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Last night someone loaded a Nissan SUV with a bunch of compressed gas and propane and parked it in Times Square,. Apparently the hope was that the SUV would explode and kill a bunch of tourists. Thanks to a tee shirt vendor, who noticed that the vehicle was smoking, who notified a mounted police officer who smelled gunpowder and called for back up, the bomb did not go off, theater goers were not killed, and New York City and the US once again avoided the inevitable terrorists attacks.
That's right. A terrorist attack (whether homegrown or foreign) is inevitable. It will happen at some point. At the same time the Time Square bomb was smoldering, a United Airways plane was being diverted because of a bomb threat now described as a "hoax." The next time the tee shirt vendor might not see the smoke or the threat might not be just some stupid "joke." Just like offshore drilling will inevitably lead to oil spills, US foreign and domestic policies will inevitably lead to terrorist attacks. It is the price we pay for Empire.
When people (usually angry men motivated by fundamentalist religions- Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Middle Eastern or corn-fed white Americans) feel as if their lives have been destroyed by a state and simultaneously feel that there is no possible way to address their grievances, they will feel justified in the use of terror against the population in an attempt to get to the state. It's a story as old as the Maccabees and as new as last night's incident in Times Square. It is the inevitable price that large states that control huge swathes of land and extract wealth from a variety of populations to finance the military might necessary for such control pay. It is a story as old as Rome and as contemporary as America.
That such an attack is unavoidable and will happen we know. What we do not know is how to respond. Inevitably the initial response will be to fight terrorism with violence- more bombings, more arrests, more dead civilians. Here in Waco or there in Kabul.
But that response is neither necessary nor does it produce the desired result: no terrorist attacks. In fact, if history teaches us anything it is that violence begets violence. Instead, it might be worth thinking about other responses. A bomb in Times Square would be a tragedy, with hundreds of civilians wounded and more than a few casualties. But bombing a village in Kabul or having a shoot out with American terrorists in some village in Texas does not lead to less violence. To the contrary, numerous sites exist on the internet that could convince an angry young person to take up arms against a fascist government as a result of the Waco massacre. And even the Army understands that the more civilians die in Afghanistan and Iraq, the more terrorists will be produced.
So the question is, when the bomb finally does go off in Times Square or another airplane is blown up, what should people who actually want a more peaceful world do? The State will attempt to utilize these incidents for more war- because the state extracts huge amounts of our wealth for the military industrial complex and therefore must justify such expenditures to the people. But we the people can prepare now to put pressure on the State not to respond to terrorism with war-like tactics. Instead, we can think about other responses- like pressure on the State to control a smaller amount of territory, to spend less on military and more on the American people (leading to a much less disaffected group of homegrown terrorists), and to generally scale down the size and scope of Empire.
The lessons of a bomb in Time Square are simple: dismantle the military-industrial complex, scale down the operations of Empire, redistribute the wealth from buying swords to making plowshares. It's a lesson as old as Isaiah and as new as last night's bomb in New York.