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Lone gunman

First off, the families of those killed or injured in the South Korean subway tragedy have my utmost sympathies. I want to make that clear up front, since I’m about to use it as an example to support my thesis regarding the future of terrorism. I wish it had never happened. I also know it wasn’t terrorism, but it’s relevant nonetheless.

One person, acting alone, killed over 140 people in a single action. It didn’t require a lot of technological ingenuity, nor did it require the backing of a rogue state. He just tossed a flaming container of liquid into a subway car. Not too difficult.

What’s more, he was immediately jumped by other passengers. A pack, not a herd — but it made no difference. It’s nice to think that through group action we can thwart terrorism, but we can’t. We can be effective. It’s good that the guy was caught quickly. But citizen action isn’t going to stop all of these.

I’ve seen arguments that the tragedy wouldn’t have happened in New York, because we have better safety measures. Probably not this particular incident, nope. Other incidents? Sure; surely the fall of the WTC taught us that we haven’t considered all the safety possibilities. Further, that line of thought brings us to the world in which we can’t buy a steak because there are carcinogenic chemicals in meat, and I’m not too fond of that world. Things are too cotton-wrapped already. (Safety versus liberty, again.)

A world in which all rogue states are gone is not a world without terrorism. There are more than enough examples of individuals and non-state backed terrorist groups to prove this. We can’t stamp out terrorism that way.

One Comment

  1. The Chicago nightclub stampede also appears to be a terrifying example of what one man can do – in this case with nothing but pepper spray and mace, and in the apparent absence of malice. Admittedly, there are a limited number of places in the world where inciting everyone to attempt to exit at the same time results in 21 deaths, but it takes more depravity than ingenuity to imagine how something like this could be put into practice.

    I think the one thing that lone actors have going against them right now is that they don’t generally have access to a science of destruction. The only perpetuity of research is the media record, really. And currently, it seems most lone actors don’t manage to conduct more than one experiment. That in particular is what makes funded groups so much more terrifying – the concept that they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes in perpetuity, to perfect terrorism. In reflecting on the recent tragedies caused by humans – sponsored and lone – I can’t think of many that succeeded because of anything other than chutzpah. I think any given fraternity could have enacted the attack on the World Trade Center as effeciently as al Qaeda did, if they were sufficiently inspired. The suspect in the subway incident was 56-years old, considered “mentally unstable”, and had suffered a stroke. At the risk of seeming overly flippant – what’s going to happen when MacGyver sets his mind to the destruction of the United States?

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