John Merriman lectures on history of modern terrorism

From left to right: Jessie Kauffman, Ph.D, assistant professor of history at EMU and John Merriman, Ph.D, professor of history at Yale University.

John Merriman, Ph.D., professor of history at Yale University and author, lectured on the origins of modern terrorism and discussed the relationship between anarchists, terrorism and European states on Thursday, Sept. 22 in the Halle Library auditorium.

Merriman discussed two significant early terrorists in his book “The Dynamite Club: How a Café Bombing Ignited the Age Of Modern Terrorism” and lectured to 65 attendees.

Emile Henry was a French anarchist known for detonating a bomb at the Café Terminus in Gare Saint Lazare which killed one person and wounded 20 people.

Henry was seen as an intellectual, or well-educated, and according to Merriman a lot of terrorists come from a similar background. Henry's father left his middle class family when he was 16. He was later killed when the French state recaptured Paris after Parisians took control and decided to run it as a Paris commune. Henry and his mother lived in a poor area of France. He wanted revenge on the wealthy and bourgeois people when he watched the poor suffer from lack of food and resources.

In Feb. 1894 he went to a café and bought two beers and a cigar. Henry lit the fuse of a bomb hidden under his coat with the cigar and threw it at a chandelier, causing it to fall and kill one person while wounding many others. Merriman said that Henry’s attack is the origin of modern terrorism because he killed random people instead of heads of state, czars, and public officials like other terrorists of the past.

The way that modern terrorists choose their targets and strategies was inspired by this attack. Merriman also compared the attack to the recent bombings by Ahmad Rahami, who is federally charged with putting bombs in New York and Seaside Park, N.J.

The other terrorist mentioned in Merriman's book is Victor Serge. Serge was a revolutionary Russian writer who wrote many novels, books and poems and became an anarchist while working as a printer. He met a group known as Illegalists and adopted their views. Illegalists believed that if a person kills the wealthy or steals their money, they did not commit a crime because “property is theft”.

Although Serge rejected violence he started participating in the Bonnot Gang, a French anarchist Illegalist group that committed robberies and car theft. They stole from a money transfer at Societe Generale Bank in Chantilly in 1911, murdered a wealthy man and his wife, shot policemen and escaped in stolen cars afterwards.

Vincenzo Ialacci, freshman majoring in accounting, loved learning about the origins of modern terrorism strategies.

“The information was very interesting, I was surprised on the part about the bomb and the café, how something that happened in the 1800s can be similar to something today,” he said. “It’s a way to learn about diverse cultures. It’s important to learn about how different people feel on certain topics that you may not have known about.”


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