Terrorism: September 23, 2001


: Calculating Terror- A quip made by terrorists to the government pursuing them sums up the anti-terrorism situation quite well, "we can make many mistakes, you only have to make one." Meaning that the terrorists can fail many times, but the government anti-terrorism actions need fail only once to produce a spectacular act of terrorism. Terrorists also know that governments usually lack the resolve to come after them in a big way. Going after terrorists means arresting and disturbing a lot of people as you seek to smoke out the bad guys hiding amongst a generally innocent population. In the case of Islamic terrorists, attacks against the West, the feeling is that retaliation will probably aid the terrorists cause by hurting or disturbing innocent Moslems and increasing the enthusiasm for the terrorist's cause. It is, in the end, a matter of will and resolve. 

Islamic terrorists like Bin Laden and is ilk believe that "too much ain't enough." Being on a mission from God, and seeing several decades of failed anti-terrorism measures, why not try anything? If American responds with massive force and many innocent Moslems die, all the better. In effect, Bin Laden feels he can't lose. But can Bin Laden really expect to win? Bin Laden's principal goals are the elimination of corrupt governments in Islamic nations and replacing them with religious leaders. These leaders of Moslem nations feel a particular vulnerability, for American military or anti-terrorism action in their nations could trigger large scale civil unrest and civil war. Will the leaders of these Moslem nations continue to tolerate the presence of terrorists? The terrorists depend on a lot of people doing what's in their immediate best interests. So far this has worked. 

But the United States is also faced with a unique situation. Never before have so many Americans been killed in one attack. With nearly 5,000 Americans dead or missing (and presumed dead), this exceeds the highest previous death tolls of Americans. For example, the entire American Revolution (April 19, 1775-Oct. 18, 1781) left only: 4,435 Americans dead from enemy action. The 1941 Pearl Harbor killed only 2,388. The D-Day (June 6, 1944) killed only 4,900 Americans. The five week campaign for Iwo Jima in 1945) killed only 6,503. The four month Tet Offensive in1968 killed only 7,040. Some 60 other nations lost over 2,000 people on September 11th. Some nations lost hundreds of their citizens, and they are unhappy. The September 11 attacks were not just an increase in terrorist activity, but an enormous change. Over the last five years, only 13 Americans a year were killed by terrorist activity. From 1995-2000, only 15 acts of international terrorism occurred in the United States, compared to nearly 500 attacks a year for the entire world. Americans thought they were relatively safe from international terrorism. No more. But will this unique situation provide the popular will to sustain a "War on Terrorism?" That's hard to say, for Americans have never been known for sustained enthusiasm for a war effort. In the four "long wars" America has been in (American Civil War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam), enthusiasm fell big time after about three years. The War on Terrorism will last a lot longer than that, and already the "it's America's fault" stories are beginning to appear. Without a constant stream of war stories, as with the earlier four wars, it may not be possible to keep enthusiasm for a war often fought in the shadows and killing innocent (or somewhat innocent) civilians. It will be more of a propaganda war than any in the past.

But terrorists have been rooted out in the past, but before the creation of mass media. That makes a difference, where there are polling services taking almost daily votes on whatever is done. The terrorists are not democrats, but they do depend on numbers, large numbers, of followers to support their cause. The democratic Western nations are on a shorter leash. A few weeks of poor polling for anti-terror activities and the war would be over, at least until the next spectacular terror attack.

Predictions of the outcome of this war are very speculative, for there are few comparisons to past events (and those are shaky). Be ready for a long ride, in a dark tunnel, with an unknown destination somewhere out there.


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