Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Doublethinking About Terrorism

By N.S. Palmer, Ph.D.

Today’s New York Times chronicles the American government’s quest for ever-more-intrusive airport security systems. The ostensible purpose is to thwart terrorists and wannabes like last week’s Nigerian “pants bomber.”

But what if the solution to terrorism is much simpler?

The fact is that Americans suffer from classic “doublethink” about terrorism.

Doublethink, a term coined in George Orwell’s novel 1984, is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time while ignoring the contradiction.

Even if they watch Fox News, most Americans know that their government bombs people and sponsors repressive regimes all over the world. At the same time, they believe that America just minds its own business in the world, never bothers anyone, and certainly doesn’t do anything to make people hate us and want to attack us.

As a result, they are completely baffled by acts of terrorism. They think that terrorists are irrationally hostile toward the United States and the Western way of life, and that nothing short of an impenetrable security system can stop them from attacking us.

And because there’s no such thing as an impenetrable security system, the result is a never-ending parade of more oppressive and intrusive security procedures. And more billions of taxpayer dollars wasted.

The solution to terrorism is not to shovel more and more tax money into boondoggles such as the Transportation Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, nor to let the government wiretap everyone, nor to lock Americans into their houses and let them out only under police supervision.

The solution is to stop bombing wedding parties and to tell local dictators that they’re on their own.

Copyright 2009 by N.S. Palmer.


Teresa said...

I am conflicted about more security. But, it seems like naked body scanners is way over the top.

I think that communication between the various International and U.S. agencies is one of the key methods needed to stop terrorism. The communication between these various agencies didn't happen properly in the case of the Detroit terrorist. And, his father even warned the U.S. Embassy.

Liberty said...

But wasn't that terrorist a man who boarded in Nigeria? Nigeria's security is none of our business!

Teresa said...

I believe he boarded in Amsterdam.

When it comes to innocent American lives being endangered by a terrorist it is very much our business.

If his bomb had detonated than it would have killed many innocent American lives.

I guess you don't care about keeping American civilians safe?

Liberty said...

Ah, so now we are supposed to dictate security protocols to every country on the globe, too!

The security guidelines of those countries' are not our concern. They have theirs, we have ours, and frankly- we go way overboard with ours. It's nuts how idiotically pedantic we are about it.

Teresa said...

So, Liberty I guess you support other countries incompetence which enables terrorists to board planes and kill innocent lives.

That's the whole problem with the whole minding your own business attitude.... Usually ignoring a problem will find a way of biting you in the butt.... and possibly harming you and others in the process.

So, you are against the United States and other countries working together in order to save innocent lives.

Gee, that is a little selfish....

So, you are officially ANTI-National Security when it relates to the United States.

Liberty said...

No, I am against our country, our government, going and telling other countries what to do!

Teresa said...

Nope, your version of national security is not for national security at all and thus is anti-security in nature. Minding your own business and national security don't go together. They are like water and oil. Not capable of happening. That's you living in a book dreamworld hoping for a utopian world filled with peace.

That world simply doesn't exist.

Liberty said...

NATIONAL security implies it is for our NATION, not the whole world!

I fail to see why we should be worried about how the Danes go about their security procedures. Obviously, the terrorist wasn't all that smart in the first place, because he got caught. Woopiee.

But there is absolutely nothing we could have done about him embarking because he embarked in Amsterdam. If he had embarked in LA, it would have been our prerogative. If he had embarked in Detroit, DC, NYC, SanFran, or any other place within the jurisdiction of our security forces, it would have been our problem to intercept at embarkation.

But it was not. He was in Amsterdam. Not our prerogative. Not our concern. It was the concern of the Danish authorities, and he slipped past them. But we caught him.

We cannot go telling the whole world what to do.

And yes, noninterventionism IS the best defense against bad things happening. Sure works for the Swiss. They have no standing army, their crime late is lower than in the rest of the first world, they don't mess in anyone else's business- and they are prospering, in peace, with one of the best, most stable economies in the world!

Don't tell me noninterventionism doesn't work, and just gets people killed. It doesn't. The Swiss prove it.

Teresa said...

I challenge you to do a post on the Swiss, their security forces and whether they have been attacked or threatened and report on those various attacks if there have been any.

Noninterventionism doesn't work. We don't live in a pacifist world as you might believe naively.

Alex said...

Actually, Liberty's right. The Swiss have really done it right. Low crime, good economy, and strong education system. Same works with Costa Rica. It is the most prosperous country in the region and it follows the same structure of pacifism as the Swiss. Also, Liberty's right. We shouldn't be telling other countries what do. It's there business and if they told us, we'd be just as angry. Think about it.

Liberty said...

Teresa- I just might try that. I do not think the Swiss are pacifists. They would fight if they had to. But they mind their own business, and they have a stable lifestyle because of it.

Look at it this way. I assume you live next to neighbors. Let's say they came into your house and started telling you how to live your life- what to eat, how to cook it, how to clean your house, how to raise your kids, how to walk your dog- basically, dictating every aspect of your life. Would you be OK with that?

Let's say you went into YOUR neighbor's house and did the same thing. Would you expect them to demurely take such an outrage?

No. It is the same way with countries- we cannot expect them to merely take our arrogant imperialism lying down. Which is what Mr. Palmer's article was pointing out- the 'Doublethink' inherent in such a notion.

Teresa said...

So if A scenario existed where a citizen from the United States tried to blow up an airplane full of people in another country, you don't think that that particular country would be contacting us in order to ramp up our security methods?

Or would a U.S. citizen attempting or killing innocent civilians be okay with you?
I am not okay with that, but both you and liberty seem to not give a care in the world about our national security which does apply to our relations wit other nations.

Teresa said...


That's totally different. My neighbors are not terrorists trying to kill me, or not even suspected of any terrorism.

National Security does apply to how we relate to other nations. When terrorists use their ideology of terrorism to try and kill innocent civilians and hide behind corrupt and illegitimate governments that aid them it does concern our national security.

Liberty said...

If that citizen embarked in the US, yes, it would be a fault in our security. If that citizen embarked somewhere else, it would not be our security at fault. Regardless, measures would be taken to ensure such a scenario- an American citizen acting the terrorist- would not happen again, both by taking more care to understand the people's minds, and to make it clear to other nations that the action of one of our people does not indicate the mindset of the nation. Sadly, I don't think either of those measures would be fulfilled fully at all.

How is it different? Your relationship to your neighbors is quite similar to the relations we have with other countries. We go boss other countries. They don't like that. In the same way, you would dislike it if your neighbor came and tried to boss you around.

You are intentionally trying to divert the issue, rather than having to confront my main argument.

National security applies to how we relate to other countries, not how we dictate policy to them. Dictating how they run their country is wrong, whether they are 'illegitimate' or not. (In that vein- who decides what an 'illegitimate' government is? What if the UN up and decides our government is illegitimate? At the moment, I'd venture to say our current 'government' is illegitimate, because it has ceased to follow the rule of the land, which is the Constitution.)

Teresa said...

There is a big difference between theft of anothers property and interfering with some person's private life and our national security. You are applying generalities where they are not applicable. Our national security depends on our relations with other countries and if those countries and the people who live in those countries kill innocent people as they did on 9/11 and they continuously threaten our very livelihood, then we as a nation, have every right to defend ourselves by going into that nation or nations that are harboring those terrorists and KILL those terrorists. These terrorists are not merely our neighbors. Terrorists do not want to sit down and talk and negotiate like neighbors. Terrorists main purpose in life is to destroy the West and kill us.

Our neighbors and terrorists are far different people. Terrorists are our enemy. Our neighbors are not usually our enemy.

Our neighbors are civilians. Terrorists are not merely civilians. The terrorists are our enemy and should be treated as such.

Liberty said...

Did you even read the article? You are employing classic doublethink- we caused the terrorists by our actions. Yet we cannot possibly have anything to do with our problems. The terrorists are merely anomalies, problems that cropped up of their own volition.

No, we do not have the right to go into sovereign countries and kill their populace. We never have that right. Countries did not attack us.

I suggest you get the books Holy War, Inc by Peter Bergen and Osama by Jonathan Randall. They are excellent overviews of our current situation in the Middle East, why bin Laden does what he does, and both are spectacular in their representation of both Osama bin Laden, the jihadist, and Osama bin Laden, the man.

I say this because it is obvious you do not comprehend either the terrorists' motives or their nature.

Teresa said...

Just because I don't agree with your point of view does not mean I did not read the article, because I did. I don't accuse you of that but that shows your...

You have no idea of what the terrorists motives are around the world and of the grave threat that they pose to our nation. In your naivety you think that the terrorists want to negotiate with us and be our friends just like our civilan next door neighbors. You are highly mistaken. They do not.
The fact that you think terrorists are like our neighbors shows how naive you are and that you have no clue what it takes to keep our country safe from these terrorists. The fact that your thinking that the U.S. should mind its own business when that endangers American lives and would cause the United States to be both incompetent and complacent when it comes to our nation security issues is very telling.

You are in fact saying screw American lives because our national security does not matter to you and minding our own business takes a higher priority in your book than saving American lives or any innocent lives at all in your book.

I have enough liberal garbage thrown at me everyday so no thanks, I am not going to brainwash myself by reading your suggestion of books/articles.

Liberty said...

You are totally screwing around my motives and ideas.

I am for understanding the terrorists and knowing why they hate us so much. Their hate is not an irrational, unfounded, mindless rage. They have reasons. And sadly, many of those reasons have a certain measure of validity.

I am all for saving American lives. And that is why I believe we should stop throwing our young men and women away in a fruitless series of wars that do little for us beyond bankrupt us yet further and further damage the view other countries hold of us.

At this point, America can't safely mind her own business. And that's because we're so far gone on the path of interventionism. We have damaged our own face, the face people see, and now other countries will forever connect the name "United States" with atom bombs, occupation, and terror. That is the fault of hundreds of years, and sadly, I am afraid there is little that can be done about it. But we could still make a start.

We could start by pulling our troops out of other countries. Not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the thousands of other countries we have bases in. Reopen bases here, and thereby stimulate our local economies. Discharge some personnel, and lower taxes so factories and manufacturers will return here, and create more jobs.

Even the terrorists have reasoning for what they do. When we fail to understand our enemy, and what he is fighting for, we endanger ourselves.
"Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles.
Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory.
Know the enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time." -Sun Tzu

The problem is that we do not understand either the terrorists or our own reasons for being there. The American people as a whole have lost the ability to look beyond the surface, to deeply analyze everything our politicians say- on both side of the political aisle. Sadly, many people merely look at one side of the issues, rather than fully exploring them and making a truly informed decision.

Yes, minding our own business takes priority. If we had minded our own business, we would not be in this mess. We created this problem by going and messing in other countries. And now we're just repeating the mistakes that were made before. I guarantee you that, in twenty years, this conflict will once again come back to bite us in the rear end. It is the way the cycle works.

Actually, those books are not liberal. Randall's book was quite nonpartisan (it's a history, not a political piece), and Bergen is Republican. And...I'm not liberal. So my suggestion of books won't be liberal. :)

JT Norlander said...

My one comment on this is that the Swiss are kind of a very small country. It helps their security and crime rate when they have a good police force, they have a population of just under 8 Million. Add that to all the embassies and foreign interests in the country because of their banking, I'd definitely say it's a safe country.
In short, I don't think they are more safe because they are non-intervening like Liberty says. I think looking at the bigger picture, other variables are the cause. The Swiss don't need to intervene because they are already safe in the interests that other countries have in them. A majority of the first world countries would fight to protect Switzerland I'm willing to bet.

On the other hand, the US has a population of 304,059,724 as of July 2008.

That's a lot more, with a lot more to protect.
Just my thought.


suntzusays said...

There should be serious questions about what is meant by "defending the nation" and the amount of effort and expense undertaken to the cause of "defending the nation", much of which does little to advance our national security. For example, most of our airport screening methods already aren't that useful and we already accept dramatic and substantial costs for them, for no apparent benefits (namely because some kid could slip onto a plane with explosives and a double agent could bomb a base camp in Afghanistan). The screening procedures of another airport in another country weren't the issue. The problem was simply that we never pulled the kid's visa (the Brits did) and thus he could get on a plane, despite lots of evidence to suggest he shouldn't be allowed to board. Never mind that he smuggled explosives on his person and tried to set them off. That's a side point. What we should ask, as a lesson of this, is how much information do we need, how are we collecting it, are we collecting too much to filter through in a reasonable time, and how do we take the useful bits we do gather and get people to make actual decisions quickly enough to potentially save lives. The core security measure was to identify this kid as a potential terrorist and not let him onto a plane period. Not to pat him down, along with the rest of us, or run all of us through scanners and x-rays.

And the second lesson is, as always, to continue to ask why there are these radical crazies in backwards places all over the globe who want to attack us. It isn't because "they hate us for our freedom" or "because they're evil". These are rational actors with goals in mind, often simply reactions to American initiatives (such as the bombings and drone attacks in Yemen over the last several months and the support of a repressive "pro-American" regime there) rather than people who somehow randomly got it in their heads to attack innocent Americans. The sooner we take them seriously rather than as caricatures, the sooner we can start figuring out ways to 1) stop/beat them and 2) stop producing more of them. We won't win a war simply by killing a lot of the enemy or even disabling/detaining a lot of them (we've already had at least two major wars like that prior to these two and they didn't go so well either). We will have to identify and defeat their will to fight. If, in part, that means tucking tail and running away (militarily) from parts of the world that we have no actual national interests at stake, so be it. Seems to me like the liberal democracy that we claim to be is actually our best defence against terrorism (as in, when we're not hypocrites about our ideals, it's a lot harder for terrorists to recruit). Running away from that is far more dangerous in the long run than abandoning a bunch of corrupt dictators who happen to be superficially pliant to our interests.