Explainer: What is ‘fifth column’?

Khabarhub

July 1, 2019

4 MIN READ

Explainer: What is ‘fifth column’?
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Fifth column is a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders. A group of people who support the enemies of the country they live in and secretly help them form a fifth column. In other words, a fifth column is a group of saboteurs or spies working within a country for the enemies of that country. A fifth column does not operate in open and is a clandestine group.

Why the name fifth column? The term fifth column is derived from a boast made by General Emilio Mola during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War (from 1936 to 1939) was fought between ‘republicans’ (believed in left ideologies in alliance with the Anarchists and Communists) and ‘nationalists’ (who were monarchists and religiously devout Catholics led by military leaders). Nationalists were anti-communist, anti-democratic and anti-liberal.

General Francisco Franco led the nationalists to victory in early 1939 and ruled Spain until Franco’s death in November 1975. General Mola was a Nationalist, and told reporters during the Spanish Civil War that not only were his four columns of troops marching on Madrid, but that a fifth column of his supporters were in place inside the city already sabotaging the Republican government. The term fifth column came to mean a clandestine group working within a country in order to sabotage that country. Since then onwards the term fifth column came to be used in military, political and diplomatic sense all over the world.

The fifth column is dominantly used as military strategy by a country while fighting a battle or war against a region or another country. A technique involved in the creation of fifth column is the infiltration of sympathizers into the entire fabric of the nation under attack and, particularly, into positions of policy decision and national defense.

From such key posts, fifth-column activists exploit the fears of a people by spreading rumors and misinformation, as well as by employing the more standard techniques of espionage and sabotage finally to defeat the regime or establishment or a country. A fifth column is not a large group and need not to be a large group.

In fact, a fifth column is any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favor of an enemy group or nation. The activities of a fifth column can be overt or clandestine. Forces created in secret can come out in open to assist an external attack. This term is also used to refer to organized actions by military personnel. Clandestine (or secret) fifth column activities can involve acts of sabotage, disinformation, or espionage executed within defense lines by secret sympathizers with an external force.

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