May 1995 (vol. 11, #4)
1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 c 1995 Physicians
for Civil Defense
After the Oklahoma City bombing, Hillary and Bill Clinton were videotaped, surrounded by children.
``Are you scared?'' they asked. The First Couple reassured the children that their parents and their government would do everything possible to keep them safe.
A suspect has been captured. There will be no rerun of the O.J. Simpson trial, with a tour of the scene of the crime; the building has already been demolished. And Congress may pass a new anti-terrorism law to supplement the old anti-murder law.
Do you feel safe now?
crowd has little to offer. Shall we outlaw fertilizer and Ryder
trucks? And detain everyone who has violent fantasies? (At present,
we protect the rights of patients who tell their psychiatrists
of plans to hack someone to death or rap singers who advocate
killing the police.)
Notably, the general society has not been held responsible for the Oklahoma event. Unlike the Los Angeles rioters, whose actions had ``root causes'' such as racism and poverty, the bombers are greeted with rage.
There is collective guilt, of course, but it is restricted to one side of the political spectrum. The culprits are not those who produce or sponsor entertainment that glorifies wanton violence, nor those who preach nihilism and moral relativism. Rather, the villains engage in ``hate speech'' critical of the government.
It is not disrespect for law but for government that is said to incite the crazies.
Bill Clinton deplored the ``loud and angry voices...whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other.'' These voices are regularly heard ``over the airwaves.'' Robert Scheer was more explicit: ``out-of-control talk-show hosts'' condemn anyone who works for the government as a ``faceless bureaucrat and more often a crook.'' Molly Ivins named names: ``The poisoning of the well of public debate by people like Bob Dornan...is just as much a part of the bomb that went off in Oklahoma as the fertilizer.''
The press reports reveal the new
targets of McCarthyite suspicions: not only Muslims and Arabs,
but also religious ``zealots,'' angry white men, tax protesters,
and people who make ``frequent pilgrimages from trailer parks
to convenience stores'' the dangerous denizens of the ``rural
outback of America'' who listen to the radio.
The shock of this incident is related more to its location than the number of casualties. Disasters caused by man can be much worse. More lethal means are available: chemical, biological, nuclear, or sophisticated conventional weapons. These are already in the hands of organizations far more powerful than Timothy McVeigh and his associates.
Indeed, the Oklahoma bombing might not actually have been a terrorist act. Terrorism is a means to an end. Webster defines it as ``the use of terror or violence to intimidate, subjugate, etc., especially as a political weapon or policy.'' In Oklahoma City, there were no threats, no demands, and no group seeking credit. The bombing might have been an act of pure madness or revenge.
Terrorism is often an act of a government
(or a ``gang-of-thugs masquerading as a national government'')
or a group aspiring to govern; the ``Reign of Terror'' occurred
under the French Revolutionary government. Just a few unpredictable
attacks on arbitrarily chosen victims can unbalance and subdue
a large population. Twentieth century totalitarians have made
skillful use of this method.
Violence can serve as a pretext for the imposition of governmental terrorism, with martial law and the destruction of liberty. The reaction to the Oklahoma City incident shows the potential for that reaction. What would have happened if the perpetrators had had nuclear explosives? To preserve both life and liberty, it is vital to improve our defenses.
First, we need to ask why terrorism is so widespread. Joseph de Courcy explains: it is cheap, and it pays handsomely.
Nelson Mandela, head of a terrorist organization for many years, is now head of state in South Africa. He received the Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II and the Nobel Peace Prize. Chief Buthelezi, who left the African National Congress because of his opposition to violence, is vilified.
While nothing in the treatment of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland justified the taking of a single life, the Irish Republican Army murdered 2,000 innocent citizens and was rewarded by the capitulation of the British government. IRA leader Gerry Adams was feted by the Clinton White House (Intelligence Digest, Stoneyhill Centre, Brimpsfield, Gloucester, GL4 8LF, UK, 3/24/95.) Yasser Arafat is also welcome in the White House. And while mourning the death of some 200 Americans, Bill Clinton still supports Boris Yeltsin, the prosecutor of a murderous war in Chechnya that has claimed more than 42,000 lives.
The first step then should be to assure that terrorists do not achieve their objectives. They should be punished severely if convicted based on actions, not political ideology but at least they should not be rewarded.
A second step should be for the government to set a good example of respect for the rule of law. The government that frustrates justice, or even perpetrates injustice, forfeits its moral credibility, argues Paul Robinson (``Moral Credibility and Crime,'' Atlantic Monthly, March 1995).
Finally, America needs to revitalize its moribund population protection system civil defense as part of preparedness in all dimensions.
In the past hundred years, fewer than a dozen [nongovernmental] terrorist attacks have caused more than 100 deaths. De Courcy warns that the ratio will change dramatically with the wide availability of scientific knowledge, as illustrated by the Tokyo poison-gas subway massacre (op. cit.). Lowell Wood, who will receive the Edward Teller Defender of Freedom Award at the upcoming DDP meeting, warns that current medical response capabilities could be overwhelmed, leading to casualties in numbers not seen since mass air-raids on cities.
The Oklahoma City bombing should be a wake-up call to unite Americans in defense against the threats of the modern age. The tragedy would be magnified many times if it is used as a pretext for dividing Americans against each other, or surrendering the liberties for which our forefathers fought.