Saturday, February 09, 2008

Problems with the premises

I was reading in Reason why Steve Chapman believes we should not worry about a potential nuclear strike from a terrorist organizations. In brief, it's really hard either to acquire or to build a nuclear device, and then delivery of said device is even harder. Okay, I grant all that. But there are several premises in this little op-ed that I can't get behind.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have had to live with the knowledge that the next time the terrorists strike, it could be not with airplanes capable of killing thousands but atomic bombs capable of killing hundreds of thousands.

What I glean from this paragraph is that we shouldn't worry about those airplanes any more. Hmm. Secondary is the implication (followed on in the next para) that American policy since 9/11 has been shaped predominantly by fear. It seems that the strawman of choice for a common variety of person-who-disagrees-with-me-and-my-ilk is the terrified right-winger, crouched in his walk-in closet with a roll of duct tape at the ready. But you don't (for instance) get your brakes checked because you live in terror that they'll fail and kill you; you don't even install an alarm system out of fear (television ads for alarm systems notwithstanding), except in a kind of abstract sense that it would be bad if your house were broken into with you and your sleeping children in it.

My husband's childhood home was, in fact, broken into with his single mom asleep therein; he, returning from a high school date, happened to drive around the block, passing his house (in which he saw a light on and a man inside and wondered why his mother was entertaining so late), because a favorite song was on the radio. When he finally pulled into the driveway and went inside, all lights were off, to his surprise, and his mom was fast asleep. The back door was ajar, though, and they later found Mom's purse out on the lawn. So if anyone would have had cause to fear such an event, it should've been this family. Yet Mom still lives in that house, and she sleeps soundly. She has an alarm system - no sense in ignoring reality - but she doesn't bite her nails wondering when the next intruder will defeat it and gain entry.

Prevention of the preventable has been the focus of American policy. Has it been effective? Well:

But remember: After Sept. 11, 2001, we all thought more attacks were a certainty. Yet Al Qaeda and its ideological kin have proved unable to mount a second strike.

So it would appear that for all its myriad faults, Homeland Security's efforts haven't been in vain. In fact, it's the victim of its own success, since we're now supposed to assume that since no attack has been successful, we should disable the alarm.

Moving on:

If terrorists were able to steal a Pakistani bomb...

I think I'll just let that stand, Pakistan being a nominal ally and all. And then:

Stealing some 100 pounds of bomb fuel would require help from rogue individuals inside some government who are prepared to jeopardize their own lives.

Which hundreds of terrorists have demonstrated their willingness to do. Could such a person reach high levels in some nuclear-enabled government? Are we prepared to claim that no such person ever could?

He does end with, "None of this means we should stop trying to minimize the risk by securing nuclear stockpiles, monitoring terrorist communications and improving port screening." Unfortunately, he follows that sentence with this one:

But it offers good reason to think that in this war, it appears, the worst eventuality is one that will never happen[,]

...which is the final premise with which I take issue. A nuclear strike by a terrorist organizations is not, in my opinion, the "worst eventuality." It might be the worst single casualty event, in the (I agree here) very unlikely case that it could be brought about, but it's hardly the worst thing. WWII: was the "worst eventuality" for Britons the possibility that Hitler could level London? He gave it a darn effective try - but no, the worst eventuality was that Britain could be defeated overall and that Germany could take over Britain. For Japan, was the worst eventuality that the Allies could drop A-bombs on two of their cities? It was horrible, it was unthinkably horrible for Japan - but what about the million Japanese casualties and the widespread destruction of infrastructure projected if the Allies had invaded Japan instead? And, for the Japanese at the time, what about the prospect of an Allied occupation following that invasion?

The "preventable" that American policy to date continues to try to prevent is not a terrorist strike per se. It's something much worse, but something that "multicultural awareness" dictates we can't talk about very clearly: it's Islamist aggression, whether by violence or by relentless use of our liberality against us, resulting in a loss of what makes liberal pluralist democracies the amazing force for good that they are. So (as always) I call for today's immigrants to follow the lead of yesterday's, including my own people, and embrace this place, not differentiate themselves from it. And furthermore, I call for those of us who have been here a while to continue to ask this level of assimilation from our newcomers, not facilitate their differentiation with patronizing observations about their Otherness.


Gahrie said...

I note with great sadness the Archbishop of canterbury's recent remarks about Sharia law in the United Kingdom.

Jamie said...

Oh yes... I was going to hit that subject (I'm Episcopalian now, heaven help me), but I haven't gotten around to it.