The Next Attack

by john on April 9, 2003

I ended my article Fear and Loathing in Chicago (if you haven’t read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream do so) with a bit of a throw-away comment about the location of the next terrorist attacks. Joe responded with the majority opinion:

On the other hand, a terrorist attack is far more likely in an area where it can be most effective in achieving the terrorists’ goals: places like New York (our most populous city) or Washington (our capital), where some extremist a–hole can kill as many innocent Americans as possible.

I agree with Joe that a terrorist attack is going to be in a place that achieves their goals, we just disagree on what their goals are. Joe is in the camp, which many are, that their goal is to strike at symbolic targets that combine with a large number of people being killed. This makes sense, after all that is what they did on 9/11.

But I think it will be different next time because their goal is to paralyze us. To terrorize us.

I’ll start with the obvious – their method of attack will be different next time. There is no way they are going to try to hijack multiple planes again; there is no way it can work right now as there are still too many watchful eyes, too many random checks, and too many passengers who won’t let it happen again, now that we know.

As terrible as another attack of flying an airplane into a large building would be I just don’t believe the country would be shocked this time. It would be tragic and terrible and we would want to fight back, but much of the country, perhaps deep down, would still be thinking, “I’m glad I don’t work in the Sears Tower.”

But imagine how different our reaction would be to a coordinated attack on 20 small towns in the heartland of America. Say on some Friday night in 20 bingo parlors in 20 little towns 20 evil people each wipe out a group of innocent Americans with nothing more than some explosives strapped to their chests. This happens in other places folks, and it will happen here. And it won’t be one person it will be a coordinated and choreographed attack like we had on 9/11. I hate just writing this, which tells me how terrible it would be and the true terror that would result.

Joe concludes that he feels safer away from those symbols such as the Pentagon:

Sure, there’s some risk no matter where you go. But I live and work about two miles from the Pentagon and I can tell you that after 9/11, anthrax in the mail, the DC sniper, et al. I feel decidedly less safe here than I do in other parts of the country, and I think there is a rational component to that belief.

I agree with him that there is a rational component to that belief today, but what happens after we are struck in the heartland, in the small town, in middle America?

I’ll tell you what happens – nobody feels safe anywhere. And the terrorists will have achieved their goal. And America will have lost whatever innocence is still clings to.

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