The Problem With Terrorism, pt. 1

Terrorism, though its manifestations across America are scant, is the object of billions of dollars spent every year.
Terrorism is a problem. And America has historically excelled at solving challenging problems. But one wonders, concerning this problem, how hard we’re really trying.
As with anything that involves marketable items, there’s now a profound profit interest in keeping the anti-terrorism machine rolling. The wars in the Middle East are immensely profitable for weapons manufacturers. No problem here – the government does not (and, in my opinion, should not) vertically control weapons production and procurement, so those things ought to be left to companies seeking quality, efficiency, and profit (each of which requires the others). But, as has already become evident, the war machine carries great momentum. As President Obama moves for a streamlining and reduction in scale of the U.S. military, weapons systems manufacturing corporations have notified the government that they will be forced to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers. Were this happening in any other area of government than the military, Republicans would use it as an object lesson in the unstoppable, eternally hungry monster created by federal spending. But not here. No, the cost of combating terrorism (or of saying we’re combating it) is too high to not be paid. The military industrial complex is essentially an autonomous being – it has been grown, and it must continue to be fed so that it may continue to grow.
But the financial woes wrought by terrorism, while probably economically devastating in the end, are not the worst aspect. The most destructive element of terrorism is terror. Terror causes humans to act irrationally. Terror makes terrorism exist. If there were no terror, terrorists would be ineffective – just suicidal fools with weapons… and without even a title. If there were no terror, America would have to find a different reason to fight our wars. If there were no terror, a few people would die at the hands of extremists – like they always have – but all people would live more freely and happily.
To whose advantage does terror – or fear – exist? To those seeking control. Government profits from terror. Anti-government insurgents profit from terror. Religious extremists profit from terror.
Who creates terror? Is it simply inevitable in society? Is it good – healthy – an emotional life-preserver?
But it would seem that not all societies have subscribed to terror as an inevitable force. Aristotle, in his major work on virtue, Nichomachean Ethics, writes disparagingly of a person or society ruled by fear. He claims the virtuous way is courage, and courage is most clearly found on the field of battle. “But the brave man,” says Aristotle, “would not seem to be concerned even with death in all circumstances, e. g. at sea or in disease. In what circumstances, then? Surely in the noblest. Now such deaths are those in battle; for these take place in the greatest and noblest danger… Properly, then, he will be called brave who is fearless in face of a noble death, and of all emergencies that involve death; and the emergencies of war are in the highest degree of this kind.” In a globalized civilization, where wars can happen anywhere between any two nations, every place is a potential battlefield – a home, an office, an airplane. No one is exempt from courage – neither farmers nor salesmen nor soldiers.
And if Americans grew courageous (and not the kind of courage that says, “My gun is bigger than yours,” but the kind that says, “Regardless of your weapons and my weapons, I do not fear you”), how long would terrorism last? Perhaps one more time. There might be one more Flight 93, where courageous citizens overpower hell-bent aspiring terrorists, and then the message would be clear: we fear no man. When Americans refuse to fear death – and particularly death of the noblest kind – we will be free.
This is not to imply that we citizens should become heartless automatons, unaffected by emotion. On the contrary – the courageous man is fully aware of the joy of life. This is why his courage is so virtuous. Says Aristotle, “Death and wounds will be painful to the brave man and against his will, but he will face them because it is noble to do so or because it is base not to do so. And the more he his possessed of virtue in its entirety and the happier he is, the more he will be pained at the thought of death; for life is best worth living for such a man, and he is knowingly losing the greatest goods, and this is painful. But he is none the less brave, and perhaps all the more so, because he chooses the noble deeds of war at that cost.”
America is not Sparta: we are not a community of war-hardened, efficient killing machines, yearning for guts and glory. America is no kin to Achilles: that warrior who despaired to lose his life, but who loathed even more the thought of fear in death.
Terrorists are cowards. Those who exploit terror for gain are tyrants. It’s time Americans turned on both kinds and began fighting cowardice with courage and tyranny with valor.

Philippe Petit walks a tightrope between the World Trade Center twin towers, in 1974.
(AP Photo/Alan Welner) Photo: Alan Welner, AP / SF
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Man-on-Wire-Twin-Towers-high-wire-walk-3201309.php#ixzz27VRwtMH7

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