Oracle FAQ Your Portal to the Oracle Knowledge Grid

Home -> Community -> Mailing Lists -> Oracle-L -> Re: OT: STOP THE PRESS!!


From: Don Granaman <>
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 02:58:44 -0700
Message-ID: <>

> They attack when they sense weakness.
> Lagging economy, dumb guy in charge.
> They never hit hard enough though. If its not a knockout punch then they're
> going down.
> Remember what happened after Pearl Harbor?

I don't think these statements are very well-reasoned. I do not, in any way, condone this act, but it might be best to back off the natural emotional rage and be a bit more analytical. An effective and coherent response demands it.

I really doubt that "weakness" or "lagging economy, dumb guy in charge" have anything to do with it. We have been suffering terrorist attacks for a decade, although this is, without a doubt, the most diabolical and devastating.

The comparison of this atrocity and Pearl Harbor are quite understandable, but also quite wrong. Both events will have had the result of uniting us in our resolve, but the differences are much greater than the similarities.

Pearl Harbor occurred during a declared war between well-defined sides consisting of states that were major world powers. The surprise attack was against a military installation with the express intent of crippling our military response capabilities (e.g. being a "knockout punch"). We knew immediately who did it. We had a well-defined opponent and the ensuing war was total and waged by all "traditional" means - including crippling the economy of the aggressor nation.

While it can be reasonably argued that we have been in a "declared war" on terrorism for some time, it is a different kind of war entirely. "Sneak attack" is the norm rather than the exception. It is a prerequisite for terrorism - a "declared" terrorist attack simply would not work. (This is simply stating the rather obvious facts, not condoning the actions.) In that context, it could be argued that this was only the most recent event in a long running war. Another major distinction is in the motivation of the perpetrators. This I'll leave to those better qualified, but I doubt that anyone, even the terrorists and their supporters, actually believe that this action will deter a response or diminish its force, let alone deliver a "knockout punch". A comparison to the mutually assured destruction (MAD) policy of the cold war is a better analogy. Most likely, this was done by terrorists who perceive that we have wronged them and want us to "share their pain" - MAD in a new form. Unfortunately, MAD doesn't work very well from our side this time since there are so many disperse terrorist groups in so many regions. Nuking half of the third world isn't an option.

If the perpetrator is (as only an example!) Iraq, the determination of a response becomes much easier - we have a well-defined state as an enemy and all the avenues of warfare are open to us. However, what it the guilty party is, for example, a radical splinter faction of the Palestinian movement? Should we carpet bomb Jerusalem? Beirut? Place all Palestinians in concentration camps? As a society of law, we have always been in a knotty dilemma in this respect. A radical over-reaction, especially against the wrong target or with immense collateral damage, would be a much greater victory for the terrorists than even all the massive human and economic damage in New York. While maintaining the moral high ground may not provide immediate satisfaction, it is essential. We must make a strong military response, but let's make it an effective one this time. So far, we haven't been winning this war. The events of the day prove it. What may easily and quickly appease public opinion inside the US may perhaps be (have been? - I hope) the preferred course for US politicians, but it won't likely be best in the context of a rational and effective plan to eliminate or minimize terrorism.

We in the US, have a history in this war, of knee-jerk emotional reactions and jumping to conclusions. I won't go into the details here, since it is only likely to generate heated discussion. Consider only the immediate reactions in the press to the Oklahoma City bombing. I have been watching both the US press and BBC today. The differences are stark. The BBC is quite sympathetic, but much more objective, analytical and responsible in their reporting. For example, they discussed past research by the US government that exposed severe weaknesses in our domestic airline security and outlined potential solutions - then talked about how the airlines and our politicians so strongly opposed them. We want security, but we don't want the inconvenience that goes with it. They also discussed some of our past responses to terrorist attacks and how a few of them were contrived to appease the public rather than punish the perpetrators. This isn't likely ever to be heard in the US press. We, as a nation, aren't good at confession. The US press is doing a great job on the factual reporting, but, in my opinion, an extremely poor job on much beyond that. We've got amazing videos and heart-rending eyewitness interviews, but irresponsible conjecture, emotional responses, and easy platitudes are rampant. As an example - of the latter, our press and politicians say that this is "an attack on freedom" or "an attack on democracy". These meaningless statements are entirely for popular consumption. (Kind of like the "anti-crime" political campaign. When is the last time anyone saw a politician with a "pro-crime" platform?) I don't know of any terrorist group anywhere whose core reason for existence is ideological opposition to either general concept. While they very rarely practice these, they typically have a much more practical and specific agenda.

(Unrelated aside:
I was watching Dan Rather shortly after this started. At one point he was obviously "out of form" and found himself unable to find appropriate words - then said something entirely inappropriate - and revealing. After grasping for words for half a minute or so, what he said was "Wow! What a great story!" I'm not entirely sure of only one word - "great". It might have been "terrific" or something similar. It definitely was not "terrible" or such though.. If this was widely noticed, it will be spun, but where it really came from was fairly obvious. I think he should have been fired on the spot.)

One of the very first interviews with national politicians (on CBS also, and shortly after the aforementioned statement) was with two Republicans who immediately and adamantly blamed the entire thing on past lapses in defense spending (and, with very thin disguise - on Clinton and the Democrats). I believe this to be wildly ignorant, irresponsible and self-serving. (That is the only such blatant partisanship I saw all day though - I don't think they really knew the full magnitude of the disaster that early on.) Unfortunately, we regard military spending as some sort of magic bullet. It isn't. If military spending determined everything, we might still be flying the British flag. One of the main problems is that the kind of spending required for this kind of war isn't the kind that politicians like. Big glamorous projects - missile defense, aircraft carriers, submarines, and such - are very visible, generate jobs for constituents, and are, by far, the preferred type of spending in Washington. How would these kind of things helped? By shooting down domestic passenger planes as soon as they deviate from the flight plan? Tom Clancy made some of the most rational statements on this topic He said, correctly, that relatively cheap low tech measures such as putting infiltrators in terrorist organizations are the most effective, but least popular in Washington. Even the most sophisticated and expensive spy satellites aren't going to be able to read every hand-written note passed between terrorists everywhere in the world. However, the kind of things that are actually needed to fight this kind of war don't generate many jobs and aren't visible enough to get anybody re-elected.

One more minor rant, then I'm done. There is a lot of talk that this was too sophisticated to be the work of one of some smaller or less well-sponsored terrorist groups - that it MUST be state-sponsored. While the conclusion will likely prove to be true, the evidence at hand is inconclusive. One of the common arguments is the timing. Is it that difficult to coordinate four events in an hour or two? Who here couldn't plan such a thing? (Not that we would want to!) Is it that much more complex than, say, coordinating a major upgrade to a database application, system, and schema? How hard is it to get airline schedules and book flights? They could have done it on Expedia! The most telling evidence of state sponsorship so far is that the planes had to be piloted into the buildings by the terrorists. That is perhaps revealing and may be a key clue, but it is not conclusive.

-Don Granaman
[certifiable Orasaurus]

Please see the official ORACLE-L FAQ:
Author: Don Granaman

Fat City Network Services    -- (858) 538-5051  FAX: (858) 538-5051
San Diego, California        -- Public Internet access / Mailing Lists
To REMOVE yourself from this mailing list, send an E-Mail message
to: (note EXACT spelling of 'ListGuru') and in
the message BODY, include a line containing: UNSUB ORACLE-L
(or the name of mailing list you want to be removed from).  You may
also send the HELP command for other information (like subscribing).
Received on Wed Sep 12 2001 - 04:58:44 CDT

Original text of this message