Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is Anyone Afraid of the Atomic Bomb?

It was really frightening. The prospect thrown before us of destruction. Whole cities blown away in a rush of hypersonic wind. Darkness falling over the land. Radioactive fallout causing grotesque skin lesions. Death all round. Childhood in the 1950's. President Kennedy announcing that ballistic missiles were in Cuba. Blockading, and waiting for the collision of nations. We grew up with a very realistic and fearful image of the destructive power now in the hands of man. We were afraid.

I wonder if anyone is afraid now? A certain fatalistic nihilism has taken away our overt dread and our children play games simulating all sorts of destruction. But it is just a game. The line between reality and fantasy is transparent jello. The Nintendo has helped us escape into a universe of virtual denial. Is this a good thing? Do our children know what real war is? Predators fly on the borders of Pakistan seeking out enemies, controlled by former video game players in darkened rooms in Virginia. Do we conceptualize at all the meaning of mutual assured destruction. Did the Atomic specter walk behind a veil and disappear? Perched at the precipice of extinction, as we have been since the first bomb fell on Hiroshima, we plunge into the next video game and count our points.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Stopping Terrorists

The critics are out in force. On Christmas day Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab made it on a plane bound for Detroit with explosives sewn into his underwear. It appears his Al Qaeda training occurred in Yemen. What do we do now? Invade Yemen? Many of these critics have decried those who want to treat terrorists like criminals and hunt them down. Many of these critics say we have to stop being “politically correct” and profile those who are most likely to be terrorists, namely young Muslim men.

My question is this: how do you stop a terrorist from crossing our border or flying on a plane by putting 50 ton tanks and hundreds of thousands of American soldiers halfway around the world? The answer always is that this country or that is the “training ground” for terrorists. Haven’t we found, however that the training ground can be anywhere – Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, and even our country and Europe. The concept of deploying massive force is not adding to our security. In fact it is weakening and bankrupting us.

We need human intelligence to find and selectively destroy these “training grounds” Could we have rooted out organized crime by occupying a few large American cities with armed forces at tremendous cost? Probably not. We are just as unlikely to do it with a policy of attacking and occupying nations half a world away. How about the calls to “realistically” profile travelers? If we treat all American Muslims as presumptive enemy combatants we can be sure that will drive a number of them to the enemy. Should we give more intrusive examination to Muslims on international flights than to others? Richard Reed was British, and Jose Padilla is a Brooklyn born Hispanic. Wouldn’t “realistic non politically correct” profiling just blind us to the next terrorist in our zeal to investigate the “likely” terrorists?

It seems to me that viewing terrorists as organized criminals makes a lot more sense than treating them as enemies who can be trampled by massive military force. You can send an Elephant to trample the ants, but the ants will just scatter, and your house will be crushed. It costs a lot to feed the Elephant too. Perhaps something more selective and effective should be tried.