Terrorists Rule the Roost

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You heard the warnings that terrorists could attack specific sites in Washington, Manhattan, and Newark. We are talking the stock exchange, Citigroup, the World Bank, and the IMF. Had it never occurred to anyone that these might be targets? No, we had to find that out by discovering secret memos. Thank goodness for our intelligence services!

Tom Ridge was going nuts. Not that anyone but public employees did anything differently or even paid much attention. Still, the subways of DC were filled with g-men carrying big guns. That way any passengers who might be considering blowing up the IMF would think twice. These frightening storm troopers are supposed to make us feel safe.

Terrorists run the country. They shape our civic life and private life. They determine how all public resources are spent. They may dictate the election outcome.

In New York, there were tax-paid troops carrying weapons of mass destruction standing outside the stock exchange and the banks. All workers had to be investigated and have their IDs checked thoroughly. And then the mayor and the governor showed up to explain that we should not let the terrorists win, and so we should all go on with our normal business.

Traders paid no attention, either to the warnings or the warnings to pay no attention to the warning, or to the warnings warning that warnings should serve as warnings. And speaking of warnings, imagine the founding fathers getting all exercised about standing armies!

Why were these warnings different from the warnings issued every few weeks from Washington? Because they supposedly contained specific plans. We are talking vague insinuations of an attack. Instead of finding a note or hearing a cell phone call that said: “We will attack you!” this warning was based on intelligence that said: “We will attack financial centers in New York and Washington!!!” Wow, now that’s something to cry wolf about. What do we pay governments for except to alert us to impending threats? As President Bush says, this is “a serious business.”

What attracted far less attention was the news that came out two days later: these warnings about specific attacks were years old. Remarkably, they predated the September 11 attacks. They were based on some years-old scribblings found in Pakistan, and attributed to Al Qaeda, but of course no one really knows who wrote them. They are nothing other than notes about security arrangements at these locations — arrangements long ago changed. The terrorists abandoned the plans but Washington clings to them as if they are of utmost value.

“We found some scraps of paper in Pakistan written perhaps years ago that seem to have drawings of the stock exchange. Full scale alert!” Next we’ll get the warning that the Japanese are going to attack Pearl Harbor, that the British are going to burn the capital, and that Indians are going to dump tea into Boston Harbor.

What about the announcement that suspects had been found with blueprints and had practiced “test runs”? Whoops, sorry. That was a mistake. Just not true. Still, officials assured us that these buildings might still be a target. Let’s hope that the bureaucrats don’t discover MapQuest. They would mistake it for an al Qaeda project, or at least deduce that terrorists could use this information, and declare the whole of the inhabited world at high risk for terrorist attacks.

Now, there are a number of ways of understanding this cycle of warnings based on nothing, combined with over-the-top responses by government goons. These characters are extremely risk averse and fear being blamed for not having prevented the next attack. They want a police state and use these alerts to get us used to having heavily armed government men take over our lives, just as in any totalitarian country. The Republicans are manipulating the public for partisan reasons.

Regardless of how you look at it, it becomes clear that these people we call “terrorists” are not being kept at bay; far from it. They are running the country. They determine our civic life. They shape our private life. They decide how public resources are spent. They may dictate who gets to be the next president. It should be obvious that the government doesn’t object. Not at all. The government benefits, by getting ever more reason for ever more money and power.

If the terrorists didn’t exist, the government would have to invent them. Sometimes it seems like the government has invented them. It certainly has invented the conception of what is called al Qaeda. Buried in the 9-11 report was the discovery that Bin Laden hadn’t funded the terrorists after all, three years after we had been constantly assured that the shadowy figures who flew planes into skyscrapers could not have been acting on their own. Well, it turns out that their money was in fact their own. What public officials don’t want you to know is that what we call terrorists seek to enact vengeance against the US for its foreign policy. They don’t hate our “Way of Life.”

To understand why the proliferation of terror and terror warnings, as well as terror by terror warnings, is something that the US government likes and promotes, you have to think like a government. These are people who resent our sense of normalcy and our bourgeois assumption that they are not really that important. They like telling people what to do. They want to lord it over a population of sheep. After the disappearance of communism, something had to take its place to become the great fear factor in American life.

People are astonished that the Democrats are not making the appalling conduct of the war or the Bush regime’s shredding of civil liberties a campaign issue. Well, if it is true that Democrats want power and money as much as Republicans, they have surely noted that 9-11 and the following frenzy was the best thing to happen to big government in a very long time. If you are running to become the newly empowered managers of state power, why attack a main source of that power?

Governments aren’t elected to give us liberty; they are elected to take it away. Liberty is only granted to a people who take it as their own.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of LewRockwell.com and author of Speaking of Liberty.

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