Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Lessons learned.

A few weeks ago while listening to NPR my sainted girlfriend and I heard one commentator remark that terrorism is something we're probably going to have to learn to live with. My sainted girlfriend was quite displeased by this remark, considering it overly-negative or defeatist. For my own part, I was not happy about it, but thought it probably a realistic assessment of the situation. The materials that can be used to make bombs often have peaceful applications (Everyone remembers that the Oklahoma City bombing made use of a fertilizer bomb, right?) and so there's virtually no way to fully disarm a potential terrorist group. Even if you could, I think we'd very rapidly discover that there are a number of quite unpleasant things that can be done with simple things like cars and steak knives that would serve the purpose of terror.

So, given that it seems largely impossible to prevent terrorism if someone is sufficiently motivated, it would seem that the best defense is to try and deprive potential terrorists of the motivation to terrorize you. Don't get me wrong- there will always be people with the necessary motivation- but if we can keep their numbers in check, we can probably deal with the problem. It's a little like a contagious disease- in small concentrations, you can handle it, but when the numbers start increasing, epidemic-level emergent phenomena start to become a problem.

Sadly, it seems that we have received yet another lesson in the fundamental realities of terrorism. Events in London suggest that our current crop of terrorists aren't going anywhere fast, and the so called "War on Terrorism" is not producing the results we might have asked for. I do hope the Bush administration, among others, are paying attention today. The English are old hands at dealing with terrorism, having fought a bitter campaign against the IRA for long decades. With that experience, if they cannot protect their mass transit systems, I fear our own efforts are unlikely to be successful. We could make similar assertions about the Israelis who have been waging a "war on terror" for decades without real success. Their main successes have come from US-brokered negotiations with the PLO rather than military force.

There are, I think, two lessons to be taken from these events. The first of these lessons, I suspect, will be taught to us by the English. Though we Americans often make fun of the English for their supposed stodginess (I find that funny, given that thanks to my brother-in-law I've seen what Englishmen are like when they drink) we also admire them for their courage. The English are a people who endured a horrific bombing campaign during World War II, all the time promising to do never ending battle for their freedom. Their dedicated, and often drunken, Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered what may be the defining speech for English courage:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.


A people capable of such magnificent determination will, I think, have much to teach we Americans about living with terrorism while retaining our dignity.

The second lesson is simply this: terrorism will be with us so long as there are terrorists. Terrorists, however, are not made purely by ideology, but also by economics, by legal practices, by governments. So long as there are people who feel that their only source of strength is violence, their only means to self-determination is terror, there will always be terrorism. And so, ladies and gentlemen, we learn a final lesson, this time from the great American skeptic and journalist Henry Louis Mencken. That lesson is simply this:

"If you want peace, work for justice."



UPDATE: The Total Drek European Correspondent (TDEC) slaps me around for writing this post. Go check it out! Then, if you really want to, read my response.

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