PICKING THE RIGHT TARGET
I’m on record of having suggested that the targeting of the Twin Towers, though not bad, could have been better. This is because much if not most of Main Street sheds only crocodile tears when Wall Street gets its uppance. If Al Qaeda wanted to see America withdraw its support from its Quisling regimes in the Middle East, the more effective target would have been a schoolhouse in Omaha, Nebraska. And not a one-off, but enough of them, in enough cities and towns throughout the country, to make every American mother terrified for the safety of her children.
When the kids in the back seat are fighting, the stereotypical father wants to know who started it. The stereotypical mother just wants them to stop.
The beauty of targeting children – if beauty can be used in this context – is that this think-of-the-children mantra is a guarantee of bi-partisan support. It’s true that men – especially macho Republican men – will get their backs up. But I’m guessing it won’t take more than a week for (what might be called) Lysistrata Syndrome to set in, and at most another week for these otherwise macho husbands to cave to their craven wives. Moreover, the risk assessment literature makes it clear that women are prone less to assessing the probabilities than the acceptability of the possible outcomes. So even if the probabilities may be low, it will be the direness that wins the day.
More generally, then, if the object of the exercise is to pressure the government to accede to his demands, the terrorist needs to target those who have the ear of their government. So in the U.S. at least, these schoolhouses should be located in upper middle class white neighbourhoods. Moreover schoolhouses, wherever they might be, are notoriously difficult, not to mention expensive, to protect.
The difficulty, as noted, is bringing sufficient ordnance to the target. Payload varies with size. Miniaturising nuclear weapons is the stuff of suspense fiction. In the real world it would take a bomb the size of a semitrailer to take down a three-story schoolhouse. And most schoolhouses don’t have a loading bay, let alone one that can accommodate a semitrailer. The 9/11 attackers delivered their two semitrailers by air. But post-9/11 that kind of transport is hard to commandeer.
So it’s (what we might call) the Payload Problem that makes the terrorist battle an uphill one. This is not to say the hill can’t be taken. It’s to say only that even democratic polities like Israel, the UK, and America, can and have absorbed a whole lot of damage without losing their resolve. So it’s a contest of wills. Whose will break first? And that, in turn, is a function, at least in part, of what each side has to lose. The Americans can find their oil elsewhere. But the Jews have nowhere else to go. As neither do the Palestinians. That’s why that particular conflict will never be resolved, neither in my lifetime nor in yours.
Killing each other’s children is not the way to win friends. But it is one way to influence people. If you find the death of your own children not to your liking, you might think about offering an acceptable alternative to those whose threats you’re up against. If not, whining about your losses is at best unseemly and at worst unmanly. Which is not so bad if you don’t mind sleeping alone in the guest room.