Q: Tell me about your book, Assassination: A History of Political Murder.
My book looks at seven different assassinations starting with Caesar and ending with JFK.
Q: As terrorism, it is the most extreme form, or the most effective, isn’t it?
Well, I don’t know. After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Disraeli said: ‘Assassination has never changed the history of the world.’ It’s like an essay question – discuss. Cicero said about Caesar: ‘The tyrant has gone but the tyranny remains.’ The question is – is one person that much of a linchpin? Will the regime crumble? How often in history has the assassin produced the result he was looking for?
Q: Doesn’t it depend on whether or not the regime is a cult of personality?
I think it depends on the aims of the assassin. Are they going for complete regime change or, like some terrorists, is it an attempt to grab attention? That’s what we all go back and forth about – I mean, if the purpose is to make people fearful then it works. In ancient times, if Caesar is the state and you remove him then you have a different state.
But then, with the development of dynamite and the rise of anarchism in the 19th century, it is possible to kill on a larger scale and at a remove. The assassin is no longer caught with the dagger in his hand, like Ravaillac, for example, who knew in killing the king he would be immediately apprehended. Instead of targeting an individual as a symbol of the state, more abstract symbols can be targeted: the stock exchange, a bank, or a café with a particular clientele. Whether the enterprise can be judged ‘successful’ depends on the perpetrator’s aims.
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