A BRITISH VIEW OF AMERICA’S RESPONSE TO TERRORISM

Ron,

An interesting article and you make many sound points that made me 
think. As I am traveling in and out of Atlanta at the moment I am 
gaining an interesting viewpoint on the American psyche in this respect 
- I don't mean to say that I have an insight on how all America thinks 
but the media and political narrative is fairly consistent.  For the 
sake of sharing it, I thought I would drop a couple of thoughts below. 

We are taking the entire US leadership team of my company to Europe on a 
very expensive and thoughtful team building exercise in the summer. It 
starts in Amsterdam and will last a week and involve travel, a lot of 
time outdoors and being outside the comfort zone. We have done these all 
over the world including Thailand and Spain and they are the most sought 
after opportunities in the company. 

The response of my American colleagues has been interesting. Of the c. 
50 people asked to attend over half have needed to get a passport and a 
significant number are reluctant based on events in Brussels. This is a 
group who are almost all 40+ years of age and all comfortably earn 6 
figure salaries, often multiples of that, and lead dozens or hundreds of 
people. 

Whilst I am not so old (yet!) I am old enough to remember the frequency 
of Irish terrorism in London when I was young. Car bombings, bank 
bombings, assassinations and the like we're fairly regular news items 
and also personal experiences - I spent a summer in 2002 working in the 
London Stock Exchange and remember being evacuated to the basement for a 
few hours after a credible threat. I also took the tube to work the day 
of the 2005 bombings in London and recall the walk home with hundreds of 
other people. I mention this because in every case I recall people going 
back to work the following day and carrying on their business as normal. 
In 2005 I made a point to travel to work and put the proverbial finger 
up to the terrorists. It is MY city and MY country and MY life and I 
will not have my plans dictated to by credulous murderers. Perhaps this 
is the distant echo of the blitz spirit but 'keeping calm and carrying 
on' is more than just a bumper sticker here. 

The two examples are striking to me because of the different reactions 
to different types of event. For us, one example of when the country 
really did stop for a moment of national reflection and action was after 
20+ school children were shot and killed in Dunblane. It was horrific 
and the result was a ban on personal ownership of guns. The result: zero 
shootings at UK schools since (if not zero, then I don't remember one). 
The statistics show meanwhile that between 2001 and 2013 406,496 
Americans were killed by firearms on US soil while US deaths from 
terrorism overseas were 350 and domestically 3030. 

I think it would be possible to show that, statistically, the average 
'user' is safer using the European public transport system everyday than 
they are attending a US educational institution. Yet the media cycle and 
political focus do not reflect these blunt statistics.

I venture to suggest that terror seems to terrorise the American 
'system' more effectively than it does that of Western Europe.  It has 
an unwitting accomplice in the media as the ability to spin a news cycle 
out of a terrorist act is frankly more compelling: who did it, have we 
got them, who are the good guys, who are the bad ones, where is the 
network, is the net closing in etc.? This is in turn influencing the 
emotional reaction of Americans in different ways to Europeans.  

Certainly the reaction of my colleagues in Atlanta is, on the one hand, 
understandable but on the other hand a flagrant disregard of the daily 
dangers they put their loved ones in vis-a-vis gun crime. The fact that 
this is not being addressed as a truly national emergency is unthinkable 
to almost any European and yet sacrilegious to half of America. I have 
much respect for the constitution but in this respect the slavish 
adherence to a document that could not possibly have foreseen the world 
we live in today seems slightly preposterous and insulting to the 
intelligence of, well, the intelligent.

To add insult to injury Donald Trump is milking the situation for his 
own benefit based on not just an absence of evidence but a deliberate 
policy of ignoring it when it doesn't suit him. He is truly a 
Machiavellian figure and whether he wins or not he has polluted and 
diminished the world view of America - which is a great shame as he is 
not representative of the vast majority of Americans I have enjoyed 
working with and getting to know over the last 15 years or so.  It 
saddens me greatly every time I see him suck up airtime with vacuous 
statements of intent and a manifest lack of statesmanship. 

Anyway, I am at the risk of being sanctimonious and that is not my 
intention. I applaud your intention to keep traveling and hope you do 
so safely. There is of course a difference between being 
cautious/sensible and paranoid/trapped. Know the risks but calculate 
them based on a genuine assessment and not a media-hyped one. As for 
your personal thought process when confronted by Muslim youths on a tube 
I don't think you should feel ashamed at all. Civilization can be 
described as the process of a reasoned and rational approach overriding 
instincts and urges. You can't help the latter but can control them with 
the former and this is what you did.  

Anyway, I am in my airline seat ready to return to Atlanta now. I hope 
all is well with you and Sandy and we will see you soon I hope. 
All the very best -

A Brit

 

 

 

 

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