We’re cut off from the financial news…and happy for it. We’re taking a mini-vacation this weekend.
The book by Mr Coleman that we quoted last week made us realise how much foreigners hate Americans. Or, at least it made us wonder about it…
Why should they hate Americans? It’s probably more complex than that… they probably hate, love, envy and despise Americans all at the same time. America is the cop on the beat…walking all over the globe with a very big stick in his hand. The United States spends almost as much on its military as all other nations combined. And it spends an unknown sum on its secret services…for unknown services. That’s just what an empire does.
Some people are pleased to see the United States policing the world; they wish it would do more. Others don’t appreciate America’s protection services.
It is all very natural and normal. The imperial power has certain prerogatives, responsibilities and pretensions; it’s bound to stir up resentment in certain quarters. It is also bound to do what empires do.
Temptation is irresistible at all levels – to organised nations…as well as to individuals. To the question – “when will a person do something to excess?” – comes the ready answer: as soon as he thinks he can get away with it. When too much credit is offered a man, with no apparent punishment forthcoming, he will avail himself of it. And when a nation finds it can throw its weight around – it will do so. We know of no counter-examples. Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia, the Mongols, the Chinese, the French, the British, the Germans, the Japanese…and now the Americans. Give a nation big guns and big battalions…and the temptation to use them is irresistible. Naturally, those that are being bossed around don’t like it very much. Eventually, they get even.
(And that, dear reader, is the subject of a new book by your editor, co-authored with colleague Lila Rajiva. Why do crowds of people go nuts…and do crazy things? No one ever bothered to explain it – until now! Coming soon…to bookstores near you.)
But every episode of imperial history has its nuances. The thought crossed our mind yesterday as we were making our way through Stansted Airport. The lines were shorter, and the capos were politer, but it was almost as bad as going through an American airport. They’d installed a machine we had never seen before – an X-ray machine just for shoes. So, after going through security, our shoes had to go through a security of their own. From the tiniest pair of toddler shoes to the clunkiest “goth” butt kickers, everyone’s shoes went through the machines.
How many people have actually been harmed by a pair of shoes, we wondered?
How many people have actually been killed by airborne terrorists? How many have been killed by terrorists at all? On our flight to Dublin we saw not a single person who looked like he wanted to blow up the plane. Since the most spectacular terrorist incident in history, terrorists have led a fairly quiet life – at least in the West. Britain has seen the most activity; the typical terrorist, we now know, holds a UK passport and works as a doctor for the National Health Service! What we also know is that everything we were told about terrorists was a lie.
They are not desperately poor people. They are not uneducated. They are not without opportunities in the secular world. They are not even very religious. According to the report on 9/11, some of the terrorists entertained themselves before the attack by going to a lap-dance bar.
Importantly, they are not very many. And they are not very competent. If they plant a bomb somewhere, odds are fairly good that it won’t go off. If they concoct a shoe-bomb…it won’t even blow off their foot. It is as if they were pretending to be terrorists…playing the part, rather than actually causing much havoc.
Of course, there are a few well-known exceptions. The London subway…the Madrid commuter train…the Twin Towers. But if the worldwide terrorist threat were really what it is made out to be, it is surprising there are so few serious incidents.
Maybe we’re missing something. But it would seem to be such an easy thing to derail a crowded train…to set off a smoke bomb in a crowded subway…to hijack a big bus and drive it into a crowded market? Even to stampede a crowd and kill dozens – it could be done without weapons. Terrorists so far have displayed a remarkable lack of initiative or imagination. They are supposed to be killing people. But, so far, more people are killed by accident than terrorists.
In WWII, before the D-Day landings, a handful of commandos and resistors were able to interrupt almost all German train transport towards Normandy. On the Eastern front, meanwhile, partisans were able to cause so much trouble that whole armies had to be diverted to combat them. A determined foe can always cause a lot of trouble, especially in a civil society.
What’s wrong with these terrorists? We don’t know. As near as we can tell, they’re the most dangerous enemy that doesn’t really threaten us. But billions of dollars and countless hours are spent trying to protect us from them.
We don’t know…but it is sometimes amusing to go through airport checkpoints and see someone who hasn’t been watching the news. Occasionally, someone makes it to the airport directly from the backwoods. He is so naïve that he thinks it is still a free country. He is flabbergasted when the petty tyrants start barking orders at him – “get in line…take off your belt…have your IDs ready”. He is silly enough to think he should treated like a customer rather than a criminal. He’s amazed that he has to take off his clothes off. “Remove your jacket, belt and shoes…do you have a laptop?” He is outraged when they take away his toothpaste…and beside himself when the guard gives him the once-over with his rubber-gloved hands. The poor hick! But he’ll get used to taking orders. Give him time.
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