J. Bowyer Bell

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Person.png J. Bowyer Bell   Amazon PowerbaseRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(historian, artist)
J. Bowyer Bell.png
Born15 November 1931
New York
Died23 August 2003 (Age 71)
New York
Alma materWashington and Lee University, Duke University
Children4 daughters
Spouse • Charlotte Rockey
• Nora Browne
Member ofCouncil on Foreign Relations/Historical Members
Interests • “terrorism”
US terrorism expert, painter and and art critic

John Bowyer Bell' was a conflict historian, painter and art critic.

What could be more appropriate for a specialist in espionage, deception and "deep cover" than to have himself two separate lives? For, if in the New York art world J. Bowyer Bell was a respected veteran painter and prolific critic, any encounter was accompanied by a whispered aside, "Did you know he's a leading expert on terrorism?"[1]

Background and early life

Bell was born into an Episcopalian family in 1931 in New York City.[2] The family later moved to Alabama, from where Bell attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, majoring in history.[3] He also studied art, and discovered he had "total visual memory"–the equivalent of perfect pitch in a singer.[3] His first solo art showing was in the college library in his senior year.[4] He considered becoming a professional artist and made frequent visits to New York to visit other artists, including his hero Franz Kline, but committed to academia.[3][4] Bell graduated in 1953, and began studying the Spanish Civil War at Duke University in North Carolina.[4] Bell interrupted his studies at Duke after being awarded a Fulbright, and travelled to Italy to study at the University of Rome.[3] Bell travelled Europe interviewing veterans of the Spanish Civil War, and in Rome he mixed with writers and artists including Cy Twombly.[3] After returning to America, Bell completed his doctorate at Duke in 1958.[2]


From an obituary in the Independent:

Bell had decided to "write [his] way back into academia" and from his first books in the 1960s, Besieged (1966) and The Long War: Israel and the Arabs since 1946 (1969), he kept up a steady stream of publication. Perhaps his most famous work, The Secret Army: the IRA 1916-1970 (1970), came from his fortuitous discovery of Ireland, a summer holiday that turned into a lifelong passion, and his realisation that nobody had written a detailed, objective history of this organisation. When Bell was working on the book many hero figures of the earlier IRA were still available for interview and he became closely involved with a range of activists. The book was published, with good timing, in 1970 and has been in print ever since (the latest edition appearing as The IRA, 1968-2000: analysis of a secret army in 2000), making Bell a leading spokesman on the subject.
In 1996 Bell met with the "Continuity Army Council of the IRA" at a secret rural location and his encounter made headlines in Ireland and abroad... Bell visited Ireland every year and liked to jest that he had been studying the IRA for more years than most volunteers had been members. Since 1979 he also held annual exhibitions of his painting at the Taylor Gallery in Dublin. After the death of his first wife, he married Nora Browne from Kerry, whom he first met making his 1972 documentary on the IRA, The Secret Army. He became something of a celebrity in Ireland, being a key speaker in 1994 at the West Belfast Festival, and his books were held in reverence, not least by harder-line Republican elements. In the words of the Sinn Fein Vice-President Des Long, "He was the first historian to link the modern IRA with the Republican struggle from 1916."
But Bell was also an expert on the Italian Mafia and its many links with international terrorism and published extensively on the Middle East. For these works Bell travelled and researched ceaselessly, becoming accustomed to being kidnapped in Yemen, held hostage in Jordan, booted out of Kenya and shot at in Lebanon... With typical good timing Bell's last book, Murders on the Nile: the World Trade Center and global terror, published this year, had been started in 2000 with a grant from MIT and was finished just in time for the WTC attack, making its analysis of historic fundamentalism notably topical. As well as more than 20 books Bell published countless essays and articles. These bear such intriguing titles as "The Thompson Submachine Gun In Ireland, 1921" published in The Irish Sword in 1967, the periodicals of publication ranging from the Journal of Small Wars and Insurgencies and Studies in Conflict & Terrorism to the Terrorism, Violence and Insurgency Report. His seminal work on the "Dragonworld" of covert communications appeared in the International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence. In 1974 he even wrote a key work on the war in Cyprus along with the "Insight Team" of the Sunday Times.
Bell held a dazzling range of positions and posts, his most consistent employers being the Council on Foreign Relations and Columbia University, where he was Research Associate in the Institute of War and Peace Studies. Meanwhile, having already received more than seven Guggenheim Fellowships for research (and declined a Rockefeller Humanities Award), he won a Pollock-Krasner Fellowship for his paintings. These exhibitions such as "Zion Works" took place regularly in Manhattan galleries such as Kim Foster and Janos Gat as well as art centres in Hungary and Ireland.[5]


  • J. Bowyer Bell Murders on the Nile, The World Trade Center and Global Terror, published by Encounter Books. Blurb: 'In Murders on the Nile, the World Trade Center and Global Terror, J. Bowyer Bell takes us back to the cradle of Islamic discontent, showing how Islamic terror arose along the banks of the Nile a century ago amidst the grievances of an Egypt held in bondage by foreign imperialists and local despots. Two generations of clerics, sheiks and imams, became obsessed with the luminous appeal of the absolute. And the most zealous of these lethal idealists found in righteous murder—a holy war—a proper means to shape an ideal Islamic society free from the contaminating influence of Westernization.'[6]

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  1. Adrian Dannatt 'J. Bowyer Bell Artist/critic cum writer on terrorism' The Independent, Published: 26 September 2003
  2. a b ttps://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1444118/John-Bowyer-Bell.html
  3. a b c d e https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/j-bowyer-bell-37174.html
  4. a b c https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/j-bowyer-bell-zd3nvh8w8zv
  5. Adrian Dannatt 'J. Bowyer Bell Artist/critic cum writer on terrorism' The Independent, Published: 26 September 2003
  6. Encounter Books, Murders on the Nile, The World Trade Center and Global Terror
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