Sorta like the movie BRAZIL

Paul on Wizbang:

We really need to decided how many deaths is enough. So we let terrorists kill 100 per year? 200? We want an open society and at least some of us don’t want to do anything to stop terrorism, so at some point we have to decided how many suicide bombers we accept. No, I’m not being facetious.

We accept (inventing a number) 100,000 deaths per year by automobile because the good outweighs the bad. How many suicide bombers per year is below our collective threshold of pain? Or more accurately; how many suicide bombers do we accept before the cure hurts less than the disease?

It is a question that ain’t going away.

The actual number of automobile accident deaths is around 42,000 per year, but the point stands. No one is calling for the elimination of vehicles despite the carnage. 42,000 translates to 115 per day. And almost no one except for the friends and family of the deceased even notices.

The difference here, of course, is the word “accident”. With very few exceptions, automobile fatalities in America are unintentional. Sure, many could have (and should have) been prevented by more attentive drivers, better training or maintenance, or better judgement after consuming alcohol. But virtually no one means to kill or injure anyone, even when their actions or inactions directly do so.

The enemy we fight today means to kill, and they are very serious. Despite our best efforts, they are going to succeed a fair amount of the time.

So the question is: How many deaths are acceptable?

To some, apparently 3,000 are acceptable as long as they don’t have to wait too long to board their aircraft. If 4,000 had been killed on 9/11, maybe, all this no-fly watchlist nonsense might be necessary, but apparently the good of quick boarding at Gate 24 outweighs the death of 3,000 other people.

So what’s the number? Given that automobile accidents are, in fact, accidents, should the number of acceptable terrorist-related deaths in America be double that number? Triple? We need to set a baseline and so that we know when to react. So that we know when to enforce watch lists. So that we know when its okay to search peoples’ bags, investigate their library reading records if warranted, and discriminate by race if circumstances dictate.

I know you think I’m kidding. And, in a way, I am. But I’m also a realist and I recognize that we wouldn’t be waging preemptive war and renewing the PATRIOT act if the reality was potentially a dozen deaths per year. But I don’t know what the appropriate level is.

Much has been made about the toughness of the British people, and I pointed out the storms Londoners have weathered in the past myself after the 7/7 bombings. But it bears remembering that while the citizens of London were hunkered down in bunkers and subway stations (ironically, the very places threatened today) the government was doing its best to protect them and to strike back against the attackers. Because the Blitz was beyond the acceptable limit.

So what’s the limit? I think we’re well past it, but it seems that many disagree.


  1. It’s not enough to determine if the latest attack is sufficient to justify a given response. Terrorists will escalate their attacks until you make them stop or they run out of ability to escalate. You have to ask: How far can they escalate, and does that justify a given response? You also have to ask, what response will domestic politics permit? To give arbitrary examples, an attack killing a dozen citizens won’t lead voters to support sending 300,000 troops to the other side of the world. On the other hand, if you wait until the terrorists nuke NY, Baltimore, and Houston, the public won’t accept anything as wimpy as a conventional war, they’ll demand 10 times the nukes. Your options are always limited on one end or the other. So, you decide on the response which will eventually be needed. Then you wait until the terrorists make an attack that allows you to make the response. Of course, none of this is knowable. That’s why the people who make these decisions get the government-supplied luxury aircraft.

  2. The inherent problem with any form of security measure is that there are countless ways to do harm and only a finite number of things we can do to try to prevent harm. It is worth noting that the 9-11 hijackers mostly entered the country legally, received legal flight training, and entered the planes with legal carry on materials. Before 9-11, small box cutters weren’t forbidden. The main reason we are safer now is better cockpit doors, not better screening. We discover the possiblities mostly by accident, since most ordinary criminals aren’t inclined either to be suicidal or to kill people for no reason. You don’t think of a farmer’s market as a security risk until a senile man plows through a crowd of people when he can’t find the brake. You don’t think of a railroad crossing as a security risk until a despondent man parks his junker car on the tracks and leaves at the last second causing a deadly AMTRAK derailment. One day its a shoe bomb, maybe tomorrow it will be a shampoo bottle bomb — we don’t analyze fluids people bring onto planes at the moment. Guard against everything and someone will think of something new. Systemic screening for once in a billion events naturally produces lots of false alarms and has to be extremely through to still catch the one in a billion event which is hard to do in the face of so many negative searches and false alarms. The best approach is to look at why, historically, we’ve had so few terrorist incidents in the U.S. (without intense screening at every venue from planes to subways to court houses) and to figure out what changed.

  3. Its sad to say this but looking at our past history its possible that the american people would accept an almost unlimited amount of terrorist attacks as long as those attacks were confined to military and government targets overseas. Had Bin Laden been more patient and confined himself to smaller scale attacks overseas rather than attacking us here at home he might still be plotting Jihad from the confort of his bases in Afganistan instead of on the run in a cave.

  4. could someone provide a url about the link between osama and sadam? I think this really why people believe we went are there. I’m still confused about this. I thought they hated each other? Every muslim from the middle east I’ve ever talked to said this was the case. I guess americans just don’t really know the politics of the middle east; it is pretty complicated after all. Wouldn’t it be sad that in the future we find the bush administration was actually lying about every reason to goto war in iraq; and as a consequence of the war, we’re actually worse off? Maybe We have created a terrorist breeding ground there?, boy that would be ironic wouldn’t it.