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10.25.2006

WOTD: (G)WOT

The phrase "War on Terrorism" was first widely used by the Western press to refer to the attempts by Russian and European governments, and eventually the U.S. government, to stop attacks by anarchists against international political leaders. (See, for example, New York Times, April 2, 1881). Many of the anarchists described themselves as "terrorists", and the term had a positive valence for them at the time. When Russian Marxist Vera Zasulich shot and wounded a Russian police commander who was known to torture suspects on 24 January 1878, for example, she threw down her weapon without killing him, announcing, "I am a terrorist, not a killer."

The next time the phrase gained currency was when it was used to describe the efforts by the British colonial government to end a spate of Jewish attacks in the British Mandate of Palestine in the late 1940s. The British proclaimed a "War on Terrorism" and attempted to crack down on Irgun, Lehi, and anyone perceived to be cooperating with them. The Jewish attacks, Arab attacks and revolts, and the subsequent British crackdown hastened the British evacuation from Palestine. The phrase was also used frequently by U.S. President in the 1980s.

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