Davis takes it back to a 1920 attack by an Italian American anarchist, Mario Buda, and traces the evolution of the weapon through the Mafia, the pieds noirs of Algeria, Israel's Stern Gang and Palestinian reciprocity, the CIA in Vietnam during French colonial days, the Hezbollah in the 1980s, and on down to today. TomDispatch - Tomgram: Mike Davis on the History of the Car Bomb Very cheap and effective as a destructive weapon, disastrous politically because it alienates its employers' base, argues Davis: viz., Spain's ETA and Northern Ireland's IRA. But sometimes a political movement isn't interested in mobilizing its civilian supporters, just in sowing terror.
What's missing (maybe Davis will give it in his Part II, to be posted next week, he says) is analysis of the kinds of situations that encourage use of this weapon. As a first guess, I'd say they are those where there seems to be nothing to gain by more peaceful, democratic political means. Because when there is some hope of gaining power by democratic means, then the leaders are going to be very cautious about using a weapon that makes potential supporters fear for their lives. If I'm right, then the best (probably the only) way to eliminate (or even reduce) terror is to guarantee dissidents that democratic chance, whether we're talking about Sunnis in Iraq or Shiites in Lebanon or Maoists in Nepal. Not an easy thing to do, but I can think of no better alternative.