Not Enough Fingers

Copyright © by Len Holman, 2/12/14


  A “Ring of Steel” surrounds the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the public is being assured that the Russians are not only co-operating with U.S. intelligence, but that with more than forty thousand police and military personnel on site, not even a mouse with a grenade (or a couple of toothpaste tubes) could get through.  The athletes in the Olympic village in Sochi are presumably concentrating on their task, and Vladimir Putin is desperate to burnish the mildew off Russian glory. But there are those “soft targets” which remain problematic and which are to terrorists as cheese or peanut butter is to rodents. 

  It’s one thing to try to keep terrorists with explosives strapped to their bodies from walking into a celebrated, well-known, well-advertised, relatively confined space.  It’s another thing to try to prevent them from blowing up some restaurant or a bathroom in a bus station, or a bunch of tourists walking the street.  These targets are called “soft” because they are not ringed with the Russian equivalent of SEAL teams or Marine Corps Recon units.  They are basically unprotected and it doesn’t take much figuring to see just how many there are and how hard it is to protect them all. The situation is very much like a person passing a fortified dike and seeing a large hole spouting water.  He yells for help, and another passerby stops and asks what the problem is.  He has stuck his finger in the hole, stopping the leak, telling her get some help, but she frowns and points to the rest of the dike and asks, “What about all those OTHER holes?” 

  There are, in terrorist terms, lots of holes and not enough fingers.  So the Forces of Good try to outguess the Forces of Nihilism (or Fanaticism), and—mostly—Good has triumphed.  Mostly.  If a country like, say, Russia, spends millions of dollars, invests huge amounts of time and energy and troops, and every news show on TV and every headline on the Web speculates on the state of security, then what kind of triumph is this?  When someone asks “Has anything in Sochi blown up yet?” then terror is getting better advertising and more success than a Super Bowl ad—and the putative target is spending almost as much money as Budweiser did for the Bronco-Seahawk game, but without the cute horses.  One major problem is that overwhelming force, over the long haul, doesn’t seem to work very well.  In the West, “long haul” means a few years.  For example, about 58,000 American troops died so that McDonald’s could open a place in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  For certain terrorists, as in the Caucuses region, it means “forever.”  Ask the Russians, who have been dealing with Chechens and various splinter groups for a couple of hundred years, and who now, in the 21st Century are STILL dealing with them.  Another major problem involves the Bishop of Cloyne, George Berkeley and his ideas.  His thesis was that nothing can exist except in a thinking mind, that what there is, can only be perceived by a mind because it is the mind which does the perceiving; one’s eyes are not windows, they are vehicles into the mind. 

  The things of this world have essence, but that essence is effected only by being perceived, and only the mind can do that.  In other words, there may, in fact, be stuff in the world, but it can’t be known except by a mind which perceives it.  And therein lays another problem—not only for the Russians, but for the rest of the world.  It could be that what an armed force perceives as a juicy, likely, prominent target might not be perceived as such by the terrorist.  Berkeley’s dictum, “to be is to be perceived” fits in here nicely.  Some ring of steel force must perceive a target as some particular terrorist group would, and that is as tricky as a husband knowing what his wife thinks, or as tricky as knowing that Atlanta will have an ice storm and be closed for a week.  If one of the infamous (made popular and prominent by the media’s penchant for the exotic and speculative) “Black Widow” wants to blow herself up in a crowd twenty miles from the Olympics, who can predict that?  Who could’ve known that THAT particular place seemed, was perceived, to be a “soft” target, ripe for the destroying. 

  But now an awful thought must occur:  what, to a dedicated terrorist, is NOT a “soft” target?  Almost nothing, that’s what. And terrorism has the freedom of being free to terrorize by virtue of only a threat, let alone an actual act of violence.  It could be that some terrorists are sitting at home watching the snowboarding events and chuckling over the frantic security movements taking place many miles away.  Or maybe some group is planning to set off a bomb later, when everyone goes home, or maybe set off a bomb in a train station or in a crowd hundreds of miles away, or….well, you can see the difficulties.  For the West, “seeing is believing,” but for terrorists “believing is seeing.”  The former is mostly passive in that targets are assumed and defended because we believe that’s where the C-4 will go off, but terrorists live in a different reality and since the truly dedicated and True-Believing ones among them (of which there are many) believe and perceive differently, there is really no way of stopping them completely.  You can bathe in Flit, but all it takes is one mosquito getting through to make you scratch.  And without enough fingers in those holes, no amount of huffing and military puffing can prevent something awful from happening—and the public needs to get its head out of the sand and start perceiving the world in a less than Disneyland fashion.


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