Terrorism, and Institutionalized Enslavement, in the History of the World

by Jerry Cates

The West, along with the rest of the World,  has seen its share of institutionalized terrorism and enslavement, a fact that cannot be denied. In every case, where actual terrorism, and enslavement for economic gain, has taken place, the net result was negative. This is true even if, as often was the case, certain short-term benefits could be obtained from one or the other. On careful examination, each case provides excellent proof that terrorism and enslavement are products of destructive patterns of human behavior, and never- except in their rejection-result from constructive, and therefore useful, patterns of human social development.

Social scientists believe that human societies tend to evolve along constructive lines. That direction favors humanity's long-term survival. Insofar as this is true, terrorism and the institution of slavery, though considered acceptable in the  early stages of human social evolution, grow less acceptable as society advances, and must eventually cease to exist. That inexorable process is, in fact, what the world has witnessed. And yet, although both of these aberrant mechanisms of societal development have resulted in some of the most horrible of atrocities in human history, at least one of them--institutionalized enslavement--has proved to be an unexpected source of positive good,


The American Revolution (1775-1783)

The French Revolution (1789-1799)

The Institution of Slavery in America, (1654-1865)

The Nazi Holocaust (1933-1945)

De facto Enslavement in America (1865-Present)

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The American Revolution of 1775-1783

The French Revolution of 1789-1799

The French Revolution, in important ways an outgrowth of the American Revolution, provides an excellent example of terrorism in its most heinous form. It was also an abject and absolute failure, except in two interesting particulars. First, it is said to have taught, by way of bad example, the Nazis how to conduct a "proper" holocaust. Second, again by serving as a bad example, it was used by Lenin to portray how the strength of the masses could prevail against entrenched authority. Lenin also pointed to the French Revolution as marking the beginning of capitalist domination of the world.

The common Frenchman rose up against the monarchy of Louis XVI to bring forth a new form of government, one ruled by the people. Judging from the success of popular governance then practiced by the newly liberated colonists in North America, French democracy was expected to advance the cause of human society forward. Yet, less than thirty years after the "Declaration of the Rights of Man," modeled on the American Declaration of Independence, was penned as the landmark document of the French Revolution, a new monarch, the despotic Napoleon Bonaparte, sat on the throne as King of France. Since 1793, France has scrapped 10 constitutions and enacted 11 new ones. 

Robespierre orchestrated a Reign of Terror that became the defining character of the French Revolution. This reign of terror only worsened as the revolution unfolded, causing it to collapse on itself. In the end, this collapse brought Robespierre to his death and the revolution to utter failure.

During one 47-day period, 1,376 individuals were guillotined, many of them the brightest, most promising minds of France. As Mme. Jeanne Roland de la Platiere prepared for her death at the guillotine, she uttered these last words: "O liberty! how they have played with you." 

Camille Desmoulins wrote to his wife from prison, claiming, "J'avais rêvé une république que tout le monde eût adorée. Je n'ai pu croire que les hommes fussent si féroces et si injustes." ("I had dreamed of a republic which everyone adored. I cannot believe that these people could be so wild and so unjust.") 

Bright, able men like Lafayette, being moderates in their politics, did not fare well in the French Revolution. Nor did the moderate political theories of Montesquieu, even though it was those theories that helped create the political climate wherein a successful revolution could take place.

The Institution of Slavery in America, 1654-1865

The New World, of which the American Colonies were an important part, mirrored the mores of the cultures the various colonists came from.  Within many cultures of the world, but especially those of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, Spain and Portugal (not to mention the New World cultures of many native American tribes, and of the Aztecs and Incas as well), slavery had existed as deeply ingrained and fully accepted social constructs for centuries and longer. Few, if any, of the cultures of the world have not been influenced, at one time or another, by the institution of slavery.

As a group, however, the English of the fifteenth century and forward had strong legal, religious, and cultural traditions that portrayed slavery in a negative light. It was necessary to ignore, bend, or repudiate these traditions in order for an English entrepreneur to accept slavery as a legitimate way to promote a business enterprise. Most, to their credit, were unable to do so, and as a result the American colonies, which were heavily populated by colonists from the British Isles (there were important exceptions, including the Dutch settlers of New York, and the Spanish colonists of early South Carolina, who as a group had no ), imported far fewer slaves than their counterparts in other parts of the New World.

It is believed that fewer than 500,000 slaves were imported into the American colonies and the United States over the entire period during which slave importation was permitted here. By comparison, at least 13 million slaves were imported to Central and South America, and the Caribbean over the same period.

Geographic stratification of slavery was also a factor. In the northern colonies slavery was almost unheard of, while in Virginia and in colonial settlements south of there to Florida, enslavement became more and more a part of the legal and economic framework. When the American Revolution began, less than 50,000 blacks lived in the northern colonies, while about 400,000 lived in the south.

Still, even in the southern states, slave ownership by individual whites was uncommon. Fewer than 1 in every 22 whites owned slaves. Further, American slave owners tended to take unusually good care of their slaves.

High mortality rates among slaves in central and south America, and in the Caribbean, were notorious due to horrible living conditions and inhumane treatment methods. Records show that the slave populations in these locales tended to drop so rapidly from attrition that, unless augmented with fresh imports on a regular basis, the institution of slavery could not have survived.

In the United States, by contrast, slave birthrates mirrored those of the whites. It is believed that slave life-spans, too, were comparable to those of their white masters.

This is not to say that slaves in the American colonies led charmed lives. Slavery, even here, was based on harsh, physical force, torture, exploitation of every conceivable variety, intimidation, and the threat of immediate retaliation for the slightest kind of resistance or rebellion. Punishment was meted out in forms that ran the gamut, from physical whippings and body mutilations, to the psychologically devastating act of being sold to another owner and thus separated from family and friends, often forever.

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