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Location: Virginia, United States

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Thoughts on London - July 9th


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Yesterday London was struck by four timed bombs. American hearts go out to our brethren across the Lake. Meanwhile, as investigators work to learn more about the attacks, we can at least make a few initial observations.

The attacks were allegedly staged by al-Qaeda – they’ve publicly taken credit for them anyway. The explosions were closely timed and definitely share this characteristic with the 9-11 attacks. If al-Qaeda is responsible, then Coalition forces have been given a clear message that the group is still alive and well. And, regardless of whether al-Qaeda is responsible, we still see that the War on Terror is far from over. Perhaps this will silence the demands for a quick withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. In any case, it gives us sufficient cause to step back and examine the war’s progress thus far.

For the time being, though, we face an interesting problem. How should we respond to this latest dose of terrorism? Here in the US, we’ve seen somewhat tighter security on the metro. More police are patrolling the metro stations, and we’re also seeing a lot of German shepherds sniffing around. Still, are these measures enough? Quite frankly, I don’t think the steps so far have made us any safer. It still wouldn’t be very difficult for a terrorist to hop on the metro, plant a bomb and slip away without anyone noticing. This being said, are even greater security measures justified? I’m not sure that would be in our best interest right now.

After all, a terrorist is in business not so much to kill or wound as to spread fear. The odds of being a direct victim of terrorism are still far smaller than the odds of being injured in a car accident, but a terrorist doesn’t want us to think about that. Ultimately, terrorists have an agenda. Their political or religious aims are achieved by convincing the individual that he or she could be the next victim. If enough people are driven to a state of panic, they can be coaxed into yielding to the terrorists’ demands. Thus, we are very much engaged in a psychological battle. Is there a danger of being killed by a suicide bomber on the metro? Yes. But there are many other more feasible dangers we face every day without thinking twice. For example we could be caught up in an armed robbery, run over by a drunk driver, or involved in some kind of natural disaster at almost any time. It’s simply a fact of life that there are many unpredictable events over which we have no control. Thus, we need to realize exactly what the terrorists are trying to do - they want to get inside our heads.

In my opinion, the increased security measures taken so far can help us win the mental battle. Even if they don’t actually deter or thwart terrorist activity, they are beneficial, because they give the civilian populace a greater sense of security. However, if we take even greater steps in security – like metal detectors – which would theoretically make our subways and buses safer, we might actually be catering to the terrorists. A security measure of this type would be very impractical in terms of cost in time and money. While it might make our public transportation safer, it would significantly reduce the number of people utilizing our facilities. This would be perceived as a victory for the terrorists. They will have succeeded in disrupting our day-to-day activities. I believe this would be further motivation for terrorism, insofar as it sends the message that the savage targeting of innocents yields results.

To wrap things up, I believe we should commend Londoners for their “stoicism,” as Prime Minister Blair has put it. A day after the attacks people were back in the subways and on the buses. Maintaining this phlegmatic mindset is essential to the defeat of terrorism. Londoners have realized that terrorists will succeed only if we let them. The rest of us should follow suit.

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