The technology of death vs. life
I was watching a feature on CNN today that mentioned that terrorist bombers make a special effort to have their explosives go off in an enclosed space because it maximizes the carnage. Thus, today's London subway bombers may have timed their bombs to detonate not only on the subway, but also while the trains were in a tunnel.
The report described some studies from Israel, a country which has experienced more of these terrorist events than anyone else (with Iraq no doubt taking a close second). Apparently, the Israelis have found that one of the advantages of having security guards posted at the entrance to nearly every public place is that bombers who are spotted by guards are often forced to set off their explosives prematurely, in an open rather than a closed area. In this way the guards often sacrifice their own lives to prevent more people from dying.
That's certainly heroic under any definition of the word. I am amazed at how many people are willing to take on such a task. As much as the existence of suicide bombers depresses me and makes me wonder about the future of humanity, the presence of guards--as well as those volunteering for police duty in Iraq--reassures me.
In the first few months after 9/11, and during the later escalation of bombings in Israel as the intifada heated up, as well as the Madrid bombings, I often wondered what a nation can do to deal with such awful possibilities. In this country, we've been remiss about the need to have more checkpoints and guards, because we are loathe to surrender our freedom. In addition, over the nearly four years since 9/11, we've been lulled into what may be a false sense of security by the relative calm here.
I've heard the argument that security guards won't do much anyway, because then the bombers will just seek out different targets and use other methods, such as blowing themselves up on a city street. And while that is no doubt true, today's CNN piece reminded me that the presence of guards would still be likely to make it more difficult for bombers to kill the maximum number of people possible.
War and violence have historically been limited by technology, and as technology advances, the opportunities to kill advance. This has always been true, and defenses against weapons have always lagged behind the invention of the weaponry itself. For example, suicide bombings on a subway would not have been possible but for the invention of lightweight explosives--in the olden days, the sheer volume of explosives necessary would have made it impossible to carry enough on one's person to do widespread damage.
We are still scrambling to figure out the proper response. I doubt it will be a single technology, and it won't happen overnight. History tells us that human ingenuity coupled with human rage dictates that new technologies of destruction will be developed and used, and that we will always be scrambling to defend ourselves against them. So far, the forces of humanity and preservation have prevailed, but it hasn't been easy, and the death toll has been high, particularly in the 20th century. So far, the 21st seems to be continuing the trend.