How afraid should we be?

John Robb, author of Brave New War, appears to take issue with my injunction to stop being afraid of our own shadows when it comes to attack by terrorism:

Unlike a year ago, any attack on US commercial areas (retail, transportation, etc.) will have outsized network effects. Here’s why. Due to a global economic collapse and excessive indebtedness, Americans have cut back on purchases to repair household balance sheets (this is a long running secular shift). This has put most retail facing firms on the edge of bankruptcy. Any attack on commercial crowds over a large geographic area would radically reduce already depressed revenues at these firms (and drive costs for security through the roof), as people stay away from crowds until they feel safe again.

If John is correct, and I’m not saying that he’s wrong, then we are doomed.  When any attack that inflicts a few hundred casualties can bring our country down, then it’s just a matter of time until somebody does it.

Our only hope is for Americans  to recognize this danger get ready now to deal with itwhen it happens.  Fortunately, there are a lot of people doing disaster prep, and I’ll leave the technical details to them.  However, there is one point that might be overlooked that must not be.  And that is, we cannot let ourselves be frightened into doing the terrorists’ job for them

What this means is that the physical damage they can do will likely be small — remember the 3,000/month we lose to traffic accidents.  So as John suggests, the real danger comes from network effects that exploit the increased fragility of our national economy.  In Brave New World, he outlines some actions we can take today.

Here’s another must-do item that I hope we’re thinking about:  While 9/11 took many in our government by surprise, we can’t afford hours of paralysis this time.  Our national, state, and local leaders must lead, even if it means some danger to themselves. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, it’s the least they can do, and probably the most important.

And we need to stay as close to normal as possible — no shutdown of the airlines, no F-15s boring holes in the sky, no draconian security measures at shopping malls and office buildings.

This is going to take some preparation; otherwise military leaders and local officials will err on the side of caution, and the sum of their efforts will be as John suggests.  I suspect that President Obama’s instincts will guide him to exercise strong leadership, even though he may have to overrule his well-meaning security staff on occasion.

So one question to ask every candidate for every office in the land is:  If there is an incident, a really bad incident, are you prepared to live in your home, go to work, go shopping, travel, go to church, and so on, with no more security than the incumbent has right now?  Be sure and record their responses.

If the other side is prepared to die for their cause, while we’re afraid even to go on with our lives, then as Martin van Creveld has often pointed out, they’re going to win.

Comments are welcome; please observe our comment policy.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed in Uncategorized | 9 responses so far

9 Responses to “How afraid should we be?”

  1. weson 22 Apr 2009 at 6:05 pm 1

    This reminds me of something my “virtual mentor” Steven Dutch said, that if there ever was a real 9/11 conspiracy, it was the lack of discussion over one of the root causes: the pervasiveness of risk aversion in American culture. Why else would the SOP for airline hijackings be cooperation? The overwhelming passiveness of our institutions requires bold citizens, everywhere, for real “security”.

    It’s true that we shouldn’t cow to terrorism by excessive changes, but that doesn’t excuse the rampant utter obliviousness most people maintain in their daily lives. Here’s an answer by him to the common complaint that, “they don’t tell us what to look for”:

    “Terrorists by definition use surprise and concealment. A predictable terrorist is no threat. So it is impossible to give a simple list of what to look for.

    So here it is. You notice everything. You identify every potential threat, everywhere, all the time, and have a plan to deal with it if something happens. Always. You no longer have a right to go through life in a fog on cruise control. You never really did, but the penalties before now were not severe – your career was lackluster, your achievements were nil, other people picked up the slack because you underachieved, they paid the bills when your negligence got you in trouble, but there were no really bad consequences. Now your inattention might get you killed. So you spend all your time, 24/7/365, observing and thinking. Gerbils eat, sleep and reproduce, and go through life without thinking. If you want to live that way, don’t complain about other people “dehumanizing” you. You did it yourself.”

    [CR: Wes — thanks. Interesting take.

    Mr. Dutch wrote: You notice everything. You identify every potential threat, everywhere, all the time, and have a plan to deal with it if something happens. Always.

    This is probably reasonable advice — for a trained intelligence operative who knows what to look for. Otherwise we’re going to be deluged by citizens like that lady on a flight to California who was (and probably still is) sure that a band going to play at a wedding was actually a terrorist cell awaiting an opportune moment to seize the airplane and do something nefarious.

    For what it’s worth, I seem to be hearing the lines from one of Stephen Stills’ better known songs … ]

  2. Maxon 24 Apr 2009 at 10:39 am 2

    “everywhere, all the time”

    Be mighty carefull what you wish for,
    since you’ll probably get it.

    As if things are not currently bad enough.


  3. Gregon 25 Apr 2009 at 6:26 pm 3

    Our media presents a terrorist act as a fate that is worse than death. The media excites so much fear into our people, 24/7, that the general population overreacts, withdraws, and simply watches Fox, CNN, MSNBC…. This is a weakness in our culture and terrorists know it. Look at the timing of the second plane at the WTC with cameras running or the many filmed beheadings. Every event is so overly scrutinized in the US media that terrorists or anyone who wants to can effectively do something that makes our population withdraw. Whatever happened to “give me liberty or give me death”? After the July 7th bombings in London, I recall an interview with a gentlemen who said that the next day he was going to ride the “tubes” to work. He said that if he didn’t, he would be surrendering to the terrorists. I hope that our population realizes this and solidifies our national character enough to withstand a minor blow with a major amount of media coverage.

    As Foghorn says, “Luckily, I keep my feathers numbered…”

  4. Maxon 26 Apr 2009 at 8:31 am 4

    “the general population overreacts”

    “land of the free, home of the BRAVE.”

    “Cartoon devices spur antiterror sweeps”

    “Enraged city and state officials readied a legal assault against those responsible for a guerrilla marketing campaign that dotted the city with battery-powered light screens, setting off fears of terrorism and shutting down major roadways and subway lines for parts of the day. (Boston Globe, 2/1/07)”

    ” For residents, fear, confusion, and outrage ”

  5. cynicalon 26 Apr 2009 at 9:42 pm 5

    Gerbils eat, sleep and reproduce, and go through life without thinking. If you want to live that way, don’t complain about other people “dehumanizing” you. You did it yourself.”

    With all due respect, wes’s analysis misses something major: most people are mediocre.

    Most people are mediocre. The majority is not amazingly talented or untalented. Smaller amounts of people are either very smart/energetic, or very stupid/lazy. Homo Sapiens will always be this way, and anyone who refuses to accept that most people aren’t that intelligent, nor that observant, is going to waste a lot of time being disappointed in the real people they interact with. It is not reasonable to expect most people to be observant 24/7. You could certainly make them more observant than they were before. As Max pointed out, even this could have counterproductive side effects.

    [CR: Maybe Lake Woebegon was special.]

  6. Maxon 27 Apr 2009 at 7:04 pm 6

    I have no idea what this thread is about, or what
    any of you are saying.

    Moreover, you use too many big words.


    “we’re all gonna die”*

    *Sonny Landham

  7. Maxon 27 Apr 2009 at 7:15 pm 7

    No comment .

    Other than, perfect timing.

    And your honor, let this underscore that the difference
    between situational awareness, and acute paranioa
    is a fine one,.

    I rest my case.


    2 hrs 22 mins ago

    WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House apologized Monday after one of Barack Obama’s presidential planes flew alarmingly low over New York city, sending residents into a panic and triggering fears of a new 9/11.

    “While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption,” said Louis Caldera, director of the White House military office.

  8. Grimgrinon 16 May 2009 at 3:17 pm 8

    The US could do alot worse things to prepare for a terrorist attack than to have a million of these printed in blue with the appropriate logo at the top.

    [CR: Hear! Hear!]

  9. xgenwaron 04 Jun 2009 at 8:28 pm 9

    I’m quite confused, so let me present the following questions:

    1) Who is “we” and who is “they” in this article? And I’m not referring to front groups here, I’m interested in understanding the source of the activity perpetrated by the group labelled “they”.

    2) In other material I’ve read from Lind, it is quite clear that he understands that it is the International Elite who seek this Brave New World (BNW):

    “The globalist future decreed by the internationalist elites, a one-world superstate where life is reduced to an administered satisfying of “wants.”

    So, if it is the elites who seek a one-world superstate, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that it is the elites who seek the destruction of the various discrete states. So then, why would a rouge terrorist group, presumably who oppose the international elites, attack the state if it is the elite’s who seek to abolish the state? Are we to assume that both groups, the international elites and the terrorists, seek to abolish the state? This does not make sense to me?

    3) Lastly, was it really the public who caused the economic downturn post 9/11? Airlines were shut down, the media was busy shaping perceptions, driving the terror imagery into the minds of the public incessantly. When we look back, what was the real source of the economic decline in the short term and the long term? As far as long term, it was Greenspan et al who chose to run the printing press at full steam, leading to many of the economic problems that we now face. So, when I read this analysis by Lind & Robb, I’m confused over the real source of the economic decline – government, media and/or public? Depending on which way one leans I think will impact how they analyze potential future scenarios. Thoughts?