Prior to the establishment of standing armies, groups of people armed themselves for their own protection, and essentially this is the origin of the many paramilitary organizations that have existed since ancient times.
Prior to the establishment of standing armies, groups of people armed themselves for their own protection, and essentially this is the origin of the many paramilitary organizations that have existed since ancient times. These groups had commanders and “officers” who held military ranks, and they were armed, but the difference between them and armies was that central authorities did not control the paramilitary organizations and they operated on a basis similar to that of some militias today. During the late twentieth century, the term “paramilitary group” tended to be used for armed groupings, which come together for a political purpose, often armed illegally. However, there are many instances in which the division between paramilitary groups, militias, and other armed groups are blurred.
Throughout history, paramilitary groups have played a major role in determining political control of particular parts of countries, and they have been prominent in local affairs. They have been especially important in
In the ancient world, militias and local armies effectively controlled towns. However, with the emergence of large empires, localities continued to have means to protect themselves from local banditry or sudden incursions from their neighbors by raising small forces. Owing to the scanty nature of information from much of the ancient world, there is academic debate over the exact nature of some of the military forces that operated and whether or not they had a degree of central control. An example is the army of
The lack of central authority in the medieval world resulted in the formation of local militia groups and essentially in the paramilitary groups as they exist in the modern world. This occurred in parts of Germany, along the eastern borders of Europe, and for periods in France. In England, the
The European voyages of discovery led to the establishment of large colonial empires and powerful chartered companies such as the
In the cases of
The best-known paramilitary forces have operated in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In Germany after World War I, there were problems with law and order. The result was that certain groups were formed, the most famous being the
During World War II, the Germans sponsored many paramilitary groups who fought alongside them in parts of Russia, the Balkans, and other parts of Europe. Some of these groups, especially in the Baltic, in Poland, and in the Ukraine, became heavily associated with the atrocities against Jews and other people there. While many of the groups fought alongside the German forces, and quite clearly had the support of them, sometimes their exact nature is still debated by historians. Mention should also be made of the
In Ireland, there were also paramilitary groups formed along religious and political lines. The
In many cases there are also instances when secretive paramilitary forces have been used to work alongside the official military but in roles from which the military have shrunk. These include militia groups in Indonesia involved in “the Killings” in 1965 and the destruction of
Many paramilitary groups have emerged in Africa. Some have been made up of colonists opposed to independence, such as the Algerian supporters of the 1960
Caballero Jurado, Carlos. The German Freikorps, 1918-23. New York: Osprey, 2001. This work covers the organizations formed by returning World War I veterans, who feared a communist revolution in postwar Germany. Flackes, W. D. Northern Ireland: A Political Directory. London: Ariel Books, 1983. Contains a listing of the makeshift organizations that have come and gone throughout the Troubles. Katz, Samuel M., and Lee E. Russell. Armies in Lebanon, 1982-84. New York: Osprey, 1985. Details the history and organization of the various terrorist groups in Lebanon during their time of highest activity. Norton, Augustus Richard. Hezbollah: A Short History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007. In addition to providing information on how the organization developed, the book looks at the various military, nonmilitary, and charitable parts of the larger group. Thomas, Nigel. Partisan Warfare, 1941-45. New York: Osprey, 1983. Profiles the various paramilitary groups, such as the French Resistance, that played such an important role during the invasion of Europe during World War II. Windrow, Martin. The Algerian War, 1954-62. New York: Osprey, 1997. Looks at the various groups that fought against French colonialism, eventually succeeding in driving the Europeans out.
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