So London got hit. A while ago I wrote a little memoir of what happened when Manchester got blown up by the IRA, it’s here. It’s not very good, but it was heartfelt at the time.

Our perception of this bomb’s a little different; it’s been a while since we’ve been got. The last major Provisional IRA bomb was Omagh, and the last one on the mainland was, ooh, Birmingham? Liverpool? Canary Wharf? Actually, it was Manchester back in 1996. It’s been so long, we’ve forgotten that Blitz mentality of the 1980s, when there’d be a report every week about a terrorist capture and we were completely inured to the bombing. The IRA have held their ceasefire since early 1997.

Is there any way to stop terrorist bombing? Well, we could change the structure of society. We’re all wired up now, we’ve few manual workers or plants of any scale so we don’t strictly speaking need to be in one location; we could all retreat to well-connected country villages, and never move except for necessity, holidays and the like. Let weeds grow over the motorways, and when we move jobs, stay in our location and just change our tasks.

1) It’ll be even harder to police; terrorists could descend on a village, wipe it out and move on before the police get there. Solution: Accept this as acceptable losses; we’ll capture the villains soon, especially if everyone’s so dispersed over the country.
2) Food needs transporting. Large utilities like power and water will still be easy targets (though easy to defend as they are now.)
3) This a form of giving into the terrorist. Perhaps a better system would be a literal sectioning of the cities into separate blocks with large, well-monitored thoroughfares – but then these links become targets.

The only conclusion we can draw is that any area we can protect becomes a target because of the impression of safety. Moreover, suicide bombers don’t have to worry about threats to their security so any security in any area becomes redundant.

The big point is, though, that assaults at this frequency and intensity are entirely sustainable. Al Quaeda have killed, what, 3,500 people tops over the years – despite the yearly horror, that’s copeable with. That’s the sort of casualties the British generals lost in a few hours of the first day of the Battle of the Somme – spread over four years. If our leaders of a hundred years ago were willing to throw that many of their own people against an enemy’s guns (on the basis of economic fears) in an hour, why should we worry about an equivalent impact over four years? Mad Iain seems to agree:

The media coverage is totally disproportionate to the severity of the attacks – it’s 9/11 coverage for 0.0009/0.0011 events. There were bombings in Northern Ireland with casualty counts bigger than this. If there’s anything the conflict in Northern Ireland tells us, it’s that there’s no point living in fear. You *could* get wiped out by a terrorist bomb at any time. Then again, you *could* get debrained by a meteorite in your back garden. The odds of either event happening are so extremely remote, they’re not worth peering fearfully through the curtains about. That doesn’t make either event happening any less tragic, but you can be blotted out of existence by nature at any time, so worrying about everything that *could* happen to you would be so paralysing you’d never get out of bed.

Moreover, as soon as Al Quaeda put themselves on the terrorism map, they started getting watched – After four years of chasing, I wouldn’t be surprised if the U.S. has a very good idea where a large proportion of the organisation is, but they’re waiting for a way to get at the leaders. The problem won’t stop when they’re caught, but the casualty rate will be kept acceptable.

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  1. Iain

    Please, I’m not mad anymore. Just mildly irasible. ;-)I’ve been having an interesting discussion about this on NTSC-UK, and it bears repeating that the chaos yesterday was perpetrated by less than 10 people, in all probability. You shouldn’t oppress the freedom of millions of people on the account of the actions of a few nutbars. Also, you can’t waltz into places like Iraq ostensibly to promote democracy and freedom when you’re getting rid of those rights at home. You can’t protect against random events, or even against non-random events when the operating cells are so small – so why even try? Give people *more* freedom to do what they want, even if it’s to blow the living shit out of your fellow man. I think it’s an acceptable risk and price to pay for not living in a world where your every move is watched, audited and assessed for threat.


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