post-war method of the 'urban guerrilla'. To the latter category belong groups like the Brigate Rosse and the Rote Armee Fraktion, but also the many attempts in Latin and Central America to overthrow hated dictatorhips through insurrection in urban areas. Carr does away with much mythologizing in this respect, emphasizing that despite the reputation of such groups, urban guerrilla movements have failed utterly to achieve their political aims far more often than they have succeeded, barely getting beyond the romantic ineffectiveness of the anarchists' "propaganda of the deed". Yet that is not to say that all such movements were futile, or that the propaganda of the deed does not exist. Although the author sometimes balances on the edge of cynicism, it is still better to have fought and lost than not to have fought at all (if one may paraphrase a common saying) in many of these cases, even if the losses are horrendous - after all, unchallenged dictatorships are no less ferocious for having little effective opposition. Also, as Carr shows very well in his work, opposition in one part of the world can inspire opposition in another, with many a 'terrorist' movement having taken inspiration from another and even copied their tactics. The recently defeated LTTE in Sri Lanka, for example, had been using suicide bombings long before these became a familiar part of the Intifada in the 1990s, and the romanticism of the European left-wing urban terrorists in turn inspired 'urban guerrillas' in Latin America and vice versa.

Very wisely Matthew Carr does not neglect to study the methods and history of counter-insurgency either. He shows the hypocritical responses of repressive regimes, whether 'true' dictatorships or liberal ones like the Western governments, to the methods of terrorists which they forever decry as the deepest immorality and the vilest murder while they leave the groups they oppress little other choice through their overwhelming superiority of conventional arms. Such regular militaries kill far more people in every single conflict than terrorism and terrorist methods ever have, but because they favor the already powerful as tactic, they are not considered as criminal as the methods of insurgencies. As Carr emphasizes besides, counter-terrorism forces and the further repression by regimes from Algeria to Uzbekistan in the name of 'war on terror' have also been far more deadly than all modern terrorism combined. That is not to say that terrorism by religious fanatics or romantic fantasists is not to be taken seriously at all - as Marx pointed out after a Fenian group blew up a prison and killed many passersby, however sympathetic one can be to a particular movement, one cannot expect people to just sit still and let themselves be blown up for another's cause. But Carr underlines that we cannot allow an inanity like the 'war on terror' to frighten us into allowing our own governments endless more leeway in militarist, warlike responses at home or abroad, especially since they kill more people than terrorism does and thereby create whole generations worth of new terrorists, as proven in the case of the American support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

The only disappointments of the book are that Carr's vignettes on the individual protagonists of various urban terorrist groups sometimes veer towards character assassination rather than useful analysis of terrorism as a method; it would have been preferable had he spent more time analyzing more different types of such insurgencies using terrorist methods and building more definite conclusions about their utility rather than their morality. Also, the last chapter somewhat pointlessly indulges various conspiratorial theories about the terrorist attacks on major US targets on the 11th of September, 2001. Speculation of this sort never does anyone any good, especially since it encourages people to think in terms of individual actions and spectacular events rather than effective strategies of resistance, whether they include terrorist methods or not, as his book should be concluding with. But other than that, this is a truly accessible and engaging history of terrorism and free of either the usual over-romanticizing or the usual excessive moralizing about the subject.
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