When viewing events through the lens of time, perspective is everything. Where you sit and who you are have an unshakeable bearing on how you see wars and battles of the past. Several stories in this issue play with perspective to unveil new ways of thinking about military events and concepts, beginning on page 34, where historian Mark Grimsley makes the startling assertion that the American civil rights movement was an insurgency. Can a nonviolent movement be considered an insurgency? Until now the answer as no, because a rigid definition, largely created by American military analysts grappling to understand the phenomenon, confined the concept’s application to armed insurrections, generally by people they would consider bad guys. But from the perspective of a scholar casting back 40 years and trying to make sense of a modern world torn asunder by insurgencies, Grimsley makes a compelling case for the movement’s inclusion in a more nuanced and value-neutral definition of the term. Why should we care? Because in this new light, the civil rights movement can be closely examined for lessons on how better to deal with today’s insurgencies, whether the armed kind in Somalia or Afghanistan, or peaceful movements such as that of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
Are some acts of terror more acceptable than others? It is a freighted question that Jefferson Gray tackles with great finesse in “Holy Terror,” the tale of a highly trained strike force, the Order of Assassins, that used political assassination to defend a Muslim sect’s tiny empire in Persia in the 1100s. Our cover story leaves little doubt that some of their acts were despicable; state-sponsored murder can rarely be condoned. But again, it depends on your point of view. Exercised by the Assassin’s creator, Hasan-I Sabbah, pinpointed murder, or as important, the threat of murder, both protected his religious order and staved off far more deadly and widespread conflicts. We have become all too familiar with one alternative: jihad-driven, high-body-count suicide terrorism.
We invite you to gaze through several more lenses: at how the Battle of Waterloo has been perceived through the ages; at an inventor who believed his machine gun would greatly diminish the lethality of modern conflict; and more literally through the unblinking eyes of the Vietnam War’s best photographer, Larry Burrows.
A final note: With this issue we are discontinuing our beloved hardcover edition for subscribers. Instead, we’ll publish an additional eight pages of great features and art—exclusively for subscribers. We view it as the rare case where less really is more.