[lit-ideas] Re: What's the big deal about 14 million people? Was: Ground Zero Mosque's Saudi Patron

Eric argues that the consequences of five nuclear bombs exploding in
the U.S. would be so catastrophic that it would constitute a threat to
the ongoing existence of the U.S.  In response, I have suggested that
the resources available to the U.S. make it unlikely that the U.S.
would collapse and disappear.

On Eric's account:

- over 14 million people would be immediately killed or suffer burns.
Many more would begin to develop radiation sickness and cancers
- the probable *loss* of command-and-control, mass casualties that
will have to be treated in an unorganized response by hospitals on the
periphery, as well as other expected chaotic outcomes from inadequate
administration in a crisis."*
- shut-down of borders, elimination of civil liberties, collapse of
the US economy, and nuclear retaliation, possibly on all "usual
- a massive urban evacuation that could paralyze the U.S. interstate
highway system."

While I would argue with some of the specific claims Eric provides -
the 14 million number is much higher than most of the estimates I have
seen - I would also point out that these claims only support the
argument that a terrorist attack using multiple nuclear weapons would
inflict devastating damage and cause chaos in the aftermath.  What is
missing is some sort of argument that the various political and social
institutions that constitute the United States would not only be
subjected to incredible pressure but would be damaged beyond repair.

Such a collapse is possible if, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, a
different government is established with the aim of completely
restructuring the political and social structures of the nation, or,
like the former Yugoslavia, there are longstanding fault lines along
which the nation fractures and divides.  However, I think the U.S. is
more like Britain, which could survive tremendous loss of life and
damage to cities, because political and social institutions were
sufficiently robust.

I am not trying to minimize the terror and destruction groups like al
Qaeda could inflict on countries like the U.S., but I think it is also
necessary to keep in mind that these groups are not omnipotent, able
to wipe out entire countries.  Terrorism can cause great suffering and
damage, but it is also a very blunt weapon that can only achieve very
limited results.

It is possible to attribute to terrorists attributes which they cannot
possess.  Fighting terrorism requires not only appreciating the damage
terrorists can do, but also the limits of terrorism as a weapon.


Phil Enns
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