Alexander's Column

The Fat Lady Will Sing

Mark Alexander · Jan. 7, 2000

The Federalist – deliberately – did not mention “Y2K” in our pages until October of last year, when we ran a three-part series on the rationale for maintaining a prudent degree of preparedness for any unforeseen crisis. “Deliberate,” we say, because we closely reviewed the scope of this problem – and its solutions. We told our readers in Part 1 of that series: “Our Editorial Board has concluded for the last year…that the ‘facts’ being cited as predictors for the shutdown of the western world after New Year’s Eve were about 10% substance and 90% fragrance.” (That 10% constituted what we estimated were the Y2K unknowns affecting foreign financial markets and, thus, potentially U.S. equity markets.)

Guessing that a few of our readers would protest our editorial decision not to join the “hYpe2K” chorus, we quipped: “Needless to say…a few eschatologists, who are convinced Y2K is the apocalypse, will hit our Member Comments page. In fact, we will set up a special mailbox for those critics: ToldYouSo@Federalist.com, but ask that you hold your comments and send them to us after January 1st, 2000 – if you still have power.” Fact is, The Federalist’s series on preparedness received accolades from readers applauding our balanced approach to the whole issue.

We watched with dismay, though, as some Internet and print media pages deluged their readers with projections of chaos and mayhem and conspiracy – all the while selling survival products and promoting the “bunker mentality.” One of our colleagues chastised his Christian brothers, asking them what were they planning to do when the poor arrived at their bunkers hungry for food – “shoot them”?

Before the New Year’s Eve clock had struck twelve, the media, in its infinite wisdom, diverted its focus from all the hype about Y2K and asked, “Why did the world spend billions on a problem that didn’t even exist?” Of course, the billions spent likely prevented some degree of catastrophe the hucksters were predicting.

In the post-New Year Y2K anti-climax, we don’t want our readers to neglect the premise for our October series on preparedness. Our rationale focused on emerging threats to continuity of government and commerce, particularly the threat of domestic biological and technological terrorism. It is our considered opinion that, based on the scope and probability of these threats, every family should be able to sustain itself for a minimum of four weeks (considering that most households have the ability to be self-sustaining for up to two weeks).

Since the 1970s, the media have entertained far too many “Chicken Little experts” proclaiming that terrorism is at our doorstep. For that reason, we have become somewhat desensitized to the issue and view it as a distant problem (unless, of course, you are from New York, where Islamic terrorists came very close to collapsing one of the World Trade Center towers with a bomb).

In the last decade, however, with the end of the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and the rise of international terrorist groups such as that of Osama bin Laden (which are actively targeting the U.S.), the federal government and military have wisely directed enormous emphasis and resources toward preparedness and response planning against terrorist attacks.

The threat of terrorism is now estimated to be so high that in October, the Department of Defense announced it would replace the U.S. Atlantic Command with the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which will have the new mandate for responding to domestic incidents of terrorism.

The most recent report on national security threats identifies biological terrorism – “unannounced attacks on U.S. cities” as “the most serious threat to our security.” And U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism operations have succeeded in thwarting several major attacks already. Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst with the Rand Corporation, notes, “We’re doing a pretty good job. We have frustrated bin Laden on several occasions; for the past 18 months, he has not carried out any successful attacks.”

Retired Marine Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak, a man of considerable reason, says, “[The threat of biological terrorism] kept me awake at night when I was on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Bioterrorism] is frightening in its lethality and its ability to go undetected; by the time you realize you have a problem, it’s probably too late. … It is not a matter of whether but of when [they will strike].”

Fat lady’s gotta sing!