URGENT MEASURES

Posted in Rants on April 23rd, 2013 by Ed

In the wake of any disaster in the United States, someone will take it upon himself to point out that what we consider tragedies are part of daily life in other places. Three people die in a terrorist attack in Boston (a fourth later during the manhunt) and the entire country loses its shit. Meanwhile, random bombings in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and others kill a few dozen people on a daily basis.

What I infer from this is not that Americans shouldn't complain about terrorist attacks, despite the fact that they're remarkably uncommon here and, statistically speaking, we should probably worry more about every asshole in the country having access to a wide array of firearms. Instead, this underscores the fact that the United States is remarkably well prepared for a terrorist attack or (since Katrina) city-scale disaster.

Despite the appearance of chaos all week, Boston was as prepared as hell to handle what happened. The marathon planners diverted the race (as they had contingency plans developed for exactly such an event). The wounded were in hospitals within minutes, keeping the fatalities surprisingly low under the circumstances. Police secured the scene quickly and, working with federal agencies, identified the perpetrators within a day or two. Then, after the suspects ambush-killed a police officer in a patrol car, there was a moving shootout and standoff in which no one was killed despite hundreds of rounds being fired. That's because the local governments had the city on lockdown, and people obeyed the recommendations made by law enforcement. I'm sure criticism will develop as the events recede further into the past, but dang, Boston. All in all, excellent job. I'd challenge any city of nation to do better, even though I'm sure many could do equally well.

This is the point at which people start asking what we can do to prevent attacks like this in the future. The answer is clear: nothing. Sure, the errant, racist media coverage was a disaster, but that's not a matter of public policy. Short of banning public events or repealing the 4th Amendment, we're about as safe as we're ever going to be. All the metal detectors, closed-circuit cameras, armed cops, and knee-jerk proposals for new legislation won't make us one bit safer – we already have enough layers of security in place to catch the Idiot Terrorists, the only group that would be deterred by those kinds of things. When people are making backpack-sized bombs out of common household items and black powder, there really isn't much anyone can do to stop them. Yes, that's scary. That's why it's called "terrorism."

Events like this are a big part of our culture of fear, and we're encouraged to incorporate this fear into a kill-em-all worldview. But here's the thing: complete security is an illusion. If it could exist, it would horrify you to see what it looks like. What are you going to do? Refuse to leave the house? Stop attending events in cities? Stop traveling? Live in a bunker in rural Montana? We can't spend the rest of our lives scared of our shadows, either individually or as a society. There's no point in basing public policy on our inability to accept the fact that we can't be 100% safe at all times. I guess 99.99% safe will have to do. The sooner we accept that, the better off we will be.