Midland County’s Sheriff is prepared to deal with the terrorist group, ISIS. In remarks on a series of news shows last month the West Texas lawman explained his plans to cope with the imminent danger and expressed his certainty, despite the absence of any reason, sense, or evidence, that the group lurks just over the border in the inky darkness of Mexico.
By all accounts, Sheriff Painter has served with distinction in his long career. Now he joins a growing list of prominent victims of terrorism, persuaded by a cheap and easy tactic into abandoning reason and working against his own, and his nation’s interests.
As a tactic, the initial goal of terrorism is to make you stupid. Terrorism is designed to coax a more powerful enemy into defeating themselves by clouding their judgment and distorting their sense of their relative power on the diplomatic, political, and military battlefields.
Sheriff Painter and others like him (see: Perry, Rick) are wasting valuable time, mental energy, and even money preparing to defend themselves from a cheap illusion. Counting the cost of this distraction in all its manifestations would be a terribly depressing exercise. We can be fairly confident that no one fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria could find Midland on a map. Few Texans could. Yet a band of young losers half a world away have caused damage in that and many other distant corners of the US at virtually no cost to themselves.
Acts of terrorism manage to subtly shift power toward the dumbest, most cowardly, most paranoid forces inside an enemy. The less one understands the scope of the battlefield the more impact terrorism carries.
If it is such an effective method, why shouldn’t we leverage terror tactics ourselves? We sometimes pretend that we eschew terrorism because of some moral superiority, but that’s only partially true. We don’t use terrorism for the same reason that we don’t use nuclear weapons. Both are purely destructive tools that only make sense in the most hopelessly desperate circumstances.
Terrorism is a tool of the weakest of the weak. The more savage the tactics, the weaker the perpetrator. Although terrorism can be fairly successful in causing a powerful enemy to trip over itself, it creates conditions that make it extremely difficult to capitalize on that enemy’s failures. Like nukes, terrorism is good at destroying things, yet creates a climate in which it is nearly impossible to rebuild.
Savagery is critical to the strategy, absolutely necessary in order to generate the mental distortions that leave an enemy reeling. Once unleashed, that same savagery becomes extremely difficult to contain, defeating efforts to establish any reliably humane order once the political goals are achieved. Terrorism is a way to sometimes win the war, but always lose the peace. No one with any credible hope of success resorts to terrorism on a mass scale.
Even then, terrorism often fails at even its primary objective, giving us some helpful lessons in how to respond. London at the peak of “The Troubles” in the ‘90’s was a terrorist playground. Life was disrupted on an almost daily basis by bombings or bomb threats. People forget, but the art of bombing skyscrapers was first mastered by the Christian terrorists of the Irish Republican Army. People have largely forgotten about it because the IRA campaign utterly failed to stir the British to stupidity.
As the effort dragged on, reports of the day’s incidents were quite literally relegated to the traffic report. Terrorism in London became an annoying nuisance, like the weather. Today, Northern Ireland is quiet and steadily rebuilding as an integral part of the United Kingdom. The IRA’s terror campaign failed on every level.
We need to calm down. Across more than a decade fighting this supposed “War on Terrorism,” more people are still killed in America each year by gun-toting toddlers than by terrorists. You are just as likely to be crushed to death under your enormous furniture as to be killed by a terrorist. Our secret weapon in the War on Terror, the one that guarantees victory, is perspective. Somehow we haven’t been able to mass-produce it.
At its foundation, terrorism is a form of deception meant to coax an otherwise unbeatable power to wage war on hopelessly unfavorable terms. Sheriff Painter is the poster child for America’s ever worsening series of failures against global religious fundamentalism. Understanding why he’s wasting his available mental energy worrying about Muslims blowing up the local Dairy Queen may be the key for the rest of us to turn the corner, replacing “War on Terror” paranoia with the sober, day to day routine of life as the world’s only global power.