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Terrorism: Why Does it Frighten Us So Much? (1998)

Terrorism: Why Does it Frighten Us So Much? (1998)

©1998, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2001). Terrorism: Why does it frighten us so much? Transgender Forum.






Terrorism: Why Does it Frighten Us So?

By Dallas Denny


I’ve wanted to say some things about terrorism for a long time, and where else but TG Forum? I’m sure the Feebs monitor this site regularly, so they’ll probably be dropping by to talk to me as soon as the file is posted. I’m tempted to say I’ll be ready for them, but they’d likely take that as a threat and arrive with a S.W.A.T. team. So I won’t. Fortunately, this being America, I’m still free to talk. It’s only when I want to be heard by others that I place myself in jeopardy.

OK, so terrorism. Terrible, ain’t it? That’s what we’re told to think, anyway. Horrible people planting bombs, blowing innocent children to smithereens, cowards who don’t do their killing up close and personal, but from a safe distance, at no risk to themselves. Sort of like well, being 40,000 feet over the target in a B-1 bomber.

My point is not that violence isn’t awful. It is dreadful, as anyone who has been on the receiving end can attest. Even when it doesn’t rob of us our lives, it leaves us physically and emotionally damaged. Yes, violence is indeed terrible. My point is it’s no more legitimate or less frightening when perpetrated by a collective rather than an individual, and the size of the collective or the ability to afford a more sophisticated delivery system—one by McDonnell-Douglas, say, rather than Ford—doesn’t legitimize it.

Gary Trudeau understands. There’s a great Doonesbury cartoon in which Phred, the Viet Cong, is in a rice field with bombs falling all around him. He’s shaking his fists in the air, cursing the B-52’s high above, asking the airmen how they can live with themselves after raining death and destruction on grandfathers, women, and children. Cut to a cockpit, far above, and the pilot saying to the co-pilot, “So, you think the Knicks can take it in two?” The crew is utterly removed from the reality of what they have done—just as is the IRA bomber who is in the pub knocking back a pint when the package bomb he left under the bench in the bus station detonates, scattering body parts a hundred yards in every direction. What, after all, is the difference between a Ryder truck full of fertilizer and fuel oil and a airplane with a belly full of high explosives?

Theoretically, a government is empowered to act on behalf of its citizens, and has the support of its citizens to engage in violence on their behalf. But doesn’t the Irish Republican Army have a consensus among its members to use violence to achieve its political ends? (Probably a bad example, since the IRA is at cease-fire now. Substitute your favorite Middle-Eastern terrorist group.) And what of Richard Nixon, who had Cambodia bombed without consulting the American people, and in fact went to great lengths to keep the bombing a secret from his constituents? How is Nixon different from a Hamas thug in downtown Jerusalem with 50 sticks of dynamite strapped to his body? Is he better because he has a bigger stick, one which can reach out and touch someone in another country, who can, and in fact, did, arrange to have that country bombed back into the Stone Age? Or is it because 50 sticks of dynamite is within the financial reach of many individuals or small group and only the very rich have the power of mass destruction via ICBM? Could it be, that maybe, just maybe, the Hamas self-immolator is more justified than the U.S. Air Force? At least he has the courage of his convictions.

When the Soviets knocked that JAL liner out of the air, it was horrible enough, but not as horrible as the Lockerbie crash, which was clearly due to a bomb, or TVA Flight 100 when we all thought it had been downed by a ground-launched missile. When the U.S. took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki and fire-bombed Dresden and Tokyo, it was frightening, but not as frightening as the thought of Kadhafi with a tactical nuke or two. What’s the difference? Is it perhaps because for once we might be on the receiving end? What gives?

Governments are scared, that’s what gives. The social order can be threatened by anyone with a pound or two of plastique, or a few dozen surplus hand grenades, or even a supply of gasoline and some mayonnaise jars. The means are inexpensive and easy to make or purchase. The government—any government, pick one, they’re all the same—has generated so much bad karma that those who are disaffected can make a loud and smoky political statement. And the violence is up close and personal; it’s not in some pestilent jungle thousands of miles away. It can happen at the mall, while the wife and children are shopping, or in the hotel where you’re spending the weekend with your mistress. And if you’re a fat cat businessman or a government official, you’re apt to be a target for kidnapping or a bullet in the brain from a sniper atop a high-rise. Sure you’re scared. You want to be the one with the big guns. No one else has them, except those who are big enough to have them despite your wish that they not—in other words, other governments. You have a vested interest in delegitimizing everyone else. And so you rage at dissident political factions, guerrilla groups, those who have figured out what you’re up to and are busy forming militias, and even the lone mail bomber. After all, you, too, can be Unabombed.

Journalists don’t really analyze the situation; they just milk the topic for all its worth, and often make the problem worse by over-covering it. Some thirty years ago, when a plane or two got hijacked, the media coverage was so intense it became a bit of a rage to jack a plane. How many flights have been commandeered since? Thirty? A hundred? How many do you think would have been hijacked if the media hadn’t made it so fashionable? A half-dozen? And would we have to go through those annoying and disempowering security measures at the airport? The world has moved on now, and it’s not so much about taking the plane to Havana as planting the container of Sarin gas on the subway or putting the ricin in the reservoir. And thanks to CNN, we know just what to do, don’t we?

In a real, if sick way, terrorism is about empowerment. We can all be terrorists. We all have that power. And we’re all just a notch away from going psycho. Take those crazed postal workers. Take Charles Whitman. Please. “He looked just like everyone else.” Of course he did. He was like everyone else. He wasn’t a Martian; he was just an ole’ boy who got pissed enough to take a 30.30 tour of the Texas tower. As Kinky Friedmann sang, “There was a rumor about a tumor”—but then there would be, wouldn’t there? It’s too frightening to think the unfortunate with the assault rifle in MacDonalds might just be just an ordinary Joe who is Mc-pissed. Maybe his job was downsized out of existence, maybe his lover is cheating with his best friend, maybe he got double-charged for that order of fries. Maybe he’s just you on a bad day. That’s what’s frightening.

As the millennium careens to a close and a new one begins, we’re doing everything faster, harder, noisier—and that includes making things go boom in the night. We no longer settle our differences of opinions with words, or even with fists—we use Mac-10s or Uzis. Think things are bad now? Think the nineties made the sixties look like the fifties? Just wait. We’re all going to get even more seriously crazy as soon as 2001 rolls around. Hell, we may just jump the gun and do it at 2000. And if the past behavior of the U.S. government is any predictor, we can expect increased restrictions on our freedoms to travel, own guns, say what we think—which will just piss everyone off even more, and lead to more berserker rages and anonymous bombings. And of course, we can all look forward to the time a tactical nuke goes off in one of our cities or a hundred thousand people are poisoned by anthrax. We’ll all be subject to violence perpetrated by strangers, which will come, like Candid Camera, when we least expect it. On the terrorism front, things will get worse. Much worse.

It’ll be zippy. Just remember, these are the good old days. Enjoy them while you can.