Table of contents

The Unit I.11-13

On the connection between terrorism & democracy

One day, the unit faces the problem of a bomb set up in a skyscraper. This is American soil: Jurisdictional problems abound. But all becomes marvelously clear when radiation is detected. The prospect of a city wiped out, nuclear war happening without the damned Soviets doing it, focuses the minds even of the most faithful civilian bureaucrats. Bombs explode whatever the government regulations say; or the public opinion polls for that matter.

The relationship between the threat of death & obedience is not simple, however. Those obey who were already inclined to obey, only changing who they are obeying. Others, lacking the ability or the inclination, do not obey. The banker wants to pay the terrorists; they take his money before they kill him. Some bomb experts eventually decide to try their hand at disarming the bomb. Regulations for extraordinary situations are very indifferent substitutes for prophesy; they blind judgment.

The unit works in a simple manner: They look at the bomb; its likely makers; the time-limit on guessing; & what can be done to mitigate failure. They are clear about finding some way to evacuate the building & the city. The suggestion that you could stop nuclear bombs from exploding is childish, like the hope that it will never happen in America. But there is no way to avoid terror in such a case, so measures have to be taken to appease the population. Deception is necessary, so counter-terrorism measures become permanent, despite the inability to stop hijackers.

Special forces trained for operations behind enemy lines are at least as capable of operating in the homeland. But the circumstances change: One suddenly realized how defenseless democracy is, lacking for military virtues & the kind of suspicion that distinguishes the habitual from the exotic. Scientific data collection is a very indifferent substitute for political knowledge.

A commercial republic cannot possibly defend its borders; ports are especially attractive for all forms of organized crime. Modern professional armies & special forces are part of this preference for the good at the price of the just, so to speak. The consequence is that politics as such tends to disappear. The persistence of political life depends actually on the irrepressible unpredictability of terror. All crises remind people that perfection is never an option.

But terror threats are exceptional. Most people have little or nothing to cause worry. Mostly, they therefore ignore war, or hate it. They are otherwise nearly hysterical. This kind of way of life requires that war be rare & not a great bother. This encourages great wars, because small wars cannot be fought for decisive victories. This leads to large permanent military deployments worldwide, to manage the balance of power.