Terrorism's indispensable allies
Joe Sobran – July 7, 2005
Once again, horror and nonsense, an incongruous combination we might be inured to by now if it were possible to get used to horror. The London bombings were the horror; the usual nonsense was immediately served up by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The perpetrators will be "brought to justice," et cetera. Fat chance, even assuming they are still alive. What would "justice" be for such crimes, and what would it achieve? The two rulers also reaffirmed Western determination, et cetera. Isn't that what we've already shown in Iraq? Has the war, with all the additional measures taken at home, deterred terrorism? Or has it just inspired more determination on the other side?
We can't really know. Maybe the answer is both: maybe some acts of terrorism have been prevented and discouraged, but others have merely been provoked. But the response of Bush and Blair implies a sweeping certainty nobody can have. When there is a lull in terrorism, it shows that the war is succeeding; when it erupts again, that shows the need to continue the war. What would it take to convince these men that their policy is failing?
Karl Rove, "Bush's brain," recently said that the liberal response to the 9/11 attacks was not to wage war, but to offer "therapy." That was too silly to be really slanderous (it was less poisonous than Bill Clinton's blaming the Oklahoma City bombings on right-wing talk radio), but it illustrates the administration's penchant for loose talk. Anything but tough talk, however vacuous, is wimpy.
Tough talk may be great for Republican fundraising, but whether it scares fanatics is another matter. Be that as it may, four years of tough talk, two unfinished wars against ill-defined enemies, and the toppling and capture of Saddam Hussein seem to have left us about where we started. The rhetoric of Bush and Blair leaves a frustrating sense of monotony and of their inability to adapt their approach to meet reality.
The original reason given for war with Iraq was that Saddam posed a threat to the West, even an imminent threat. Blair warned his country that Saddam might be able to deliver his fearsome weapons to England within 45 minutes. That propaganda, exposed as empty, has had to be abandoned, but the murderous policy it sold the public goes on anyway. We are still being "protected" against a threat that never was.
What about terrorism? Its purpose, obviously, is to terrorize. The London bombings this week killed fewer than 50 people out of five million in the city, a horror, yes, but a militarily insignificant number. During World War II German bombers killed more than that daily – yet never came close to conquering the Sceptered Isle.
Hitler's purpose too was to terrorize, in the hope of inducing the British to yield. Winston Churchill retorted that the British would fight on the beaches and in the streets rather than surrender; but a German invasion was never feasible. Both sides were bluffing.
How, then, are a few terrorists going to conquer England now? How could they win, and just what would they win if they won? Would they install their own prime minister in place of Blair? And how would they conquer a much bigger country across the Atlantic?
Terrorism isn't a threat; it's an unnerving nuisance. Most of the panic it causes is due to news media coverage, rather than to the material human harm it does. In our time it's easy to mistake a dreadful local incident for a general threat – or even an attack on civilization itself, as Blair, playing Churchill, calls the latest bombings.
We should never think about terrorism without considering the role played by media amplification. "You give me the pictures, and I'll give you the war," the publisher William Randolph Hearst is supposed to have said. That was even before the coming of radio. Today he might have said, "You give me the runaway bride, and I'll give you a worldwide sensation."
Terrorism, in order to have full effect, requires three elements: terrorists, politicians, and electronic media. We need to think of it in conjunction with its indispensable allies. What if they gave a bombing, and nobody covered it?
Last updated 11/07/2005