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July 15, 2016 — The march of technology and tumult

It was sometime in 1989 when I knew the world had changed pretty much irrevocably.

Late in 1988, an explosion aboard an aircraft flying the trans-Atlantic route killed 243 people. The forensic investigation revealed that enough plastic explosive had been packed into a radio-cassette recorder in order to tear a hole in the side of Pan Am Flight 103.

There have been many mass terrorist attacks in the world the last 30 years, attacks and mass murders which were unimaginable and unthinkable until now.

Last night in Nice, France, there was yet another terrorist action which saw a disaffected citizen take the wheel of a tractor-trailer and plow into a crowd of Bastille Day revelers, killing at least 84 people.

It’s become facile for politicians, news channels, police, and the intelligence community to talk about global terrorism, radicalism, and attacks in the name of religion.

But what has distinguished many of the mass murders the last few years is the nature of the weapons wielded: technologies which, in the wrong hands, can be deadly.

Think about it: 125 years ago, you didn’t have easily-concealed explosives, high-capacity firearms, vehicles capable of controlled flight, and military-grade weapons in the hands of civilians.

You wouldn’t have had a Sept. 11 attack on a large building, because the only way to travel through the air in the 1890s was a hot-air balloon. You couldn’t have mass shootings involving dozens of people because not even the repeater pistol could be loaded as quickly as the military assault rifle. And you definitely couldn’t drive a heavy conveyance into a crowd because the horseless carriage hadn’t been developed yet.

But when you read carefully about individual terror episodes, such as Lockerbie, Sept. 11, Newtown, Orlando, Paris, Dallas, and yesterday’s attack in Nice, there is a theme running through them: the perpetrators of the attacks were able to get their hands on the implements used to kill people because it was, frankly, easy to do so.

No amount of target-hardening, thoughts and prayers by politicians, cult deprogramming, or fear-mongering can change the fact that any disaffected person can take an implement or a tool and use it to kill somebody else.

That should be the true terror, not the cowardly acts themselves.

 

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