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The Cost of the One Free Shot Rule
On the eleventh day of September every year videos of large aircraft disappearing into New York’s City’s Twin Towers, followed shortly by images of their slow-motion collapse, bring about a reaction that may best be described as hypnotic. It’s a difficult scene to turn away from regardless of how many times you’ve seen it.
Our lives changed that day. The “enhanced” security, and the general policy of rampant paranoia that followed, still holds us in its grip. Governments have used this tragedy to become less transparent while demanding that we, as individuals, become more transparent – physically so at large airports – and if we take issue with this foray into our intimate lives we are deemed either selfish, simple minded or, perhaps, sympathetic to the bad guys. A dangerous label to carry.
It appears, at times, elements in government are abusing the situation for their own reasons. This was exemplified when the intelligence agencies were caught monitoring mass communications, as well as that of select foreign leaders whose private conversations are supposed to be off limits. Details about this invasion of our privacy were scarce and direct questions to government received vague replies. What we were told was individual conversations weren’t listened to, but they can’t confirm this because opening government methods to scrutiny could jeopardize our safety. We are simply told to trust them, and this becomes a difficult pill to swallow. The fact is, all governments are prone to varying amounts of corruption, and history, even recent history, has shown that the abuse of power tends to flourish when hidden from the watchful eyes of the public.
Challenging governments on their security actions is almost a waste of time. If it wasn’t for insider leaks and whistleblowers we would know nothing. The less information a government provides the less chance they can be criticized. Therefore, what they provide is often non-committal, full of redacted statements, and closed to questioning. Occasionally, with great fanfare, they do release a statement informing us of all the attacks they have prevented, but we can’t independently verify their claims? All we can do is hope they are being truthful.
There is some justification for secrecy. Governments do have a tough job protecting against terror attacks because, as any military expert will readily admit, defenders are always one step behind attackers. To put it more succinctly, an aggressor always has the potential for one free shot. After terrorists fly planes into tall buildings we make changes so it’s difficult to do again. When a van loaded with home-made explosives is parked in front of a public building, then explodes killing hundreds of people, new policies and training are put into effect to combat more of the same – but it’s already been successful.
Intelligent terrorists learn that the best way to cower the enemy into confusion is to use a new method of attack each time, creating extra layers of paranoia. Defenders naturally respond to what they have experienced and not necessarily to every new attack the terrorists are capable of dreaming up, (shoe bombs and underwear bombs, for instance). The reality of modern terrorism is that it takes hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of times more effort to defend against terrorism, than to perpetrate it. Ultimately, you are trying to defend against every attack “imaginable”.
Terrorists have also learned that simply by causing an extreme level of activity within the “enemies” borders they gain ground in their battle. You can see it in their propaganda. As a small group taking on a great western power they will always be able to portray themselves to the public as the underdog and, thus, expectations are low while achieving small but well publicized victories is relatively easy. All they need do is shoot up, blow up, or execute, a group of people not in sympathy with their cause, anywhere in the world, and it will make page one headlines. This imbalance causes incredible frustration within defence forces, sometimes leading to abuses that embarrass the government, (Abu Ghraib prison, water boarding, Marines urinating on enemy bodies), and these abuses further strengthen the terrorist position.
The two wars created by the attack on the Twin Towers, in Iraq and Afghanistan, are long over, although neither was won. Abandonment of these wars was the result of both political fatigue and an overdue acknowledgement of how useless it is to try and bully, or bribe, a radically different culture into accepting significant social and political change. In both places it was beneficial to throw out the brutal and morally corrupt governments. Unfortunately, on balance, for the thousands of lives lost and the trillions of dollars spent trying to bring about structural change, there is precious little evidence anything positive remains – and even less evidence that a level of gratitude, or good will, exists toward those countries that stepped forward to help.
For all of the patriotic hoopla and warriors for democracy speeches, fighting terrorism on the ground in a foreign country has proven a bust. The mere fact that you come from a different land with a totally foreign culture – aspects of which you are trying to impose on them – makes you an invader. The brave soldiers who died in the attempt did so for the right reasons, and still deserve to be honored for their sacrifice, but it becomes difficult to understand how in that vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge called government, nobody could predict such an obviously poor result.
So, how should terrorists be dealt with? If the model the U.S. has more recently developed can be taken as the reigning example, (one learned after many years of sacrificing their young people in battle and financial resources in support), it’s more efficient to put your efforts into determining, through intelligence gathering, who are the brains and the leadership behind the terrorist organization – and to fly an unmanned drone to their location and blow them to bits, (I wonder if Tom Clancy gets royalties from this). If they miss, the drones are relatively cheap and another chance will sooner or later arise. In the meantime, terrorist leaders are now, themselves, being terrorized by the constant threat of bolts from the sky – and perhaps there is justice in that.
The weakness is, this technique becomes effective only with substantial, well-organized, terrorist groups – ones capable of being studied. Not all are. We live in a world where many thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of individuals are willing to die for a cause. Combine a few of these disaffected souls into a terrorist cell and expose them to recipes for explosives, or deadly poisons, and the damage they are capable of is far out of proportion to their numbers. In this present day technological advances place more and more destructive power in fewer and fewer hands. Indeed, bombs no bigger than a backpack have been tested which are capable of wiping out the downtown core of virtually any city on Earth, and leaving it a moonscape for generations. The mere existence of such potential ensures the future of continued anti-terrorist activities.
Our governments continually seek to discourage those who promote terrorism and, hopefully, intercept those who perpetrate it, but bitter and angry people will always be with us. It’s a disease for which no cure has been found, and whether we call the more extreme proponents terrorists, mass-murderers or, simply, fanatical psychopaths, their goal is to rid the world of “us”. The questions each of "us" must ask are: How great a threat are they really, and what are we willing to sacrifice to stop them? So far, we have been leaving these questions up to governments and they have been working out on the extreme edge, fearful of being blamed if something gets by.
As individuals at risk of terrorist attacks, we are left exposed not just to terrorism but to the possible corruption imbedded in those extra powers we give governments to fight it. Although there is little we can do as individuals, one action we can take is to exercise our opportunity, and perhaps even our obligation, to live our lives boldly and confidently – setting clear and transparent lifestyle goals and working to achieve them. Only by displaying the value and joy in living with freedom, and its privileges, can we encourage the rest of the world to copy us. Only by giving those who live with fear and hate a positive example – one potentially open to them – will we bring about real change. Terrorism arises from people who live ugly lives. They have to be shown a better alternative exists, and if they make the right choices it could be available to them. Inherent in this action is the need to maintain or even enhance our present freedoms. Unfortunately, this is not the direction we are moving in. I guess this means the bad guys are winning.
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Just a Picture
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