Good episode of Real Time this weekend. Bill Maher wonders how America would have reacted to recent events– the Metrolink crash in Los Angeles and Hurricane Ike– had they been the result of terrorism.
What differentiates terrorism from natural and accidental disasters is that terrorism is, by my definition, politically motivated violence with the threat of more violence to come. The Metrolink crash was an accident that is unlikely to happen again anytime soon. People can be reassured that the rules have been changed, those responsible have been fired, and it’s safe to get back on the train.
Had the crash been the result of terrorism though, there’s no real telling whether another similar attack is in the works. You can reassure people that new security measures are in place, but you can’t reassure them in the same way that it won’t happen again.
And, sure, hurricanes will continue to hit the Gulf Coast, probably with greater and greater intensity, but there’s always a few days advanced warning. And if you don’t like it, you can move. You can’t not take the train to work or a plane back home for the holidays or move away from the threat of terrorism in the same way.
Americans lost our minds after 9/11 because we watched four planes fall out of the sky– three into very important buildings– and there was no telling whether we would wake up the next day to watch eight more planes doing the same. The Anthrax attacks only affected a few people, but the mail is so ubiquitous that there was no assurance that we wouldn’t wake up one day to find a letter in our own mailbox. It’s the added threat of violence to come– the fear of unpredictable yet seemingly preventable death– that causes us to lose our minds, give up our freedoms, lash out blindly, and generally overreact.