It seems a long time ago that I stocked my pantry (pantry is a concept in Manhattan, not a reality) with two weeks’ worth of emergency food (including powdered milk, an oddly comforting substance when faced with the potential collapse of infrastructure) and other items like duct tape and three five-gallon bottles of water. Now I discover that a good friend and an expert on terrorist threats has three 125-gallon drums of bleach-processed water in his children’s bedroom, as well as military-grade surgical masks, potassium iodide (against radiation poisoning) and Cipro–the anthrax antibiotic–as well as rolls of plastic sheeting to cover the windows.
What does one make of all this? My personal response has been to flee to a place in the country, and hope that the attack comes on the weekend.
My kids’ room doesn’t have space for both them and the water drums. Maybe if I could do something about clutter, as the shelter magazines call life’s detritus, I could find a floor area for adequate emergency supplies; but I just can’t bring myself to buy
, nice as it is.
So instead, I’ve secured a copy of the upcoming Summer 2002 issue of
World Policy Journal
, published by the World Policy Institute at The New School, and may I say that after reading it, I am seriously thinking of running back out to get Real Simple and, with a few easy organizational steps, squeezing the three 125-gallon water barrels into a corner of our living room.
The most sobering article–in a very sober, well-written, intelligently conceived publication–is called “The Threats America Faces.” In it, John Newhouse, a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, enumerates the many kinds of attack to which we are incapable of responding. The most shocking for its cruelty, its understanding of human vulnerability and its supertechno cartoonishness, is the potential for terrorist infiltration (they’ve already done it!) of computers that control major operating systems, like electricity, air traffic control, banking or communications. (My friend with the water drums says Al Qaeda wants to interrupt communications at the precise time of a physical attack; mayhem as well as massacre.) Newhouse points out that before September 11, the defense community was obsessed with the possible threat from long-range missiles by rogue states, as a 2001 State Department guidance memorandum stated it. He and other experts, though not necessarily Rumsfeld’s Defense Department, are now more concerned about missiles that could be launched from an offshore location by a third party against, say, Moscow, triggering an all-out nuclear attack on America–or vice versa. Newhouse also raises the specter of the inadequately secured former Soviet nuclear arsenal, and notes that the only way to deal with such phenomena is through bi- and multinational agreements of the kind the Bush Administration has to be dragged to by its short hairs.
It’s all about blowback, but Newhouse believes that concerted multilateral diplomacy, agreements and shared intelligence can, with a little luck, forestall an act of terror that would provoke what he calls a “hidden-hand war,” a war against an unknown adversary. It’s a hope, if Bush and his boys and girl can be pushed in that direction.