Terrorism, if so many people want to kill us in our sleep, why haven’t we all been blown up yet?
On December 6 1917 an ammunition ship carrying approximately 3,000 tons of explosives (2.5 million kilograms) exploded in Halifax Harbour, Canada. It was the largest man made explosion to date in history, unsurpassed until the nuclear attacks on Japan. The blast in Halifax was about one sixth the strength of the Hiroshima bomb. It levelled about a square mile of the Halifax harbour and surrounding communities, including damage done by a tsunami caused by the blast. About 1500 people died instantly, hundreds more would die of their wounds. More than 9,000 were injured.
On April 16 1947 a ship carrying 8500 tons (nearly 8 million kilograms) of ammonium nitrate exploded in Texas City, Texas. More than 600 people were killed, more than 5000 people were injured. The explosion was about a quarter the strength of the Hiroshima blast, it hurled the anchor of the exploding ship over three miles, where it now rests in a memorial park.
Acts of war? Terrorism? No, accidents. My point? The point is that since at least 1917 any government or even large NGO that wanted to could have packed a ship with explosives and killed thousands of Americans. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper and easier than building a nuclear weapon or any other exotic WMD. Ships smuggle tons of drugs into the USA every year despite all our efforts to interdict them, something like this wouldn’t require rocket scientists. And frankly, there’s even easier and cheaper ways to make huge explosions and/or kill all sorts of people. There’s LNG storage facilities and other industrial sites all over the USA where a few tracer bullets would make a huge explosion and/or chemical spill. A gasoline truck simply set on fire on the Golden Gate bridge or other such key artery could make a huge mess, and there have been gasoline trucks around since the 20s. A creative train derailment by a major river could taint the water supply for millions.
And American has had lots of fanatical enemies in the last century, Nazis, Communists, North Koreans, Vietnam, not to mention Iran. How is it that in the last century the toll from terror attacks in the USA has been basically zero? There’s two basic reasons. The first is that it’s not as easy as it sounds, even these low tech type of attacks require the resources of a national government for the most part. And secondly, because there is very little to be gained from such attacks. Our enemies may hate us, but they aren’t stupid. This is why terrorism with the spectacular exception of 9/11 has been trivial to nonexistent in America. Not because terrorism is a new idea or because we are somehow suddenly defending ourselves. (Hell, 9/11 wouldn’t had happened if we had had sensible protocols in place to prevent hijacking, the idea of using hijacked airliners as bombs has been around since at least 1970.)
As I said previously, there are gang bangers living a mile from me who would kill me at the drop of a hat if I dissed them in an way, yet somehow I manage to get along with my life and don’t lose sleep over them. If monsters living a mile from me aren’t a threat, why in the name of God should I lose sleep over monsters living in caves on the other side of the planet? And for God’s sake, why are we even invading countries on the far side of the planet? Isn’t that going to just inspire more people to hate Americans? No apologies, people who try to persuade me that there are all these evil monsters in the world out to get me…are either foolish or cowardly. Just because the government or Rush Limbaugh claims we need to wage war overseas and spend trillions of dollars to protect us against tiger attack doesn’t magically make the threat of tiger attack any more real, no matter how unpleasant the prospect of being eaten by a tiger is.
(The above image of the Halifax Explosion was taken 15-30 seconds after the blast from a distance of 13 miles (21 kilometres) away. It appears to be the only photograph of the explosion in existence. Because of the date it was taken, the image is public domain under US and Canadian copyright law.)