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"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.




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