For over a decade, the West has been fighting the War on Terror, and maybe it’s time to sit down and assess how things are going for us in this great global conflict. More than ten years on, are we any closer to putting out the flame of terrorism that burned so fiercely at the dawning of the new millennium; have we won the hearts and minds of people living under tyrannical regimes opposed to our very existence, or have we continued to lose ground? In several measurable ways, the West has definitely won some significant victories; taking down Saddam Hussein, toppling the Taliban, eliminating Osama bin Laden, these are all legitimate achievements we can point to and have little doubt about. However, do these and other victories balance the books when set aside the cost in blood and treasure? This kind of calculus is well beyond my abilities to work out, and I don’t think anyone else is really qualified to do the math either, so I’m going to leave it as an open question. At any rate, the question I’d like to focus on isn’t so much if it was worth it, but rather whether or not it is worth it to continue with this war. What’s done is done and we can’t change it now; best case we could hope for would be bringing responsible parties up on charges of crimes against humanity, but we both know this is never going to happen, don’t we?
Better then to look at the current situation and try to figure out if we’re getting back an equal or greater return on our investment of blood and treasure, or if maybe a change in direction is warranted. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian government is spending more on the military than it has since WWII, and more than it ever spent during the Cold War. Keep in mind, that period also includes the Korean War and the First Gulf War, and Russian nukes were an ever-looming threat over everything our armed forces did. This means, in my interpretation, that the current threat from global terrorism is worse than anything since the Second World War, worse than the threat of nuclear war, worse than the threat of Communism. We’re talking about tens of billions of dollars, so the risk to Canadian security must be extremely high, right? There must have been a rash of terrorist attacks that drew us out into Afghanistan to confront our tormentors and bring the fight to their doorstep, yes? But wait, I hear you saying, there actually haven’t been any bombings by militant Islamists in Canada, and only one of the 40+ terrorist acts (depending on how you count them, I chose to take the FLQ bombing campaign of the 60’s as one event) in Canada’s history was a failed plot by the Toronto 18 back in 2006. In fact, French-Canadian separatists account for the vast majority of terror attacks in Canada, and yet we hear little or no political rhetoric about the threat of Francophone extremists living among us. We don’t hear tales of French-speakers being taken aside disproportionately for “enhanced screening” at airports, nor do we hear about French schools being vandalized in retaliation for . . . well, for whatever is it that people who vandalize mosques think they’re retaliating for. Must be something, right? Surely to goodness, our fellow citizens wouldn’t just go out and deface someone’s place of worship just out of ignorance and bigotry, right?
Well, let’s leave that question alone for the moment too, since I’m sure it must just be a failing of research on my part to find the incidents these brave patriots are paying back upon their nation’s enemies. Perhaps it would be a good idea to look at the things that are protecting us from future attacks by radical zealots bent on sowing terror among our civilian population out of an unquestioned hatred for us born out of years of religious brainwashing. One thing we have going for us is that it is extremely difficult to mount a terrorist attack on civilians that would bring an entire metropolitan area to its knees in fear of sudden death. Only, that’s not exactly true, is it? A quick search brings up four incidents involving multiple shooting attacks that terrorized various cities between 2002 and 2006. The Beltway Sniper, West Virginia Sniper, Ohio Highway sniper attacks, and Phoenix, Arizona’s Serial Shooter were all cases where a couple of guys with a rifle and a car were able to kill dozens of people, wound several more, and struck entire regions with fear that anyone could be the next victim. This is how easy it is to execute a terrorist plot, just by a rifle and a Chevy Caprice, and you can make an entire city fear you. All you need to do is claim credit and release a manifesto, and voila, you’ve got yourself a successful terrorist attack, all without having to blow yourself up, so you’re free to carry out one attack after another until you’re finally caught and put on trial, where you can continue to spread your message of jihad.
In order to strike fear in the hearts of a civilian population, you don’t need a dozen fanatics to blow up buildings or planes, a relatively simple attack carried out by one or two people will generate a similar result with much less expense and planning. So why is it that we’re not seeing this sort of attack on North American soil on a regular basis? It’s nearly impossible to defend an entire country from this kind of attack, and they have a proven track record of effectiveness, so what is it that’s stopping our enemies from carrying out a similar shooting spree every single day? Could it be that these evil masterminds simply haven’t thought of this, and I should shut up before they come by and read my blog in a search for new ideas? Or could it be that the evil masterminds don’t really exist, and the threat of sudden, painful death at the hands of radical Islamists isn’t something we should be putting so much effort into preventing?
Maybe an important question to ask would be whether there could be someone besides these alleged terrorists who would stand to gain by keeping everyone afraid, and maybe something along the lines of several billion dollars could point us in the right direction. Is it really that hard to believe that people who benefit to the tune of tens of billions (hundreds of billions in the US) in taxpayer money, along with the political power that comes along with presenting yourself as the National Security Party to voters you’ve whipped up into a lather of fear? I don’t think you have to be a conspiracy nut to suspect that maybe the threat has been exaggerated in order to direct the public onto the policy path certain political interests would prefer, it simply stands to reason that a rational actor would use something like this to his advantage, especially when the reward is so great for doing so. Honestly, I’d be disappointed in the hawks if they didn’t run with this whole thing, it’s such an obvious boost to their position. Keeping people afraid of the monsters in the closet is an excellent, low-risk way to get rich selling Monster Repellant Spray and make yourself look like a hero in the process. With an imaginary enemy, you get all the benefits of political power and unlimited spending in the name of National Security, without the downside of your enemy actually attacking your people, which could lead to embarrassing questions about why you weren’t able to protect them.
All this being said, what I believe is that the best way to win a war on terror is to stop being afraid, period. Stop letting fear dictate public policy, stop letting it decide who you vote for, what spending agenda you support. The threat is not real, or it would be in our faces daily. We live in an open society, where any crazy with a gun can shoot up an urban area and sow panic in a wide area; if there really were the kind of evil masterminds working against us that our leaders say they’re protecting us from, there is no way on earth they could possibly protect us from them. With the long gun registry now taken away, it would be even easier for someone with malicious intent to get hold of a high-powered rifle and start shooting up any city in North America, but instead it’s teenagers shooting up schools. Think about that for a minute: this is the kind of attack that teenagers carry out with some regularity, what possible reason could there be that would be keeping terrorists from doing the same, if they actually are living among us?
So in closing, I’d like to say to you the same thing I plan on saying to my son when he calls me at night because he’s afraid of the monsters under his bed and in his closet: “Look, there’s no monsters here, see? It’s ok, you don’t need to worry about them because they aren’t real. Now go to sleep, and I’ll see you in the morning.”