The War on Error
The failed truck-bomb attack in Times Square has brought a predictable wave of media hyperbole and fear-mongering about how the “War on Terror” has shifted into a deadly new phase. Next will probably come the kneejerk application of entirely new security measures to prevent this kind of thing from Ever Happening Again. Really? Part of this panic dance is fueled by the overheated rhetoric of government officials. Last night on the news, I heard the chief of staff of the National Security Council state in a TV interview that the suspect had “tried to kill thousands of Americans.” Thousands, plural. No kidding? Has any bombing of this nature, even when well-executed with far more powerful explosives in equally crowded places, ever killed as many as one thousand people? I don’t think so. Most of this kind of thing happens in densely populated areas of the world that we Americans conveniently can’t pronounce. Far more fearsome and successful terror attacks — such as the Bali night club bombing, the Khobar Towers attacks (way bigger bomb) or the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subways, or countless more serious car-bombings in the Mideast — have had death tolls in the scores or the hundreds. Likewise with previous truck-bomb attacks on our own soil: The Oklahoma City federal courthouse bombing in 1995 and the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
So what is really so new or unexpected or game-changing about this dud of a bomb, then? My biggest question is “Why hasn’t it happened long before now?” It’s so simple and predictable. Some wacko is always going to be able to go into a Home Depot or a Cumberland Farms convenience store and buy gas-grill propane tanks and some duct tape and then go someplace else to get a few M-80s firecrackers and some fertilizer. This story would have probably been a two- or three-day wonder if the dud bomb had been discovered and disarmed in downtown Des Moines instead of New York. But now because that has actually happened in the media capital of the world, we have to wring our hands and redesign the way we live to keep it from happening again. Are we going to outlaw gas grills and duct tape? Are we going to install security checkpoints at the entrances and exits of Home Depot stores? That’s been the pattern of our response to every new twist in this stupid, ill-conceived, poorly-framed and endless fight: We focus on symptoms and effects rather than root causes. Today no parking outside the bag-claim area. Tomorrow no shoes. The next day no liquids. And now what?
How about this idea for fighting terror: Stop Being Scared. For now, just live your lives and let the cops do their jobs. That’s what we should have done after 9/11 instead of invading and occupying two countries. And maybe one day soon, when we finally figure out how to get out of those countries and stop bombing people in their homelands, they’ll stop wanting to bomb us in ours.