Learning from history – Are we feeling safe yet?


Oklahoma bomb scene

The bomb attack on April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City killed 168 people, BBC News, 10-1-01

Are we feeling safe yet? was an email forwarded to me today, it contained a link to an article about flying; the article described the trials and tribulations of  an aged couple subjected to humiliating pats, probes and searches by the TSA and the loss of $300 in the process.  Both had artificial body parts that set off the metal detectors, leading to the searches.  It is a common story in the post 9-11 era;  how could any rational person think a 95-year old man in a wheel-chair could be a terrorist?  The article is written in a tone of angry, righteous indignation – how dare they?   If you have flown much in the last ten years, you too have been subject to things you thought were unnecessary and invasive; as indeed they are, that is until they are not unnecessary.  Who can say when that is?  What is the profile a suicide bomber?  Someone who is angry, someone who is desperate for money or someone who is being controlled by someone else; it is not their looks that identify them, it is there vulnerabilities.  In my opinion, the TSA stuff is over-the-top, but what exactly are the alternatives?   When  terrorists hijacked four planes at the same time on that day in September of 2001 and delivered guided missiles to two primary targets – one the center of government and one the center of business – they permanently changed the nature of travel.

The trial in Norway of the Anders Breivik is fascinating on many levels.  It is the first time I ever sat in a room with a weapon of mass destruction, especially one that could talk; while we may not really be in the room with him, the reporting for the Guardian has been close to being there.  Besides complete in depth articles on each day’s testimonies there are moment by moment text messages from the court room – and all of it is fascinating.  In his opinion, Anders Breivik is not insane that just an attempt by government prosecutors to denigrate his philosophy; and he is not without human feeling, either.  Anders says he can empathize with the families of the victims after all, he too has lost everything in the attack; now no one in his family or circle of friends will speak to him.

In his testimony, Breivik describes very clearly his intents, his actions and his regrets; he intended to kill many more people than he did, he practiced the killing with video game techniques and calmly moved from target to target bolstered by his preparation and determination; he regrets not killing more people and “hitting higher value targets.”  He had originally hoped to kill members of parliament, but found some difficulty in getting the materials he needed to make the explosives.  That was why there was only one bomb and that one only killed 7 people, not big enough, you see.  Because of his frustrations with bomb making, Breivik switched to the assault plan that resulted in 69 people killed.  The change in plans meant he had to train himself to be indifferent to witnessing the dying people directly – as he describes it was difficult and lengthy training; it was easy to desensitize himself to killing in person.  Bombs would have been easier, they are detonated remotely and he would not have had the discomfort of watching people die.

Breivik had been preparing for a long time, writing his manifesto and studying previous attackers.  He studied Islamic terrorist attacks like 9-11, Middle Eastern suicide bombers and his personal favorite, Timothy McVeigh.  The Oklahoma bombing was Breivik’s model, like McVeigh he wanted to destroy  government buildings and kill government workers.  There would have been a series of bombs, not just one and they would have brought the government, the buildings and killed Norway’s leaders.  However, he was frustrated in that plan, because in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing most countries studied McVeigh’s methods  and made it much more difficult to built that type and size of bombs.  Do you feel safer now?

Breivik is not the only person studying previous terrorist attacks, and by definition he is a terrorist, because he did want to terrorize Norway.   Beivik did kill many people, but he did not accomplish what he wanted, that door was closed after McVeigh walked through it; it is not an accident that no other planes have been hijacked and flown into buildings – it is do at least in part to all of the draconian and very annoying measures put in place since 9-11 – and yes I am feeling safer now, annoyed, even outraged at times, but safer.  How about you?

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