Friday, December 28, 2007

Assassinations in history

The Washington Post has a story on the history of political assassinations, as part of its coverage of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan yesterday. Hat tip to Ralph Luker. Here's a snippet:
The Assassination is almost universally denigrated as a "cowardly act" (as President Bush described Bhutto's killing yesterday). But the historical record shows it to be a dramatic, low-cost, highly symbolic means of communication -- and murder -- that disaffected people use to try to dramatically sway national or even international affairs.
It can work or backfire or just disappear, like a bloody drop in a bucket. Pakistan will be unstable in the coming days, as it has been in the past and will be again. Who can say if Bhutto's slaying is the pinball that leads to destruction, the painful agent of positive change, or just a killing, like most, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing more than murderous nihilism?
The descent into regional conflagration could have been triggered "by 'shock and awe' in Iraq, or the assassination of [prime minister Rafik] Hariri in Lebanon in 2005, or Israel's battles with Hezbollah," says Mustafa Aksakal, assistant professor of history at American University, who is writing a book about the Ottoman Empire's descent into World War I. "But the region has so far been able to absorb these shocks. It's just impossible to say what will be the straw that breaks the camel's back."
"Anyone who thinks they can predict the consequences of a political assassination is a damn fool," says Eric Rauchway, author of "Murdering McKinley: The Making of Teddy Roosevelt's America" and a history professor at the University of California, Davis. "All it provides is an opportunity. However, the opportunity it provides is often not one the assassin intended."
This has been true from the Ides of March forward.
The rest is here.