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May 16, 2013

SWAT (Shall We All Think?)

We have had terrorists’ bombs before. Barack’s buddy Bill built bombs. They go back to the time of Alfred Nobel, just like the first stabbings go back to the discovery of flint – a sobering thought in the nuclear age. Most were solved by good police work, as was the Boston bombing. Now is the time to care for the injured, and to reflect on our way of life and our laws.

What struck me about the marathon bombings was not the predictability of the media coverage, the pathetic lingual gymnastics of politicians who dare not utter the words “terror” and Islam" in proximity, the idiotic explanations (boxing and brain damage), and the outright dishonesty (“It’s our fault”).

No, what struck me was the response of “law enforcement.” To be clear, I am a law and order guy, and I understand uncertainty, adrenaline, and fear. A detonator was loose – a man with an unknown number of weapons and accomplices. Better too much than too little. I get that, but I remain uneasy.

When bombed, the English stiffen their upper lips and go about their lives. In Boston, we “shelter in place,” elsewhere called martial law. Who called for the yawning wardrobes of black Kevlar, and the frenetic lacing of black boots? Didn’t anyone tell them that SWAT teams against white clapboard stand out like dark bugs on birch trees? Easy picking for birds, and terrorists. How many machine guns were ordered into the streets? Who decided an armored personal carrier is a useful tool to face down a lone criminal in suburbia? Did we really need the National Guard?!

For all its power of reaction, the power it never showed was the power of prediction. How many fledgling terrorists are offered to us on a platter by another country, get thrown out of a mosque, shoot across our bow on the internet, and travel to a hotbed of terror before being welcomed home by the Department of Homeland Security? How many can there be? What exactly is DHS doing with all those billions? In the end, the best detective was a spoor-spotting man out for a smoke in his back yard.

When the buyer of materiel fills his arsenal, the seller of materiel must find another buyer, and the seller’s congressman must protect the seller’s factory. After all, jobs and budgets must be maintained. Hand-me-downs from the big boys end up in the hands of the little boys, making room on the big boys’ racks for more stuff. Eventually, every fly-blown town in America will have a SWAT team and a black helicopter. And when there are no terrorists to be had, the front door of a guy cooking meth or the clinic of a doctor writing heavy prescriptions will put that gear to good use.

Americans should question the militarization of our police, and the policification of our military. We should reflect on the recent martial law in Watertown and the warrantless house to house searches by SWAT teams. We should think long and hard about the potential elasticity of the term “enemy combatant” when applied to domestic citizen criminals. We should pause when those in power define American soil as just another battlefield, subject to a different set of laws. And we should recoil when the mayor of our biggest city advises us that we should revisit the Fourth Amendment.

We who survived are the terrorists’ other victims because the intended target was our freedom. We defeat them by showing them that we remain free, not fearful. When a loaded crock pot can buy you tens of millions of dollars in lost economic activity and policing, and countless hours of media attention, you have won. The You Tube videos of citizens, arms aloft, being escorted from their homes by men with machine guns are being watched by our enemies. You can be sure they know a good investment when they see one, so expect more bombs.

When our leaders and other influential people begin to debate whether an American citizen should be read his rights or waterboarded after he is arrested, killing him becomes easier. Riddling a driveway sailboat with bullets is like droning a terrorist when capturing him is politically inconvenient. If you do that, you might have to question him, or, Heaven forbid, send him to Guantanamo.

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