Reflections on Terrorism

Courtesy Reuters

Fifty years hence, puzzled historians will try to make sense of the behavior of Western governments and the media in the 1980s regarding terrorism. They will note that presidents and other leaders frequently referred to terrorism as one of the greatest dangers facing mankind. For days and weeks on end, television networks devoted most of their prime-time news to covering terrorist operations. Publicists referred to terrorism as the cancer of the modern world, growing inexorably until it poisoned and engulfed the society on which it fed.

Naturally, our future historian will expect that a danger of such enormity must have figured very highly on the agenda of our period—equal, say, to the dangers of war, starvation, overpopulation, deadly disease, debts and so on. He will assume that determined action was taken and major resources allocated to fight against this threat. But he will be no little surprised to learn that when the Swedish prime minister was killed in 1986, the Swedish government promised a reward for information leading to the apprehension of his killer that amounted to less than ten percent of the annual income of an investment banker or a popular entertainer; that the French government offered even less for its terrorists; that West Germany was only willing to pay a maximum of $50,000 "for the most dangerous" ones. The United States offered up to $500,000, again not an overwhelming sum considering the frequency of the speeches about terrorism and the intensity of the rhetoric.

Surely (our historian will expect) major investments were made in the research and development of technological means to preempt and combat the terrorists. Again, to his consternation, he will discover that the sum the United States devoted to this purpose—about $20-30 million—was considerably less than any second-rank pharmaceutical firm allocates for research and development.

His confusion will further deepen when he learns that the number of Americans killed inside the United States in 1985 as the result of terrorist attack was two, and that the total

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