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The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On (theatlantic.com)
553 points by duck on Apr 16, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments

I ran the prestigious marathon for the first time yesterday. I had a good race, set a new best time for recent years, and had a great experience. The only thing I would have been able to do yesterday was give blood, and that apparently wasn't needed. So there's nothing I can do, and fretting and worrying isn't going to change anything. Walking around scared isn't going to prevent anything. I sympathize with those affected, from those who lost friends and family to the thousands who were not allowed to finish the race. What I won't do is make the bombing the primary memory of the race. Sorry, bombers, you're not taking that away. I'll allow it to stand as a seperate, tragic event in my mind and deal with it from there.

Today my wife and I will go walk the Freedom Trail just as we planned. Maybe we won't get into some (or any) of the monuments, but we're doing it regardless. I mean, what else are we supposed to do, huddle in our hotel room until our flight tomorrow? The breakfast place a block south of the closed off crime scene is open, so we're off to go get some food now.

read "Boston Massacre" memorial plate. The wording is interesting (at least for a foreigner).

what does it say on it, if you can recall?

That they mobbed some soldiers who openend fire and killed five. With a real effort on painting the soldiers in a negative light, and the mob in a positive light.

My head was screaming: "in Vietnam, Iraq or Afganistan there would be medals for that, this is all about spinning the news".

Fun fact, the British soldiers who fired on the civilians were (fairly successfully) defended by future US President John Adams.


Can you point out some similarities between the Taliban's Jihad and the American Revolution?

Sorry, I was just referring to the plate in the street. I didn't know about this article and that there was a possible confusion.

Thanks for writing this, there is no guarantee of safety in a free society.

There's no guarantee of safety in non-free societies either.

It was a great moment of national pride for me (which are rare in the UK) in the wake of the 7/7/2005 bombings. People were back on the Tube and buses the next day, refusing to allow their lives to be disrupted further. I've always taken solace from those people- I hope that the people of Boston can be equally inspiring.

Let me offer a different opinion. There was a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993. Thirteen different explosions in the span of a few hours across the city's landmarks. 250 people died. One of the blasts was in the Bombay stock exchange. This was on a Friday, and the stock exchange opened for business on Monday. This was a huge PR win for Mumbai, as the media talked about the resilience of the residents and the manner in which they moved on and didn't let it impact their lives.

It's now 20 years and several terrorist attacks and bomb-blasts have gone by. Mumbai still carries on, but there is no pride in doing that anymore. Everyone just wants it to stop. It's been easy for the government to quickly clean up and talk about how terrorism doesn't impact us. The Mumbai residents keep calm, but no one wants to move on like this.

There has never been a sense of pride in getting to work the next day, its just what you have to do. The wreckage on the way is a sign that maybe you got lucky, but also a sign that your commute is going to be FUBARed.

The treatment though of these events is somewhat schizophrenic.

The local take has generally been one of gallows humor/pride(?). One of the most common questions people have is "is everyone I know safe" and "so is tomorrow a holiday or what?" (the answer is always no, it's not.)

Its when people look and compare what Bombay/Mumbai goes through regularly and when it gets kudos for being itself that people suppose they should feel pride, but I suspect this sensation isn't the natural self grown variety.

The best treatment of the phenomenon has been by the Taj staff. During an tour of the art in the hotel after it was re-opened, curious tourists asked about the attacks and where it happened, the guide spent just enough time to be polite and make it clear that such questions were not answered and moved on to discussing his work.

Honestly, what else are you going to do?

I suspect part of the state side reaction is likely media influenced or focus on those aspects. By the looks of it Boston is acting rationally to the issue and will likely carry on as well once there is an all clear.


Its funny what is being called "several attacks". For context this refers to the train bombings, which opened up railway bogies like sardine cans, the attacks of 26/11, the bombings in Jhaveri Bazaar, random riots.... the list goes on. And the city's response has generally been apathy. The attacks elicited anger at the Government and embarrassment.

But oddly, apathy is probably the best answer to terrorism. The point of terrorism is to make a political statement. If no one cares then while violent, the statement is essentially ignored.

>>Mumbai still carries on, but there is no pride in doing that anymore.

Not just that.

But think of it this way, most people who are already having hand-to-mouth have no other option but to show up at their jobs next day.

This is becoming increasingly applicable in the US, too. People will work no matter what, if the only other option is poverty.

Well even people not living hand to mouth come to work next day.

It's just what you do.

That is a reality that I guess I just naively assumed wasn't possible. This bit really kind of shook me. I've always thought of terrorism much like the author and the aforementioned poster you're replying to, a seemingly random and rare event. I'd never thought about what living in a society where it has become common place. I imagine it's a bit like when school shooting sprees line up in the States, each one on the news results in a "god dammit, another one, what an asshole, seriously?" We move on, and become desensitized in the long run and "overcome" time and again, but that doesn't make the situation any better or less negative.

I have no solution to that dilemma that won't put us as a society as low or lower than the terrorists we're fighting...

That is a reality that I guess I just naively assumed wasn't possible. This bit really kind of shook me. I've always thought of terrorism much like the author and the aforementioned poster you're replying to, a seemingly random and rare event. I'd never thought about what living in a society where it has become common place

Got back and look at the UK in the 70's and 80's during the worst of the Northern Ireland troubles for an example.

There was a period of a couple of years where "suspect device" was a regular reason used for my train being late.

Between foreign involvement, wars, social injustice, extremist religous groups, poor political system, right wing militants ploting to overthrow the government, access to arms, use of economic power, poverty and just being the largest western country, I'm actually suprised how little terrorism there is in the US.

Agreed. Last night my personal trainer who is otherwise the nicest guy ever said "why does this always happen here, these things happen here all the time" to which I replied "they happen almost every single day in other parts of the world, they barely ever happen here". He didn't believe me and proceeded to tell me about how "it's because we let all those god damn foreigners into the country". This is a really great guy and I had no idea he had these views but after hearing him say such an ignorant thing I too wonder why this doesn't happen here in the U.S. more often too.

It's disappointing, if not shocking, that the US population is so uninformed. Just today there was a bombing in Iraq that dwarfs the one in Boston. http://www.news.com.au/world-news/iraq-bombings-kill-46-ahea...

And last month as well: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/20/al-qaida-iraq-an...

That's the mood regarding these things in Israel, too, and I think especially among us Gen Y types in most countries.

We're too young to remember a time when terrorist attacks and school shootings weren't regular occurrences. We carry on rationally because we've seen the stupid crap people do when carried away by their emotional reactions to terrorism. That doesn't mean we don't dearly wish it would stop.

I worked in Roxbury; we never believed our city was safe. Stray bullets are a fact of life. A third of people who get shot to death are shot by the cops. It's not like it's the 70's in Chicago or anything, but it's never "safe".

But we don't need perfect safety to be proud. The most common statement going around my social networks is "Most of what you need to know about Bostonians is summed up in the fact that their blood banks were already full today". People lend each other their cell phones regularly. Those hospitals are always saving lives. These things are part of being decent human beings. Just because there are non-decent human beings out there can't diminish that.

We are cynical, because we have to be. But in cynicism we've found hope for ourselves, because we can be different.

Exactly this. Holding your head high is not a response to terrorism.

Then what is? What is the average citizen to do, other than refuse to be terrorized?

What's a better response? Hiding?

It's pretty much the best option, under the circumstances.

What should the response be then? Being terrorized?

I'm actually incredibly confident in Boston on this count. People here are scared and angry, but the reactions here have been brave and largely rational. Nobody's going to start avoiding the Back Bay or staying away from the subway, or on their guard with their neighbors.

I'm less confident in this country's political leadership.

The British resolve is something that those of us across the pond seem to have lost, or perhaps it is something that was developed in the British people during the terrible days of WW1 and WW2.

We here tend to work more of a spirit of freak-outery and cynicism. And as much as it annoys me, I think its more a symptom of how relatively little most of us and our ancestors have had to worry about in the US as much of our history was as a mostly rural international backwater that quickly transitioned quickly to a world power with oceans and, almost always, peaceful neighbors on its borders.

Which is something to be thankful for, even if it has led to a fairly weak resolve.

I saw no shortage of resolve in NYC after 9/11. Just as untog said of London, we all went to work the next day and carried on with our lives.

There was an excellent article by a New Yorker a while back contrasting the response within NYC with that of the rest of the country.

I think that the proximity to the horror likely has a strong effect. The survivors know that they are survivors, and know that they must carry on surviving. Distant observers thousands of miles away are left only with the horror but little of the resolve that comes from experiancing survival.

But that is just me making up a hypothesis that fits the data in retrospect. Maybe something else is going on.

Would love to read that article if you have a link.

I don't know if this is what he was referring to, but I find this article inspirational, about what the NYPD has been doing to fight terrorism, while we New Yorkers continue living our lives. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/07/25/050725fa_fact2

If anything the people move on, its politicians and those in power who seem to want to exploit a situation. I tire so much of being told I should be scared, let alone how they very same people who could not prevent the issue suddenly more than willing to disrupt my life going forward and tell me its in my best interest they do so.

perhaps, and I in no way diminish the everyday heroism of doing that.

I don't remember much about NYCs reaction, as I was in school in Atlanta at the time. But my father worked on an air force base at the time and reactions there and around that town were anything but carrying on.

The British resolve is something that those of us across the pond seem to have lost, or perhaps it is something that was developed in the British people during the terrible days of WW1 and WW2.

Large chunks of the London population would have also lived through the various IRA campaigns in the 70-90s.

One of the thing that seemed darkly humorous to me was that in the aftermath of the July bombings the tube/rail services rolled out the old warning messages used during the IRA campaigns which didn't really apply to suicide bombings (they were all aimed at suspect packages being left somewhere - rather than things being carried / suspect behaviour).

I think this is what happens pretty much everywhere. People just carry on.

News media gives us a rather distorted image of how things stand. I remember when living in Beijing during the Kosovo bombing campaign in 1999. The Chinese naturally took great offence for deaths in their embassy.

CNN was day after day showing video of violent anti-US demonstrations outside US embassy in Beijing. Foreigners were warned of sticking their nose out. I took a walk in the Sanlitun embassy area. The closest thing to a riot I saw was an overweight woman walking her poodle. The demonstrations were well organised in front of the cameras, without causing disruption elsewhere. They were mostly over in a day; CNN just kept replaying the same footage for a week.

Chinese colleagues were clearly angry, but they also just carried on, as always.

You can see plainly in one of the videos everyone running to the site of the bombing to help those in need; during 9/11 the same thing happened. Its only those people disconnected from the event (not everyone of course), fueled by vitriol from the media, who foster this irrational fear that ends up turning into xenophobia and irrational politics.

I travelled through London the next day on the tube and noticed two things:

1. A HUGE police presence, like nothing I've ever seen anywhere - that day it was the safest city in the world. 2. It was quiet, yes people were carrying on but it wasn't like the London you expect, people from outside the city were definitely steering clear.

One thing to remember is that London (and the UK) is "used" to terrorist attacks from years of the IRA. Back in those days it was a bit different as they generally gave a warning but still, I think over time it has built up a resilience.

I was two blocks away from the bombing for a couple hours and no one was panicking, sad perhaps but quite calm.

London had 30 years of training.

I think for HN it's worth noting, perhaps in the title, that this article is written by Bruce Schneier.

Because I needed to look it up, too:

"Bruce Schneier an American cryptographer, computer security specialist, and writer. He is the author of several books on general security topics, computer security and cryptography."


If you ask me to name a cryptographer, Scheier is by far the first one that comes to mind. Also, in my experience, his book, Applied Cryptography, is by far the most reccomended book for people new to crypto.

Applied Cryptography is a terrible reference. Please don't recommend it to programmers. Instead, recommend Practical Cryptography / Cryptography Engineering (they're the same book), which Schneier co-authored with Niels Fergusen.

Update: I said "terrible book" but I'm going to start being more precise about this. It's not a terrible "book"; I enjoyed the hell out of it when I was a teenager. It's just misleading and dangerous.

Your right. I learned crypto for an internship at a cryptography lab, so having the reference of the primitives that mere mortals should never touch, as well as a reference to many ideas that both worked and failed was extremely useful. Of course, if you want to learn crypto to use it well in your own (non-crypto) code, than those are probably exactly the qualities you do not want in your reference book.

Not having read (nor the time and inclination to read) the book, what is so bad about it, and what is the difference with the one you do recommend?

I know basically nothing about cryptography, but Scheier is the first to my mind as well. The only other name that even comes to my mind is Colin Percival, but that's only because of his comments on HN (cperciva).

I bet you can't triforce, either.

Also, almost every link in the article is back to one of Schneier's essays on schneier.com

I put his name in the title when I submitted it b/c of that exact reason, but I guess a mod changed it afterwards and removed it.

Its too bad that most people don't have a basic appreciation of statistics or probability. Its too bad Schneier only spends a tiny paragraph on it: "Even though this will be in the news for weeks, we should recognize this for what it is: a rare event".

The chance that a person will die from a bombing, or be shot, or their plane crash, or a hurricane kill them is so small that there is almost NO reason to be afraid of it. It is far more likely that a person will die of Heart disease or cancer than any of the above. What will almost certainly kill us, we accept. What is almost inconsequential to us, we abhor.

People don't react to terrorism because they're afraid of being blown up personally. They do it because they're afraid of the precedent that might be set by not responding.

It's statistically unlikely that you'll be the victim of gang violence, but does that mean it's irrational prosecute and punish gang members? No, because the activity threatens social stability vastly out of proportion with the probability of any given person being victim to it. In general, we punish crimes not because it's likely that we'll be the victims of one, but because if we don't the problem might grow out of hand and undermine civil order.


Really now. I don't need to go much beyond the evening news to know that people spend a lot of time being afraid of things that aren't likely to happen. (What don't you know about your toothbrush that could kill you? Probably very little.)

Your model of humanity is one that's much more rational and thoughtful than what I've come to expect from my neighbors. Nobody is scared of a decline in social stability; they're scared of getting shot or robbed or blown up. Usually by people who look different than they do.

Listen to Obama's speech on the issue. It's targeted to calm the average American. Listen to the word he uses to characterize the administration's response: justice. What does "justice" mean in this context? It means nothing other than the government's response to activity that threatens social stability and psychologically remedy the injuries created by actions that upset social stability.

What does the War in Iraq or having to remove one's shoes before boarding an aircraft have to do with justice?

I don't think anyone is making the argument that there should be no justice. Prosecuting the criminals who commit murder for the purpose of terrorism is clearly a "no reasonable person could disagree" sort of a thing.

But the question remains, how is justice won? In theory we could impose martial law and suspend elections, or permanently shut all the roads and trains and prohibit gatherings of more than five people in the same place, or nuke the entire middle east. Perhaps doing those things could bring justice to more terrorists.

Well before we reach that point, we come to a line we should not cross. We come to a choice that will cost us more of our humanity than it gains us in justice. And whipping the public into a frenzy is how popular support for crossing the line we should not cross is manufactured.

All that is really irrelevant to my point, whixh is that the nature of the word "justice" shows that people are concerned about social order, not just the individual likelihood of being killed. One can argue about the extent to which any given response helps maintain order.

That's why people care about "justice" for murderers even though more people are killed by auto accidents. Murder upsets the social order. A car accident doesn't.

This might explain the political response to terrorism, but I'm not sure it applies to the individual.

Fear of setting a bad precedent which could lead to the undermining of civil order seems to be a more complex feeling than that of being the victim of an attack. It's been my experience that the most common fears of an individual are related to sudden/unexpected pain and/or death, not concern for the social good.

And if people are truly concerned over the long term social effects of a threat, why does this not also apply to large percentages of the population routinely dying of preventable causes? Surely this is just as relevant to the well-being of society.

Because people aren't just worried about death. They're worried about social order. Yes, not just governments but individuals worry about social order. It is a luxury of growing up in the west that allows people to say stuff like only governments worry about social order. Highway accidents don't have the potential to undermine social order the way terrorism does.

I think it's more that they fear random death: crazy snipers on rooftops, bombs at the park. They don't fear things that they (mistakenly) think they have a lot more control over.

heart disease: "But I eat healthily ... usually" traffic accidents: "I'm a good driver! I won't get in an accident."

It's a combination of poor risk assessment and Dunning-Kruger mischaracterization's of one's skills. I'm sure there's more to it than that.

That does not explain why people stopped flying after 9/11.

People are terrible at estimating risk.

I flew less after 9/11 because it made rational sense to do so.

Before I could turn up at the airport 10 minutes before my plane took off and go the the gate and check in.

After 9/11 I was in a queue for ages and had to arrive really early. So it was quicker to just drive.

Also deadlier.

Do you have statistics showing that it's more deadly to fly post-9/11 than it was before? Are more airliners crashing now?

Parent is probably referring to the fact that it is safer to fly than drive a car, statistically speaking.[0]

[0] - http://reason.com/archives/2006/08/11/dont-be-terrorized

That is indeed what I was referring to. Deaths due to traffic accidents increased measurably in the months after 9/11 as more people opted to drive instead of flying.

"People don't react to terrorism because they're afraid of being blown up personally."

I would disagree. My experience is that people view dying in a terrorist act as an especially horrific way to die and hence especially scary. I have had this specific conversation with people where they say it would be much worse to die in a terrorist attack than to die in a car accident.

To me it doesn't make sense. They both kill you but a lot of people see it differently.

> They do it because they're afraid of the precedent that might be set by not responding

What precedent? Isn't the whole purpose of terrorism to provoke a response -- to force a change?

most people have a better grasp of probability than you suggest. What they're scared of is not so much the remote possibility of being a bombing victim, but the complete lack of control they would have in such a situation. there's a much higher chance of being in a car accident than in a bombing, but you can mitigate your risk of a car accidnet by paying attention to your own and others' driving, and in most cases you'd have the opportunity to take some evasive action. Likewise you can mitigate your risk of getting mugged by not going into dangerous neighborhoods or suchlike. And so on.

If you're the victim of a bombing, on the other hand, you probably won't have any warning or any time to do anything about it. By the time you figure out what's happened, you're already maimed/ dying/ dead, or one of your loved ones is, or whatever. Remote though the risk is, the randomness and immediacy of it are a lot scarier. I've been in close proximity to a car bomb; it's shocking because it's a lot bigger than you are, and whether you are a victim or not has absolutely nothing to do with your skills or reaction time, it's purely a matter of luck.

It's like getting killed by a falling tree or a sinkhole opening up under you or something. The risk of that actually happening is tiny, but what's scary is how helpless you would be if it did. Unlike car accidents or confrontations with wild animals or people, you probably won't get the opportunity to think/talk/fight your way out of danger in the former situation.If you think about movies, TV etc., people are always getting in jeopardy but worming their way out of it somehow or another. We find it much more shocking when we see someone get killed without having any time to react to the danger they're in.

Yes, and that's the GPs point; that paralysing fear outweighs the logic of the situation. Indeed, I'd suggest your own comment about being able to mitigate a car accident is a prime example of our difficulty with assessing the probability of risk (you may have more control of the situation; but that does not reduce the probability of you being killed by a car).

Many many things could kill us suddenly and without warning (even heart failure!). We are disproportionately scared of some things (eg flight) because they "seem" scary, and are blasé to actually risky things because they seem familiar.

And excellent book on this is "Risk; the science andpolitics of fear" which uses case studies and real data to examine this phenomenon.

If you think that, I didn't explain myself very well. What I'm suggesting is that people are (moderately) well aware of the relative probabilities, but fear a predictable lack of control. This is entirely rational; you can be scared of something without necessarily expecting it to happen.

so to take the driving example, it's very possible that you could be hit without warning, but you can also conceive of many situations in which you do have some warning and can swerve to avoid danger or suchlike. People may even underestimate the risk by being overconfident in their ability to react, but the fact is that if you drive a lot then after a while you'll have experienced a variety of close calls or even been in some minor accidents, and you can weigh the risk of many different driving situations.

On the other hand, most people have no flying experience as pilots. So if you're a passenger in a plane and it becomes apparent that the plane is going to crash, there's nothing you can do about it. No matter how remote the risk of your plane crashing, if it does fall out of the sky then you are almost certainly fucked and there's nothing you can do to improve your chances. I know that if I fly somewhere the journey to and from the airport on the ground is statistically much more risky than the journey through the air, as I will be in much greater proximity to many other vehicles on the ground, my vehicle will have to go through numerous complex maneuvers and so on, and if freeway travel is involved an accident has a much higher likelihood of being fatal due to the speed involved.

But if I had to be in a crash, I'd far rather be it be in a car than a plane; I've been in/at the scene of car crashes before and they strike me as rather more survivable. So I'm not more scared of flying than driving, but I am more scared of a plane crash than a car crash.

Plenty of people survive plane accidents; in fact if you are involved in a plane accident in the US you have a greater than 90% chance of surviving.

Which highlights the point; it is fear that drives your viewpoint (that car accidents are preferable plane crashes) rather than statistics :)

EDIT: I don't have my copy of Risk to hand, but from memory the numbers work out something like.. probability of being in an air crash and it killing you is 1 in several million. Probability of being in a car crash and it killing you is 1 in several thousand (or ten thousands, can't remember). Either way - an order of magnitude more risky :)

Well, I mentioned the specific example of passenger airliner falling out of the sky because the odds of survival on that are so law, as opposed to takeoff/landing accidents (like the one in Bali the other day) where the odds of surviving are much higher. Also, I am perfectly aware of the disparity in the odds. you don't need to explain that to me.

I m not sure people can so freely control their emotional responses - their prefrontal cortex might tell them such and such an event is pretty rare and low risk, but their lizard brain will pretty much override that. Unless you have disciplined training, i doubt you can truly get rid of that irrational fear of certain things.

You're right but that's precisely the point -- what matters to your safety is the probability, not how much control you feel you have. Yes, you can do more to mitigate the risk of being in a car accident than to mitigate the risk of being a victim of a bombing attack. But even if you do all you can, you are still more likely to be in a car accident than in a bombing (and thus, rationally, should be more concerned about the former than the latter).

Let me put it another way; if I'm facing or even in a car accident, at least I know what to do about it in general terms. I've been in a few already and on the scene to help in several others. While the probability of car accidents is high enough to be a worry, I have many options for mitigating that risk.

Now, I'm very unlikely to be in a bombing attack, thank heavens. But I have been in one already, when a car bomb went off right outside my office just as I was getting ready to leave (I wasn't a target or anything, it was a car bomb parked outside a subway station in London that I happened to work next to). What happened was that there was a huge bang and I watched the windows swell inwards like they were covered in plastic sheeting instead of glass. Lucky for me, they didn't shatter, and lucky for everyone else it was late at night and there were no people on the street, so nobody died.

But at the time of the explosion, I was keenly aware that if the windows had burst inwards, the glass would have hit me faster than I could have ducked down behind a piece of furniture. It's this lack of opportunity to alter the outcome that bothers people; it's a situation they'd understandably rather not be confronted with at all. Helplessness is unpleasant because it negates your normal defense mechanisms.

I don't think it's a matter of statistics or probability: it's just easier said when you're not directly affected by the events.

For me personally, I completely agree when reading this article but I'm here, on the west coast, not feeling threatened directly and knowing my friends are now safe.

But what if you were passing the finish line as these devices exploded. You might well be the most rationale person in the world, you would not think about probabilities. What if you were there in the public, wondering why your life has been spared because you decided to stand further away from that point.

I agree with you that refusing to be terrorized is borderline impossible for the people who got hurt in the blast or their closest family and friends. The article is aimed at the rest, the majority who can potentially either panick or just carry on.

There's nothing in-between? Nobody's panicking, as far as I can tell, but an awful lot of people seem ready to describe any response as panic-inspired.

This wasn't just a few hundred people being injured or killed: This event, by its targeted and spectacular nature, negatively affected hundreds of thousands of people. Add together the costly, chaotic disruptions for all those individuals, and you don't need many of these "rare" events to make terrorism a much more significant problem than you're making it out to be.

Sorry, but I think you don't understand probability that much and you also underestimate how much people do probability subconsciously in the right way. Also, even experts and scientists studying probability theory are pretty confused when it comes to reasoning correctly with probability.

Look at it this way: the probability of me dying from heart disease is extremely low even though a lot of Americans have a high probability for that.

There are quite genuine concerns in AI that people have messed up uncertainty, probability and statistics.


So please stop the pop sci version of probability and statistics.

Carnap is probably spinning in his grave right now :)

Any good book on probability will show that there a half dozen ways to do probability from first principles and all of them are sort of equally valid but differ greatly.


More people died on black friday every year. Shit more people die every year falling out of bed.

Glad this got posted quickly.

I can already see the glee in intelligence / law enforcement agencys' eyes as they think how they can use this latest incident as reasoning for more over-arching powers.

For a long time Londoners had to put up with IRA bombs but "Kept calm and carried on" (to use the phrase). I hope the US can follow suit.

[EDIT] Changed "secret service" to "intelligence / law enforcement agencies" to avoid confusion.

>I can already see the glee in intelligence / law enforcement agencys' eyes as they think how they can use this latest incident as reasoning for more over-arching powers.

I think this is my biggest concern.

Once in a while at the Back Bay subway/commuter rail/Amtrak station you will occasionally see Boston Police officers - sometimes accompanied by TSA agents - set up at the station, some of which are carrying submachine guns (MP5s). We're not talking one or two officers, but somewhere between half a dozen and a a dozen, several of which have the automatic weaponry at the ready.

On two occasions, I've asked one of the officers, "Hey, what's going on?". In one case it was simply a training exercise. In another, they were looking for a "person of interest".

In general, I don't want to be at a transit station trying to get home on the subway where there is a situation in which the officers feel the use of that kind of force is necessary, especially considering the fact that I can't recall a single situation in the time I've lived here where the use of submachine guns would've ever been justified.

But doesn't it make you feel safe?

Police generally do not make me feel safe because i never know when i'm going to break some silly law i may or may not know about or observe (ala jaywalking, biking without a helmet) and get cited/jailed for it, or even worse deal with some cop getting his power trip on who takes it to far.

I guess as a white guy with short hair, I just assume the cops are there for me.

I'm a white girl, and while i get surprising amount of leeway with the police i'm under no delusions of the power advantage cops have over everyone else.

drinking in the park (its illegal here) or speeding, Friends with the cop or she likes you? no problem. Cop doesn't like you? ticket or drunk tank or worse.

They are there for you, if your friends with them or they like you.

Yeah, definitely. Tucker Max had a good piece on how to deal with cops: http://tuckermax.me/how-to-deal-with-cops-2/

What does the secret service have anything to do with this?

Sorry, forgot that the Secret Service is an actual thing in the US. Amended post.

"For a long time Londoners had to put up with IRA bombs but "Kept calm and carried on" "

I really feel like a "keep calm carry on" ad campaign could do some good. Shift the mindset from 'ACKKK TERRORISTS!' to 'I can handle this'

Shifting the mindset doesn't enable for profit private defense contractors and firms providing law enforcement equipment from making fistfulls of profits from taxpayer money.

This is a non-sequitur. Just because people in London didn't panic (and neither have I seen much that could aptly be described as "panic" in the U.S.), it doesn't follow that the British authorities didn't acquire more security and policing powers to deal with the IRA.

(FWIW) The UK govt seized much more power in the years following 9/11 than related to the IRA period.

"It turns out that terrorism is much harder than most people think. It's hard to find willing terrorists, it's hard to put a plot together, it's hard to get materials, and it's hard to execute a workable plan. As a collective group, terrorists are dumb, and they make dumb mistakes; criminal masterminds are another myth from movies and comic books."

He is very wrong. He is confusing foot soldiers with their leaders. Terrorist leaders are not dumb.

Yes, it's harder than we think but not for the reasons in the article. In Israel, there was a wave of bombings every few days. The bombers were not dumb. They were very successful and killed many people. I believe that it wasn't until the borders got sealed tight that the bombings subsided. That's why they had to resort to using Katyusha rockets but, believe me, if they could get in the country, they'd blow things up, no problem.

Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan all have had regular waves of successful suicide bombings.

What keeps the US relatively free of terrorism is the massive ocean that's between the terrorists and their target. It makes an operation much harder to execute because it's more remote from their base of operations. What we've seen so far is the evolution of their attempts to bridge that gap. The author is confusing these early experiments with stupidity. The terrorists are smart and they learn from the failures of their experiments. Eventually, they'll get better at blowing things up from a distance. If we write them off as dumb, we're going to be in for a surprise when they perfect their methods.

Edit: Israel is tiny and could control its borders much easier than Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan and the US. We see that Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan are very vulnerable to terrorism because their borders are easy to penetrate. The US has the advantage of an ocean defending its borders. Eventually, they'll overcome that obstacle.

> What keeps the US relatively free of terrorism is the massive ocean that's between the terrorists and their target.

What keeps most countries relatively free from terrorism is that they aren't occupying other peoples land or bombing their women and children all the way to hell.

Ever wonder why extremists haven't bombed the Cook Islands or Peru?

Peru has had tens of thousands of civilians killed in conflict with the Shining Path.

TIL. However, a cursory skimming of the Wikipedia page seems to indicate that it's an internal conflict.

Not really relevant to this discussion.

Quite relevant considering that no known terrorist organization actually obeys a distinction between "internal" and "external". You say "legitimate nation-state", they say, "bourgeois oppressive occupier". You say "reactionary fascist regime" they say "glorious liberator". You say "death", they say "glory".

funny but at first I didn't recognise Sendero Luminoso. I wouldn't expect English speaking people to know about them or ETA or so many others

"Ever wonder why extremists haven't bombed the Cook Islands"

It's nice to be a country like the Cook Islands. You're surrounded by a vast ocean that makes it very difficult to attack. Your interests are also protected other, larger nations, so you don't have to do any "dirty work" to protect them.

You also don't have to spend tons of money on a military and can rely on treaties with other countries to provide your defense.

You know that before any attack whatsoever, there has to be a motive, right?

South Africa meets your definition of a targetable country. Why isn't it attacked by terrorists?

This is going off track. My original argument is:

1) The US is a target. 2) The reason it's a target is not what I'm debating. 3) Terrorists are not having trouble attacking the US because they are dumb, as the author stated. 4) Terrorists are experimenting with different ways to attack the US and are evolving. 5) The author of the article is mistaking these experiments with stupidity. 6) The ocean is an obstacle that won't protect the US forever.

South Africa is inherently so violent that terrorism doesn't make much difference (though there is some terrorism, at least bombings by white supremacists 10 years ago or so, and some activity against Israel.)

As yet, there's no indication that this is foreign terrorism. Remember Oklahoma City.

There's been no claim of responsibility, and it seems like these were not suicide bombings. These are interesting data points.

No indication of this being a foreign terrorism attack may make my argument less relevant but I still stand behind it.

Your point is also a good example of how terrorists aren't dumb. One of the major things we remember about Oklahoma City was how devastating it was.

He said "as a collective group", the smartness of the leaders is averaged down by the low quality of the foot soldiers who actually decide to die for the cause.

It is hard to find willing terrorists normally, it becomes easier if you provide your enemies with daily motivation and determination. As others have mentioned, and excluding home grown lunacy, it is easy to avoid terrorism, just don't occupy other countries, oppress their peoples and kill their children.

"the smartness of the leaders is averaged down by the low quality of the foot soldiers who actually decide to die for the cause."

Deciding to die for a cause does not make you stupid. The 9/11 attackers were intelligent enough to pilot a commercial aircraft. There are also many patriots who love their country and have been willing to die for it. WW II Japanese fighter pilots are a classic example. I wouldn't call those guys low quality.

It doesn't make you stupid but it is easier to find and convince stupid people to go out and die than it is to find and convince smart people to do the same thing, many suicide bombers are found to be mentally retarded and/or highly suggestible.

The Japanese example is a, ahem, yellow herring, that was during wartime when both sides had formally declared war. Wartime patriotism (and of course the necessity to obey military orders) makes smart people obliged to do stupid things, they'd have been shot if they refused, in fact that is a thoroughly poor counter-example.

Do you think suicide bombers think they are living in a time of peace? To them, it's war, formally declared or not.

Regarding the Japanese: I understand that it was a volunteer force. Where was the threat of being shot?

From wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamikaze#Recruitment

It was claimed by the Japanese forces at the time that there were many volunteers for the suicidal forces. Captain Motoharu Okamura commented that "there were so many volunteers for suicide missions that he referred to them as a swarm of bees," explaining: "Bees die after they have stung."[32] Okamura is credited with being the first to propose the kamikaze attacks. He had expressed his desire to lead a volunteer group of suicide attacks some four months before Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi, commander of the Japanese naval air forces in the Philippines, presented the idea to his staff. While Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome, commander of the second air fleet, was inspecting the 341st Air Group, Captain Okamura took the chance to express his ideas on crash-dive tactics. “In our present situation I firmly believe that the only way to swing the war in our favor is to resort to crash-dive attacks with our planes. There is no other way. There will be more than enough volunteers for this chance to save our country, and I would like to command such an operation. Provide me with 300 planes and I will turn the tide of war.”[33] When the volunteers arrived for duty in the corps there were twice as many persons than there were aircraft. "After the war, some commanders would express regret for allowing superfluous crews to accompany sorties, sometimes squeezing themselves aboard bombers and fighters so as to encourage the suicide pilots and, it seems, join in the exultation of sinking a large enemy vessel." Many of the kamikaze pilots believed their death would pay the debt they owed and show the love they had for their families, friends, and emperor. "So eager were many minimally trained pilots to take part in suicide missions that when their sorties were delayed or aborted, the pilots became deeply despondent. Many of those who were selected for a bodycrashing mission were described as being extraordinarily blissful immediately before their final sortie."[34]

Don't underestmate the power of propaganda. Need to look at the overall picture of free communication and the extreme religious pressure in 1940s Japan, and the economic/social situation of the pilots.

Cubans have no trouble getting into the US across the sea, nor do Mexicans have any trouble getting in over land. The idea that the US is a impenetrable fortress is just not true.

I believe that it wasn't until the [Israeli] borders got sealed tight that the bombings subsided.

Bingo. We supposedly have "security guards" and "security checks" around everything important, but they don't really do much (in the literal sense that they don't actually check much). Besides, is it that much better if someone detonates themselves at the gate to a street party or shopping mall with a crowd around than if they get inside? What if it's a particularly active street party whose attending crowd has exceeded the gates and there are sellers of food and souvenirs outside getting mobbed, too (like the one for Independence Day I attended last night)? Anyone can just walk in and blow everything up.

Any large, open concentration of humanity is a target. The Israeli solution to this is closed borders and a really fucking harsh military policy. Contrary to popular belief, America does have its own response: very low population density to reduce the value of any one target.

>What we've seen so far is the evolution of their attempts to bridge that gap.

Examples? You mean like 9/11?

For true believers like yourself, what would the "end game" look like? What would have to happen before we can stop thinking about this bullshit and consider terrorism a thing of the past? Is that something that could ever happen or will there always be "bad guys" that require us to bomb weddings, assassinate american citizens and so on?

Foreign terrorism is rare, because it's hard to carry such a thing out in an alien land, and very few people are interested in foreign aggression that is clearly (a) targeted toward civilians, (b) illegal by any national standard, and (c) not part of any coherent political agenda, but merely an artifact of unfocused anger. Domestic terrorism (where the foot soldiers believe they're an occupied people and often see themselves as a legitimate military) depends on where you are and the political climate. That can become a recurring threat, as in Israel.

For all the flaws of the U.S., we have one of the most ethnically inclusive societies in the world. We're far from perfect, but we don't have the specific class of injustices, at a high enough level, to produce the simmering grudges that cause such a thing to happen. Most of our terrorists are lone nutcases.

Relatedly, Americans and Northern Europeans tend to be culturally individualistic, so the people who would be domestic terrorists tend toward spree violence with either no political mission, or one that is not charismatic enough to post a threat of recurrence. For example, as horrible as Breivik's attack in Oslo was, it didn't motivate a wave of similar attacks. He had a political agenda, but not a coherent one that many people would follow.

TL;DR: Terrorism has many forms, and some pose high rates of recurrence, but foreign terrorism tends to occur in one-off attacks and the U.S. does not presently have the conditions (or, at least, does not seem to have them) that would cause recurring domestic terrorism.

Speaking of which, here's the results. They are notable because a non-Kenyan won for the first time in 3 years.


Lelisa Desisa (Eth): 2:10:22

Micah Kogo (Ken): 2:10:27

Gebregziabher Gebremariam (Eth): ?


Rita Jeptoo (Ken): 2:26:25

Meseret Hailu (Eth)

Sharon Cherop (Ken)

Bruce mentions that one of the reasons why people should stay calm is that terrorists are dumb. However, this could be the actions of a new Unabomber (let us hope it isn't), who managed to go on a bombing streak for 18 years without being caught. It's really too early to start making assumptions.

I say, don't keep calm and carry on, take this as an example that life can end any second, just like that, out of nowhere. Live your life enjoying what you do. Most of us don't, which is sad. If you're enjoying life to the fullest, carry on. If you aren't living your life to the fullest, then no, don't just 'carry on'. Life is fragile, and this should be a reminder. I for one know, I shouldn't 'carry on'. I need to improve my life.

Make the most out of your precious time.

You are aware that "we" basically created the Unabomber, yes?


Created or not, it's still plausible that this could happen again.

Good read btw!

One country that did it right was Norway. After shooting and bombing in 2011, this is what the prime minister's reaction was:

> Stoltenberg further vowed that the attack would not hurt Norwegian democracy, and said the proper answer to the violence was "more democracy, more openness, but not naivety".

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Norway_attacks#Domestic

Please, can we have such a sensible reaction everywhere?

As much as I'd like to agree with the estimable Mr. Schneier, there's a part of me who remembers watching "Brazil" and the scene where the restaurant blows up and everyone just goes about their business. Later, if you remember, the protagonist goes through the wringer for failing to have a proper form 27/6 on a minor matter.

So why should we keep calm, not in the face of a terrorist attack, but knowing that our government has priorities that differ from the people's?

Consider how much time and energy our government spends to stop file-sharing and pot smoking, which despite what Nancy Reagan might have said, has not contributed much of anything to the terrorist financial networks.

I'm not so sure the measures taken so far to prevent terrorism were even designed for that purpose. Given the rotten state of government finances and the US's overall economic decline, the massive surveillance apparatus under construction seems better suited to preventing capital flight than plot detection.

It's sort of like the massive fence that used to separate Czechoslovakia from West Germany. The Czechs supposedly built it to keep NATO out, but the nuts and bolts faced towards West Germany.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. And I wouldn't mind it one bit.

As Bill Maher so eloquently put it: "Its horrible, but this time, let's not overreact, wallow, erect monuments to terrorism; let's handle it Israeli-Munich style" Source: https://twitter.com/billmaher/status/323951293506924544

By assassinating (and abusing due process) those responsible rather than adressing the issues which continue to allow this circle of violence and retaliatory action to continue ad nauseum.

I know you haven't said this, but due process hasn't been followed in prior years - gitmo prisoners still languish in limbo.

Talking with some friends we all were reminded, we've been in a constant state of war for over a decade now (20 combined years if you think about in a different way). There's a qualitative difference in the populace since 9/11. The first responders in Boston were nurses who had been combat medics during the height of the Iraq war -- people who had seen the same scene dozens of times. Following them were soldiers in uniform who cleared the area of debris to make evacuation easier. It's no doubt a reason the deaths were held to 3.

One of the major outcomes of WWI and WWII was a rapid advancement in trauma surgery, with reconstructive surgery advancing decades almost overnight. It'll be one of the enduring legacies of the Iraq and Afghan Wars that those who lot their legs in this event will be running the marathon again.

Reading this, the thought struck me that we should perhaps not think of terrorism as violence, but rather as black hat PR. So TSA and GWOT are actually no more helpful than a bad review for a movie.

"Keep Calm and Carry On". This phrase from the British has peaked in recent times.


A week hardly passes that I don't see it on a shirt, a coworkers wall, or in a meme.

It certainly beats the prior poster in 1939 of "Freedom Is In Peril Defend It With All Your Might".

Sign of the times.

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

BTW, as far as I understand, this quote is nowadays used in a way that rather different or even contradicting with its original one. Originally, Franklin was rallying up militia to take up arms against roving bands, or perhaps even "extremists" as they might be called today.

So "purchasing safety" was "not joining armed forces that fight criminals and enemies". This was before the revolution, and what Americans call "the frontier" was in Pennsylvania.

Probably going to get very well down voted for this, but it hasn't stopped me before.

It's not through terrorism they beat us. But through politics. Either twisting the minds of the current leaders, or infecting political parties and slowly implementing sharia - happening in Sweden, with our own tax money.

Forget gay and female civil rights.

Seivan, I apologize deeply for getting your comment off track, and I hope others will not follow this further from your main point.

However, I would just offer a quick point of advice. Don't spend keystrokes saying you might be down-voted for something. It's actually bolder to just say what you're going to say. When you reference downvoting, you stigmatize it and influence people not to do so. I would rather know if people are going to have a downvote reaction to my comment than shame them into not downvoting me. I've had the exact same tendency to observe "well I might get downvoted for this," but I think it's a tendency that should be resisted.

Or just don't write it at all since expected to be down voted is often a sign of unfounded opinions. In this case there's no indication at this point of this being done by jihadists, which makes the previous comment ignorant at best.

Fair enough, appreciate the input. I'll remember it till next time, and you're kinda on to something, it sounds defeatist and quite frankly just tacky.

That is refreshingly sane. Sadly I fear that there will be total overreaction by the government and the media.

The only proper reaction is take care of the survivors, bring the responsible to justice and then cry for the dead. Do not assassinate them - bringing them in chains in court is much more humiliating.

"bring the responsible to justice"

Probably the most difficult parts of this will be to define who is responsible and what exactly constitutes as justice.

Tried in a federal court with the full rights and protections defined by the US constitution etc etc.

Killing them like osama, blasting them with a drone or detaining them in gitmo means the terrorist have won, because they have dragged the system down to their own level.

Also it still may be not an act of terror. Just some wackos that decide it is fun to blow stuff up. They don't have a need for a political agenda or ideology to do stuff like that.

If he's not caught on US soil and is not a citizen, like Osama, then he has no protections under the constitution and its duck hunting season. The Constitution does not create any protections for international fugitives engaged in acts of war. Terrorists are the modern day Barbary Pirates. Nobody in the founding generation suggested they should get full Constitutional protections and a trial.

Sorry but there was no act of war because Osama never represented political entity that could declare war on the US. And there are good reasons why the Israelis went to such pains to bring Adolf Eichmann to trial instead of just shooting him in Argentina.

Also murder is crime in Pakistan ... so if there was Pakistani rule of law the navy seals are murderers.

I don't think there's a way to make the logic you're employing work. Wars are routinely fought between entities that do not recognize the sovereignty of their adversaries; see, for instance, every civil war ever. We fought one of those too.

On the nuts and bolts, the distinction you're trying to draw is also moot; Congress explicitly authorized:

     That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate
     force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines
     planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that
     occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or
     persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international
     terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or
If you'd like to look this up in the Geneva Conventions, you'll find GCIV isn't particularly helpful to your argument; it refers to "persons taking active part in hostilities" or "combatants", not nation-state actors, and explicitly acknowledges conflicts that occur where one side or the other doesn't acknowledge a state of "war". And "the presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations".

About the best I think you can say is that striking Bin Laden could have been an act of war against Pakistan. Somehow, I don't think they're going to follow up on that.

That's why I used the Barbary Pirate situation. The Barbary privateers were loosely affiliated with and supported by the government in Tripoli (which is the legal entity against which we declared war), but were not really an organized army acting on behalf of the state as we think of such things today.

In any case, what Osama did would clearly be an act of war if he had been a general acting on the orders of a government. So what makes it not an act of war just because he's acting on behalf of an entity that isn't a sovereign state? Surely, it is most logical to measure the justifiable response to an action in terms of the nature of the action itself, not the political affiliation of the actor.

Finally, as you note, it's hard to say that there is any rule of law in Pakistan. Laws only have meaning to the extent courts have jurisdiction to enforce them. "Murder" isn't a universal constant--it's a law defined in the context of some sovereign entity's legislative jurisdiction. Killing a terrorist on the battlefield is not murder if there is no court that has jurisdiction over the actor that would call it murder. Indeed, it seems utterly non-sensical to me to argue that someone like Osama, that has rejected the criminal jurisdiction of any state, can turn around and claim the protection of the laws of that state.

No, its not duck hunting. There are international courts - which the US doesn't support.

The U.S. rightfully doesn't support international courts. It's nonsensical to have international tribunals that render judgments on people outside the legislative jurisdiction of the sovereign body of which the court is a part.

People in Europe are learning right now how not awesome it is to get yourself into binding international frameworks with people who are connected by incomplete legislative and executive jurisdiction, and whom often have dramatically different national priorities and values.

In any case, it's arguably unconstitutional for the U.S. to support international courts. If Congress signed up for a treaty binding us to the decisions of say the IJC or ICC, would those decisions be reviewable by the Supreme Court? If so, then accepting jurisdiction would be redundant, since the Supreme Court is perfectly competent to adjudicate disputes under "international law." If not, that would arguably be a separation of powers violation: Congress signing us up to accept the superior jurisdiction of a foreign court whose judgments couldn't be reviewed by what is supposed to be the court of last resort: the Supreme Court.

Things change. The US constitution can (theoretically) too. It's worse to have a nation with no authority at all killing via drone. The alternative technique, kidnap, torture and detain doesn't work either as the US doesn't seem able to find a way to try these people. An overreaching body that can do something is needed, as the US way doesn't work. I'd sooner have an imperfectly drawn up consensus than a misguided Lone Ranger. And more importantly, who polices the police - the US has plenty of individuals who should be answerable for their crimes - which will never happen in the US. I'd suggest that a fear of being answerable is perhaps a greater motivation than any other where the US blocking of the ICC is concerned.

Killing them like osama, blasting them with a drone or detaining them in gitmo means the terrorist have won, because they have dragged the system down to their own level.

Those were acts of war, and prosecuted under those rules (international law, Geneva Convention, etc), rather than domestic criminal law.

"Killing them like osama[...] means the terrorist have won,"

I don't understand the trouble you have with the Osama situation. The US attempted to apprehend Osama so they could bring him to justice but he resisted and was shot to death. How would you have handled that situation?

I would have tortured him then executed him by slow pig blood transfusion. But I am not a good man. I like revenge.

And yet I think that the most powerful and expensive military in the world should have found a way to properly extract him. I am not convinced that the way it was handled brought the needed closure to the 9/11 events. It just proved that US was better at targeted killing than Al Caida or whatever that ragtag bunch was called.

Bullshit, have you read the first hand accounts? They weren't there to apprehend anyone. And of course you "resist" if a bunch of people with guns storm into your home.

It's not the resisting justice when people with guns storm in. It's the trying to escape justice for decades before that. It's really hard to claim you weren't given "due process" when you made every effort to avoid that process.

So after some years of trying to avoid being arrested the cops no longer need to worry about due process or law or anything, they can just murder me? Would you care to put an exact date on when the police get to switch from "must follow the laws" to "can kill on sight with no regard for laws"?

I got lucky to leave the USA the day before they raise the crazy level at the airports. I wonder what they will imagine to render flying and border-crossing worse.

I guess "make the leaders live abroad for a while and force them to read enlightenment century books" is off the table as a reaction to terrorism?

FWIW, Obama and Romney have both lived abroad. I think it takes a certain kind of person to want to be president, and the effect of travel is different on a person like that.

For this and other reasons, I think electoral politics is one of the least effective places to put energy, in working for change.

Wow this article is bullshit. If we want to stop getting bombed, we need to stop bombing other countries. Simple as that. What happened in Boston today happens every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks to America.

Those on the other are criminals. They should be found, arrested, and punished.

Wait, you are saying terrorists deserve a fair trial, too? What a strange concept...

Inter arma enim silent leges.

Ergo impiorum designare omnia tempora "inter arma"

Translation from the Latin, with help from Google Translate:

Amidst warfare, laws are silent. Therefore the wicked shall designate all times "amidst warfare".

Edit: Searching for the first phrase, "inter arma enim silent leges", found this:


Apparently, the original is from Cicero (slightly differently worded).

Thanks for this quote (and the translation) -- this is great.

Thought I was reading House of Leaves there for a second.

"Terrorism, even the terrorism of radical Islamists and right-wing extremists and lone actors all put together, is not an 'existential threat' against our nation. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn't do existential damage to our nation. Our society is more robust than it might seem from watching the news. We need to start acting that way."

I wonder if there were people saying that to Romans about the barbarian Germanic hordes.

There's a key difference between the two, and I'm confident that you know that yourself :)

Enlighten me.

The Germans were the border of the nation of Rome from 100 BC until the Empire fell. They once slaughtered an entire Republic field army--and remember the Republic's army consisted of most of Rome's young, able-bodied citizens. They defeated Augustus, among other emperors, and eventually sacked Rome. Twice. Before making the whole thing collapse.

So, small difference.

This is a movie simplification. The Romans copied battle styles from local armies during their conflicts. When Romans started having money problems they started outsourcing their armies to local people and they stopped their public works. When the army started getting less relevant to local affairs and only a tax imposing machine, the locals would turn against the Romans and join the militia. The Germanic leaders were also trained in the Roman army, and the "barbarians" pretty much knew how to conduct warfare and they also knew their weaknesses. So they fought a war of attrition, that forced the Romans to spread out. Soon enough the Romans knew they could not sustain their wars. So the "barbarians" tried different things until they found fight patterns that Rome did not have the technology to beat in a economic way. The Roman nobility had not lost it's privileges but nobody was interested in fighting, and they soldiers were only doing it for money which was not even enough to retire afterwards.

So it is totally irrelevant with the current situation.

So because we're geographically isolated, there is nothing to worry about? Modern technology doesn't change the circumstances any?

What exactly are you envisioning here? If not a sacking of the country by terrorist hoards, what exactly are you proposing the parallels between the fall of Rome and our modern society will be?

I can envision terrorist attacks doing major irreversible damage to our society, but only through the fear, spiraling out of control, that they have the potential to cause. A fear so excessive that it could figuratively drive our society off the cliffs of Saipan.

Presumably (since you appear to be advocating fear, and since it would be plainly idiotic to suggest a sacking is immenent) you are suggesting a different mechanism.

So what is this mechanism?

With modern technology, you don't need to sack New York to cause tremendous damage. People downplay the magnitude of 9/11, but as I noted somewhere else today, it involved more deaths than Pearl Harbor, and economic damage of almost $100 billion (without accounting for the economic impact on the stock market). Is a terrorist attack ten times stronger inconceivable? An attack on a nuclear power plant could cost into trillions (http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/03/a-nuclear-accident-co...). Maybe not irreversible damage, but crippling nonetheless. Is it totally pointless to fear one or more appropriately, to take affirmative actions to avoid one?

You really think that could bring "The Fall of New Rome"?

An attack a hundred times more deadly (which would be something like 3% of NYC's population dead, if my mental math does not betray me, or something a little less than 10x The Blitz.) than 9/11 would be a tragedy with only a few parallels in history. It would be an astronomically staggering blow to our economy. Hell, the mangled remains of the economy after such an attack probably would not even be recognizable as an economy at all... But bring down our society? No, not unless we allowed our fear to betray us. Not unless we abandoned any pretenses of maintaining our morale. Not unless we permit it to destroy us.

To be honest, it really just sounds like you've been having too many Red Dawn fantasies. There are no more barbarian hoards; sorry to disappoint.

No red dawn fantasies, just realpolitik ones. I would consider it a destruction of our society if our economy was not "recognizable as an economy at all." Indeed, the current recession only wiped out about $600 billion of GDP at the worst, and look at how much suffering it caused. I'm willing to vote for the US to send quite a few more drones to Pakistan to avert a possible 10x 9/11 event, even if we could technically rebuild from one.

You define "society" far too narrowly. A society is not an economy, a government, or even a piece of land enclosed by a border. It is an abstract idea, a sort of shared culture and basic methodology.

Here is the real trick though, this "New Rome" is not a city. We don't have a seat of power from which we derive our identity and shared culture, or any sort of sackable cultural Mecca which we define ourselves by. You could level NYC and kill every last person in it, dismantle the government and turn dollars into papiermarks, but you would not have dismantled the society.

Remaining you would still have hundreds of millions of Americans with no invading army to eradicate them and what they beleived in. More importantly, you would still billions of others, across the world, who would continue to make up bulk of our society. The worldwide shared culture of the 21st century, of which Americans represents but a fraction. A culture of appreciation for scientific progress, the arts, and political theories. A collective history, solemly remembering the same wars, sharing the same accomplishments. A Library of Alexandria that (thanks to dramatic advances in publishing and distribution since the last) cannot be burned.

A few well placed bombs by a few extremists who want nothing to do with any of this could never put an end to all of this. This is a society that cannot be taken, cannot be sacked; we can only give it up. Only we present an existential threat to ourselves.

Could there be massive lose of life, and would that be worth preventing? Absolutely. Are these people the Germanic hoards, posed to sack us? Are they in a position to dismantle our society? No.

You really ought to look into the history of the dark ages, because under the Pax Romana Europe enjoyed an extremely well-developed civil society that brought self-evident benefits to the participants, just like our culture of appreciation for scientific progress, the arts, and political theories...a culture which is not nearly as universal as you seem to imagine.

Also, the word you should be using is 'hordes.' Hoards are things like piles of gold or other valuables.

> under the Pax Romana Europe enjoyed an extremely well-developed civil society that brought self-evident benefits to the participants, just like our culture of appreciation for scientific progress, the arts, and political theories...a culture which is not nearly as universal as you seem to imagine.

What is your point? I am not claiming that the aspects of our society that we cherish are unique to our society, or were absent in Roman society.

"...a culture which is not nearly as universal as you seem to imagine."

We are talking essentially about the society of all developed and rapidly developing nations. This is not an American concept; even if this hypothetical mega-attack caused the American governmnet to go tits up it would survive, both domestically and throughout the world. Not even "starvation or hopelessness" would erase this modern identity. Not any starvation falling short of extinction-threatening.

Are particularly American perspectives in our modern society something that is, outside of the US, less than universal (to say the least)? Certainly. But 1) who cares? American perspectives are but few of many in modern society, 2) such perspectives are not endangered, and would not be endangered by any collapse of our particular current government.

Apparently I've said something offensive. I suppose optimism and confidence in the resiliency of modern society is not patriotic if it means I am not beating the drums of war loud enough.

By all means, you can all carry on being afraid. Your fear, your lack of resolve, your lack of confidence in our way of life... that is the real threat. It is that which the (few existing) terrorists wish to stoke.

Well, I didn't downvote you (I can't downvote replies to my own comments). I don't think you're being offensive, just loud and naive. Hectoring people with 'Your fear, your lack of resolve, your lack of confidence in our way of life' is an emotional argument. You're accusing people who have a different opinion from you of having an inferior character without bothering to engage with the actual arguments we're presenting.

> You define "society" far too narrowly

You're defining "society" as a pointless philosophical abstraction. I'm defining "society" in terms of the only thing I care about: the people and country around me. I'm not interested in the history books that remain to be written. I think most Americans feel similarly. It might be satisfying in some intellectual sense if "the worldwide shared culture of the 21st century" (of which America might represent a small fraction numerically, but which is disproportionately American in its composition) survives, but does little good for Americans who suffer.

> I'm defining "society" in terms of the only thing I care about: the people and country around me.

The country/government is irrelevant, the people are the society and that is what I am defining it as. Governments have come and gone with great frequency; societies almost always survive them. Really only genocides, cultural or otherwise, can halt them (and mad bombers are in no position to perform any sort of genocide against modern society).

It strikes me as a fairly American-centric viewpoint that conflates American government and American society. Plenty of other countries with strong, long-lived, cultural identities have gone through numerous governments in past centuries, many of these governments lasting a few short decades or less. A government is much easier to kill than a society, and dies with far fewer consequences.

If the death of a society is not what you are actually concerned about, then perhaps you should have put some thought into your initial comment before drawing comparisons to the fall of the roman empire. If merely the fall of governments and economies is what you are worried about, there are countless better examples.

What if the drones are more likely to cause a 10x 9/11 event, by helping al Qaeda's recruiting efforts?

I don't know that that's a likely outcome, but I think it's possible. In any case, I think this idea that we can pre-emptively kill everyone who might possibly attack us at some point in the future is both dangerous and evil.

I object to the characterization that we're killing random people with drones. We are killing people whose stated goal is to attack us. There is nothing evil about that. Use of force to defend ones self, whether preemptive or reactive, is the closest thing to a "natural right" that exists in this world.

What the fuck? Citations please? There is absolutely no reason I can see to beleive that every person we kill with drones had any plan (realistic or otherwise) to attack us? Where do you get this? Because of Obama's reclassification of male casualties between 16-65 as combatants? Is that kind of word-game nonsense really so effective?

There are of course collateral casualties, but I do believe every drone strike has a target that has expressed some intention to attack the U.S. We're not blowing up random Afghans for fun.

Actually, American drone attacks have a pretty miserably bad civilian:militant casualty ratio. Not that anyone has ever achieved a ratio sufficient in a fight against terrorist/guerrilla enemies to satisfy the bleeding-heart types, even when it's actually less than 1.0 (that is, fewer civilians than militants are killed or injured).

You have a lot of faith in a military which has done a lot of measurable harm in recent times for little measurable gain.

So the alternative is to use napalm strikes? Drones are way, way, way more targeted than bombing a whole area.

No, the alternative would be to stop killing people. We've had one big terrorist attack about once every 10 years. It's not worth murdering innocents over.

We've killed an awful lot fewer people with drones than we used to do with aerial bombing, even since the start of the 'war on terror.' It's like the difference between sniping and heavy artillery.

Some people just like waiting for the barbarians. Even if there aren't any barbarians out there.

It is a fantasy that is quite useful to some people, and seemingly very amusing in some sort of perverse way to others.

For those who don't get your reference, Waiting for the Barbarians is a poem by C P Cavafy.


It's also a Nobel prize winning novel by J. M. Cotzee. The allusion works either way.

Hell, the mangled remains of the economy after such an attack probably would not even be recognizable as an economy at all... But bring down our society?

Starvation or hopelessness tends to erode idealism pretty quickly. You don't need any kind of ridiculous Red Dawn fantasy to appreciate the possibility of critical injury; nor would the fall of an empire be an overnight thing. It's relatively easy to identify strategic weak points with the potential to tip a country into a tailspin.

Idealism has nothing to do with it. In the best of times and in the darkest of times, we retain the same society and merely expose different aspects of it. To erradicate a culture requires much more than destroying its economy and starving it.

We have numerous great examples of total societal collapse and eradication. Starvation to the point of extinction can do it on islands with no resources, disease can do it in previously isolated societies with no defense against it, invading armies can do it, and mass immigration and cultural conversion can do it. None of those is adaquate or available to a bunch of redneck bomb-chuckers. Not if they are trying to erradicate a society that spans countries, continents, languages, and armies.

Modern society simply does not face an existential threat from terrorists. They can do a lot of damage sure, but they will not erradicate modern society. If you want to suggest otherwise you are going to have to do better than "a few hundred thousand Americans die, the American government crumbles under the disaster relieve effort, then people start eating each other." I know you guys are really digging that fantasy, but you are delusional if you really think that would pose a threat to the modern global society.

Given any economic disruption that affects food distribution, you'll see your barbarism right quick.

The worst terrorist attack in US history managed to be about as bad as a strong hurricane hitting a densely populated area. That's noteworthy for sure, but not something that sane people would compare with civilization-destroying forces. It doesn't even compare to the "wars" of recent decades, let alone truly large-scale warfare of the sort that many countries have engaged in repeatedly without suffering the fate of the Roman Empire.

"People downplay the magnitude of 9/11, but as I noted somewhere else today, it involved more deaths than Pearl Harbor"

that's one point of reference.

Here a different point of reference. It involved about 1/10 the number of annual automobile accident deaths.

Twice as many people die every year from car accidents than murders. I suppose its pointless to spend all those police resources fighting that?

Human beings are not automotons.

"I suppose its pointless to spend all those police resources fighting that?"

Huh? Are you replying to someone else who made a claim about resource allocation (bc I didn't)?

The point I'm trying to make is the differences between terrorists and invading Germans are all of them. You might as well compare terrorists to the Irish potato famine.

My point isn't that islamic terrorists are like Germans. It's that Schneier's comment smacks of an inability to contemplate that anything bad could happen to the U.S., much like I imagine the attitude was in Rome before Germans proved them wrong.

I'm pretty sure he has the ability (and even makes a game out it[1]). What Schneier is saying is that U.S. citizens should not let the country's policy be dictated by panic blown-out-proportion reactions to imaginary threats.

[1] http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/04/sixth_movie-pl...

Boston was not invaded, sieged, or sacked.


If anyone's experiencing Rome's fate as a result of Islamic extremist activity it's the countries in the middle east we've chosen as a battlefield against terrorism. In fact it's worse than Rome because on one side you've got the American troops and drones, while on the other side you've got suicide bombers. Basically death and destruction at every turn.

If anyone's going to end up sacking and pillaging America it'll be American corporate greed and not extremists. Now there's some barbarian hordes you should be watching out for.

Perhaps its because I just finished reading Brendan DuBois' "Resurrection Day", but I feel that the only thing that could really bring the US to its knees in the way you are envisioning would be full-scale nuclear war on the US mainland. Not terrorists.

> I wonder if there were people saying that to Romans about the barbarian Germanic hordes.

I'm not sure why Germans would be bombing Boston because of the Romans. You aren't really thinking this through. The Romans don't even have an empire anymore.

Finally some common sense in a world where common sense isn't so common. Don't let fear rule you, i'm glad not all media is out to scare people.

Excuse my frankness, and this is a nice article and all, but why is this on Hacker News? I understand it being a very big story in the general news, but I come here for stories about a particular topic.

"Our fears would play right into the perpetrators' hands -- and magnify the power of their victory for whichever goals whatever group behind this, still to be uncovered, has."

Thats really bad writing!

Thank you for this.

The title "Marathon Bombing" does not give right vibe. :(

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