State terrorism

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State terrorism is a form of terrorism specifically used (officially or otherwise) by a standing government against its own people or others, in order to terrorize them into submission. This is distinct from state-sponsored terrorism, in that state-sponsored terrorism still depends upon non-governmental groups to carry it out, even while it is supported (usually secretly) by a state.

The concept of state terrorism was first identified by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in the late 1970s. It remains a very controversial idea in international relations, as the definition of terrorism usually involves it being committed by non-governmental actors. "State terrorism" is hard to distinguish, then, from regular military or law enforcement activity in any repressive regime.

Opponents of the concept argue that "terrorism" does not apply to governments, and that actions which are deemed state terrorism, such as targeting civilians in wartime, falls under the definition of war crimes or human rights violations instead, with including them diluting the term. Proponents, on the other hand, argue that it is hypocritical to simply exclude government actions that otherwise qualify.

There is no one internationally accepted definition of terrorism. Many legal definitions of terrorism, such as in US law, apply it only to non-state actors. However, the origin of the word was derived from the Reign of Terror in France from 1793-94, during which the revolutionary Jacobin regime killed and imprisoned thousands of their real or perceived opponents, with the explicit purpose of terrorizing all "counter-revolutionaries" into surrender. This was called "terrorism" by critics in Britain, and Jacobin revolutionaries were labeled "terrorists".

Events which have been viewed as state terrorism include the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Allied bombing of Dresden and the firebombing of Tokyo, Nazi bombings of London and Guernica,[note 1] anti-communist CIA operations in Vietnam, the Nanking MassacreWikipedia and Unit 731 by Imperial Japan, as well as acts of totalitarian states such as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy,[note 2] the Soviet Union, China, the Khmer Rouge, and other dictatorships. Israeli operations in Qibya on October 15th, 1953 left 66 dead, mostly women/children, and Sabra/Shakili in Lebanon, September 16th, 1982 killed as many as 3000, mostly women/children.[1][2] Israel has been accused of state terrorism, including by the Obama Administration,[3] the Jordanian parliament,[4] and the president of Bolivia.[5]


  1. Which, out of the four, is distinguished by the stated aim of the attack — a bridge — being more or less the only thing left standing after the attack.
  2. Especially their conduct in the war with Ethiopia.