Thursday, October 14, 2004

Terrorists and cockroaches

The other day the junior senator from the great Commonwealth of Massachussetts used the words terrorism and nusiance in the same sentence. The President and the VP took offense at this.

Okay, perhaps nuisance wasn't the right word... From the New York Times Magazine article, here's a snipet (buried from page 7 of the internet version... you know how damn long the articles in the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker can get):
In a rare moment of either candor or carelessness, or perhaps both, Bush told Matt Lauer on the ''Today'' show in August that he didn't think the United States could actually triumph in the war on terror in the foreseeable future. ''I don't think you can win it,'' he said -- a statement that he and his aides tried to disown but that had the ring of sincerity to it. He and other members of his administration have said that Americans should expect to be attacked again, and that the constant shadow of danger that hangs over major cities like New York and Washington is the cost of freedom. In his rhetoric, Bush suggests that terrorism for this generation of Americans is and should be an overwhelming and frightening reality.

When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.''

This analogy struck me as remarkable, if only because it seemed to throw down a big orange marker between Kerry's philosophy and the president's. Kerry, a former prosecutor, was suggesting that the war, if one could call it that, was, if not winnable, then at least controllable. If mobsters could be chased into the back rooms of seedy clubs, then so, too, could terrorists be sent scurrying for their lives into remote caves where they wouldn't harm us. Bush had continually cast himself as the optimist in the race, asserting that he alone saw the liberating potential of American might, and yet his dark vision of unending war suddenly seemed far less hopeful than Kerry's notion that all of this horror -- planes flying into buildings, anxiety about suicide bombers and chemicals in the subway -- could somehow be made to recede until it was barely in our thoughts.
So, okay, now I'm thinking about that. I'm liking the analogy comparing terrorists to cockroaches. It's out there, you know.

I like it because it calls to question what it is we're doing. Can you ever, really, get rid of cockroaches? Try. All you'll be able to do, in the long run, is get the population down to where they're just a nuisance.

Anybody who thinks we can do better than that with terrorism, well, I guess they just don't think terrorists are cockroaches.


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