Insight. If that sounds artsy, well, it is.
Predicting the future is more artsy foolishness, but it is absolutely necessary foolishness. Businesses operate on business plans, which are a sketch of the future. A government budget is based on anticipated needs -- in other words, a vision of the future.
So-called "future studies" try to analyze trends and from those analyses anticipate crises. Intelligence, diplomatic, financial and security capabilities, if timely applied, may resolve or mitigate the problems. These kind of studies are useful only at the "large-scale," however. Stopping any single terrorist strike is another matter. Only gumshoe detective work, steady, tedious monitoring of terrorist suspects and the political will to either arrest or kill terrorists before they strike will stop a particular attack -- maybe.
What else makes a difference?
I recently received two letters from soldiers I served with in Iraq. One veteran regretted what he called America's failure to educate its citizens regarding "the task at hand." He meant the War on Terror, which he actually saw as more of a long-term struggle. However, he was also addressing another strategic weakness: our failure to educate citizens about the nature of violent, premeditated threat. Extreme civil libertarians bemoan the "police state." However, an "aware state" isn't a police state. What constitutes an aware state? One where individual citizens know their own liberty and safety requires community action.
The other soldier told me we must "expect surprise."
"Banks expect to be robbed," he wrote, "but have measures in place to minimize the damage when their defenses fail."
Has your community run a disaster response exercise, with a terrorist assault as one of the scenarios? Exercises encourage awareness and increase confidence -- both help psychologically prepare a community.
Preparation for terrible surprise isn't lunatic -- it is enlightened.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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