May 4 - May 10, 1995


Faction Reaction

By Jeff Smith

OKAY, STUDENTS, TO briefly review: Last week we discussed the subject of terrorism and how it works. We agreed that terrorism is by definition scary, random and unexpected; essentially evil and insane; and, given determination on the part of the terrorist, almost impossible to prevent.

Terrorism makes you appreciate how well-off you are when you've just got the usual problems like the Red Menace and the threat of World War III to worry about. Global war is comparatively gentlemanly, with opposite sides having the good sportsmanship to wear uniforms so they can tell each other apart. They even have rules for war, sort of like football.

Terrorism has no rules. The idea is to do the nastiest thing you can imagine, in order to frighten and disgust your adversary, to maximum effect. The whole point is to make your point and the desired objective is to terrorize your adversary so as to get him to change his behavior.

Probably the worst thing you could do to a terrorist is to ignore him.

That will never happen, so let's move along to the next worst thing, which is to catch him, convict him and lock him away in some deep, dark hole where he has nobody to make stirring political statements to but himself.

Even this second line of defense is an unlikely outcome, because politicians and police of target states inevitably want their pound of flesh, their time on stage and their maximum opportunity to act decisive and powerful. So they make a great show of punishing terrorists to the maximum, which only serves the interests of terrorism. It reminds the target population of its recent loss, great fright, and gives the terrorist a podium for his deranged political rhetoric. He gets to be a martyr, especially if he's executed, and the population or sub-culture whence he and his lunatic approach to political action sprung is simply reinforced in its preconceived notions about the target state.

Terrorism is wonderfully effective, due in large part to its innate perversity.

But where it works its worst destruction is in the pattern of overreaction that tends to follow terrorist acts. The target state, while making all manner of bluff assertions that We're not scared of you crazy bastards, and You're not going to stampede US into staying in bed and pulling the covers over our heads, goes into siege mode and tells its various police and security apparati to treble their efforts to round up the usual suspects, roust out the undesirables, and keep a sharp eye on anybody who looks like he might fit into either of the first two categories.

So all your typical, law-abiding, God-fearing, tax-paying citizens breathe a sigh of relief, while your atypical, civil-disobedient, atheistic protesters spend their time looking over their shoulders to find Big Brother spying on them, and proving repeatedly--at great expense in time and legal fees--that they aren't doing anything illegal as they exercise their rights under the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

So the free exercise of personal rights is chilled while not a damn thing is accomplished by way of preventing terrorism, because terrorists are generally invisible until they strike. Foreign terrorists can get all their prep work done back home and out of sight, and just come in saying they want to visit Disneyland; and domestic terrorists go around disguised as bowling league members or Knapp Comfort-Tread Shoe salesmen or whatever.

What worries me most about the current reaction to the terrorism visited upon Oklahoma City is the hypocritical and hollow assertions of public figures all across the political spectrum that we are not knuckling under to terrorism. This comes in the same breath as their various pledges to pass anti-terrorist legislation, to give the FBI a freer reign in spying on people and groups who fit certain government-designed terrorist profiles, to strengthen efforts at keeping weaponry out of the hands of private citizens...and, of course, to point out the cynical opportunism of their political or ideological opponents.

For all the pious claims of rising above petty politics in this hour of national mourning--promoted even by the news media telling us Senator Dole or President Clinton both are acting "presidential" through the crisis, oh, and by the way, their approval ratings in the polls are up 12 points--everybody is making hay out in Oklahoma. I suppose I should applaud worthy sentiments, even if they do have a political subtext, but damn, the hidden agendas are so poorly disguised.

And here I go myownself, carping about those who disagree with me. But I'm not going to call them any names and I'm not going to insinuate that they're commies or tories or bullies or sissies. I'm going to quote my man Rodney:

"Can't we all get along?"

I am sick to death--and I've said this before--of partisanship that puts party ahead of public, of politicians who are Republicans or Democrats first, and then Americans more like third or fourth. After party affiliation comes some modifier like conservative or moderate or the currently fashionable "fiscal conservative/social moderate." After designating what sort of Republicanism or Democratism one serves, we tend to get into how thoroughly washed we are in the blood of the lamb, and then a nod to economic stratum, and finally, if enough energy remains to give a shit, we acknowledge our nationality.

Now I'm not advocating jingoism or xenophobia, but I do think it worthwhile, if we are to live together as a nation, to work together as a nation. Cooperatively, compassionately. Hell, jovially. Much as I do enjoy giving some deserving subject a good, workmanlike cussing-out, I'd damn-sight rather do it in good humor than bad.

Why don't we concentrate more on the 95 percent of opinions and outcomes we agree upon, than the few where we differ?

Why don't we do more listening and less yelling? And as a corollary, when was the last time you learned anything from a gang of loudmouths who share your every opinion? And as a converse, you have a better chance of getting your eyes opened to cool new stuff by listening to people with different outlooks and experiences than your own.

What ever happened to the idea of the "loyal" opposition? President Clinton is right in saying the mean-spiritedness of much that passes for public debate today reflects all of the freedom of free speech, with very little of the responsibility that comes with it. I am not convinced Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy and many of the tub-thumping champions of talk-radio really have the best interests of the nation as their first priority.

I think they're interested in ratings, in personal power and ego-gratification, and in certain narrow, personal agendas. To a lesser extent, President Clinton is more partisan and less "presidential" than I'd like, but I'll take him at his word and agree that responsible practitioners of the First Amendment should elevate their discourse, and encourage their public forums of debate, to a higher plane of pursuit of the commonweal.

One of you ditto-heads look it up and explain it to Rush.

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May 4 - May 10, 1995

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