Hey, guys -- I'm starting to think we overreacted to the terrorism thing.
It hit me last year as I was standing in the naked airport scanner again, listening to the faint gasps and then applause from the monitoring booth, and realized that I wouldn't put up with that hassle to ward off the threat of, say, lightning. You know, like if scientists had figured out that you could reduce the already miniscule chance of being struck by merely standing outside and showing God your dick.
Anyway, that made me look back at the lessons we've learned in the 12 years since the 9/11 attacks, and I've got to say, it's not encouraging. For instance, we found out that ...
#6. Terrorism Totally Works!
In other words, for every dollar the bad guys spent, we lost 10 million. And that's not even counting the money lost due to the economic slump that followed. That, friends, is one hell of a return on an investment. Also: The 9/11 attacks killed 2,996 people. The response has killed 224,475 and displaced another 7.8 million refugees.
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Or to put it another way, the equivalent of every single living human in the entire city of New York.
Terrorism works. Now more than ever. That's right: I'm David Wong, and I'm here to endorse the effectiveness of terrorism. Buy my book.
And however effective terrorism might have been in the past, holy fuck does it work in the era of mass communication -- the World Trade Center attacks didn't happen once, they happened millions of times, as the news replayed the terrible orange/black blooms of impact over, and over, and over, and over. Amplifying the trauma, reverberating through the culture until every nerve was rubbed raw, creating what would come to be called the "Post-9/11 World." The sheer existence of that as an everyday term says it all:
Keep in mind, a tsunami killed a quarter-million people in 2004, and another one killed 16,000 people in 2011, but neither caused us to refer to a "post-tsunami world." Only terrorism can utterly dominate our thinking that way.
And as a result, a bad guy can now make the whole world stop dead in its goddamned tracks with nothing more than a device built with about a hundred bucks' worth of shit he got at Walmart. If you pick up a gun and shoot six people at your office over a change in dress code, you'll be gone from the front page of CNN by the next day. But build a crude bomb and kill three people in the name of jihad while cameras are rolling? You'll cause an entire city to go on lockdown, utterly dominate the consciousness of a nation for months, and create scenes like this:
That's a video clip of camouflaged men with machine guns going house by house in a Boston neighborhood after the marathon bombing. Some of you watching that immediately thought, "Wait, the Army was just barging into people's houses during the manhunt?"
"OK, soldiers, listen up! We need a 14-foot moat around the perimeter!"
Haha, don't be ridiculous. The military doesn't do that in America, think about how weird that would be. No, those are police officers.
Now imagine being pulled over by this guy for speeding.
See? Says right on the back. That's what the police look like now. Because this is a Post-9/11 World.
Soon after that event, in which a couple of kids made bombs out of black powder and pressure cookers, a random guy in New York Googled "pressure cooker bomb," as you'd expect in the aftermath of a huge news story about pressure cooker bombs. He was surprised to see the cops immediately show up at his house. It turns out his employers were monitoring his searches and called the police. And that, too, is part of our life now, because you can never be too careful in a Post-9/11 World, when absolutely everything we do and think revolves around avoiding terrorism, 24 hours a day.
And it didn't take long for people looking to take advantage to realize ...
#5. Apparently Anything Can Be Called "Terrorism"
Let's be clear: I was absolutely, completely for the "War on Terror" in 2001. It seemed like the clearest-cut conflict in world history: the modern, democratic world versus primitive fundamentalist savages who thought they could rewind the clock on civilization by a thousand years if they blew up enough innocent children. My liberal friends who recoiled at the idea of a war on terror or asked things like "But how do we know when it's over?" seemed to be either terrifyingly oblivious or outright evil. "You're supposed to be progressive, but you're standing up for murderous medieval theocrats who consider women to be cattle? Grow some balls!"
Then, a weird thing happened. While 9/11 was fresh in our minds, on TV they started showing a PSA saying that anyone who bought or sold marijuana was also a terrorist:
Well ... OK. So the idea is that drug money funds terrorist groups indirectly? Sounds kind of shaky, but hey, you can never be too careful in a Post-9/11 World!
Then, several years later, when some Muslims wanted to build a new community center in New York, that was called an act of terrorism. Then I was told that a Middle Eastern news network was a terrorist organization. Then I heard a politician refer to labor unions as terrorists. Then we had the 2008 economic collapse, and that was called "economic terrorism." When Republicans in Congress demanded budget cuts, that was terrorism, too. The political stalemate over those cuts? Terrorism! The mass "Occupy" protests that were held in response? More terrorism, according to the FBI. A guy leaking secret government documents to the press? Terrorism, motherfucker!
Hey, it's a Post-9/11 World -- we can't take the risk of not calling something terrorism, goddamnit, or else people might not pay attention to it. In the last few years I've heard either pundits or politicians stick the "terrorist" label on pro-abortion-rights protesters, Republicans in Congress, WikiLeaks, Monsanto, Walmart, drug dealers, a teenager posting rap lyrics on Facebook, and people who are mean to you. So after 12 years, we've settled on a very clear definition of terrorism, which is "anyone doing something that is harmful in some capacity."
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"Hey! What did I tell you kids about doing terrorism inside the house?!"
And here's the thing: Half of you reading this are saying, "Sure, it's silly to call drug dealers terrorists, but have you read about the evil shit Monsanto does to poor farmers? They really are terrorists!" Exactly! Because we're too busy deciding which bad people we want to call terrorists, we never stop to consider whether or not it's become a meaningless label. After all, we can't just stop using the label against the people we hate, otherwise they might use it against us.
Meanwhile, we kind of lost track of the fact that the thing we were originally calling terrorism -- extremists blowing the shit out of large numbers of innocent people -- had kind of stopped happening. Because as it turned out ...
#4. It's Actually Really Hard to Pull Off a Large-Scale Terror Attack
If on September 12, 2001, you had predicted that we'd make it to 2013 with no further large-scale terror attacks, I'd have said you had your goddamned head in the sand. "Don't you know we're in the middle of an epic clash of civilizations, and either radical Islam or Western civilization itself will be wiped from the Earth forever? This shit is going to end in a mushroom cloud, bitch!"
After all, the only thing between a terrorist and a massive body count is the will to do it -- and 9/11 proved they have the will. Put some C4 in a backpack, go to a concert, boom -- 500 dead. Pack a car full of fertilizer, drive it into the lobby of an office building -- bang, 5,000 bodies in a collapsed building. This was the new reality, I thought -- the USA had become Palestine. Bombings would be weekly news, soldiers would stand at the entrance of the Mall of America with M4 rifles.
No one would make fun of mall security ever again.
Instead, it's been just small-scale, bullshit attempts, usually by fucktards more likely to blow themselves to bits before they even leave the safe house. Their primary source for bomb-making materials is undercover ATF agents.
Right now some of you are saying, "Uh, I hate to break the news to you, asshole, but you just admitted that the nation was brought to a standstill by the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing." Sure, but the sheer fact that we're able to regard the deaths of three people and the wounding of dozens more as a massive event rather than "the 10th largest bombing of the month" is the point -- you get twice as many murder victims in an average weekend of Chicago gang violence.
The target of the Boston bombers was a dense crowd of 500,000 people standing shoulder to shoulder -- why were there three deaths instead of 300, or 3,000? Because it's really fucking hard to carry out a terror attack. The bombers didn't have any actual bomb-making materials -- no C4, no TNT, no truck full of ammonium nitrate. Instead they had off-the-shelf cookware and what appeared to be black powder they scraped from some fireworks.
I assume they said "WHEEEE!" a lot while making them.
And that's about as deadly as it gets. In 2010, a dipshit tried setting off a car full of firecrackers, gasoline, and fertilizer in Times Square. It didn't explode, because he didn't use the explosive kind of fertilizer, and it's actually way hard to make a bomb, you guys. Even a really sophisticated shoe bomb can be foiled by sweaty feet. The attempted transatlantic bombings in 2006 (aka "The reason you can't bring a regular-size tube of toothpaste onto a plane anymore") took the plotters years of planning and involved incredibly complicated liquid bombs that had to be mixed on the plane without anyone noticing. The so-called Underwear Bomber (aka "The justification for nude body scans for every airline passenger") was a Nigerian man who sewed a tiny bomb into his underpants that, when detonated, succeeded only in setting his pants on fire.
The truth is that law enforcement has done a fantastic job of monitoring the sale of black market bomb-making materials (the transatlantic bombers were being watched by more than a thousand agents -- they only got as far as buying the components before police swept in). See, we've been fooled by action movies, where any mobster can come up with a block of plastic explosive to stick under the car of a snitch. Hell, the Joker can buy entire buildings full of explosive liquids without anyone noticing. In the real world, it turns out that no, you can't really order large quantities of anything that goes "boom" without the government kicking down your door five minutes later.
"Sir, step away from the Google search bar!"
Pulling off an effective attack means a lot of things have to go right. It takes money, skill, intelligence, discipline, and training. The enemy, as it turns out, is always short of some or all of those things. They're usually poor, uneducated, stupid people who are deeply unsatisfying to capture or kill. Which brings me to the next point ...