David H. Hackworth
18 August 98
BOMBS BURSTING IN AIR
We're back to putting posters up on walls like we did when Billy The Kid was getting his target practice on slow-drawing gunmen.
In simpler times when Americans overseas were shot up, we sent Rough Riders or gunboats or squadrons of bombers to deal with the perps.
"Don't Tread on me" was well understood by all foreign capitals of the world. They knew if they screwed with Uncle Sam they'd get it in the chops.
But times have changed, and so has the nature of conflict. As we lurch into the 21st century, it's terrorism that will bring unparalleled horror to our cities.
Of course, the bombs that killed and wounded hundreds of people in Africa last week were far from the first blows struck in this brutal form of warfare. For centuries terrorism has been the tactic of choice of the madmen and the have-nots -- the angries whose motivation comes from being at the bottom of the pecking order or from religious fanaticism or just plain old fashioned hatred.
Once upon a time it was easier to deal with terrorists: simply track down their backers, blow up their capitals and declare the responsible governments hostile states.
But ever since U.S. bombers clobbered Libya's Muoammar al-Qaddafi for blowing up a Berlin nightclub, terrorists and their supporters have learned. Now they leave few fingerprints and absolutely no trails to foreign lands.
Remember the 1996 bombing of the USAF billet in Saudi Arabia where 19 American airmen were killed? We've spent millions of bucks investigating and still don't conclusively know who was behind it.
Besides close to impossible to figure out where they come from, terrorist acts are hard to stop. Not unlike a prisoner who's determined to bust out of a slammer, terrorists spend months, even years, planning. They carefully assemble their bombs and just as meticulously work out escape plans.
Terrorists come in various guises: home-grown like Tim McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing; imported as with the gang who bombed New York's World Trade Center; and radical rovers who attack foreigners and their facilities right around the globe.
Like government spending, each year the number of terrorist attacks go up and their bang gets bigger. Sure, there are pipe bombs like the ones the anti-abortionist haters prefer, but the trend is for bigger, more horrific weapons employed much more frequently.
Superterrorism is the next phase: weapons of mass destruction (WMD) such as the sarin nerve gas Japanese extremists released in the Tokyo subway in 1995; biological weapons; and even portable atomic bombs.
In fact, since the Soviet Union stroked out, it's no longer a question of if WMD will be used on Main Street USA, but rather when. Suitcase-size nukes capable of doing a Hiroshima or Nagasaki and other mass weapons of horror according to several sources have already become the newest, trendiest terrorist tool.
Is the Pentagon ready for superterrorism? They move their lips about it, but it's not the highest priority. As usual, they're preparing for the last war, Desert Storm. Except for a few maverick thinkers, the Washington establishment is brain-dead or into deep denial.
In 1995, a Pentagon study called Terror 2000 predicted the wave of terrorism we're now seeing. The report was buried by presidential aides who didn't want to panic the people. The White House view was, if we don't talk about it, maybe it'll go away. Unfortunately, many of predictions featured in this comprehensive report have already occurred.
The key to making it through the next decade is to follow the Boy Scouts' marching song and be prepared. What's needed is good intelligence that stops attacks before they happen and alert, informed citizens who report suspicious characters and activities immediately.
Another preventive measure would be to get out of foreign killing zones. Let's face it, Americans in general are not liked overseas. Our country has done some horrible things in the name of combating evil and we have a lot of enemies out there who reckon it's pay back time. It's time to draw in our horns while we reevaluate our M.O., bring as many of our folks as possible back home and start preparing for what was unthinkable only a few years ago.