Back When Terrorism Was Somebody Else's Problem - 1977

(Brian Jenkins - in 1977 terrorism was an abstract concept to most Americans) As part of its weekly program "Options", National Public Radio in 197

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(Brian Jenkins - in 1977 terrorism was an abstract concept to most Americans)

As part of its weekly program "Options", National Public Radio in 1977 ran a lecture given by terrorism expert Brian Jenkins of The Rand Corporation on the new dimension of power garnered by the terrorists of the world. How technology had made it possible in the recent decade to make bolder and more costly strikes possible, hinting at how America was no longer isolated from these attacks.

Of course, in 1977 it seemed an abstract concept. Terrorism was something that happened in Europe or the Middle East, or even Japan. But not the U.S. - no, we were too powerful and too isolated for that. That's what we thought. Naturally, we were wrong - we just didn't know how wrong at the time.

Brian Jenkins: “What really are the major sources of the terrorist power today? First, it is the value, the high value that society places on human life. Faced with the option, faced with any sort of an option, governments are extremely reluctant to allow hostages to be killed. Despite, in many cases, popular pressure that a line must be drawn, that the thing must stop here, governments are extremely reluctant to have people killed, to have the blood on their hands. So the tremendous value we place on human life, and certainly I would not argue for the contrary, is one of the vulnerabilities in our society, and a vulnerability that terrorists can exploit and one which gives them tremendous power. That terrorists recognize and exploit this can be seen in the frequency in which the terrorists use the tactic of seizing hostages. Indeed, approximately a third of all incidents of international terrorism involved taking hostages. By hijacking airliners, taking over embassies or kidnapping individuals. Terrorists seize hostages whether diplomats, corporate executives, tourists; sometimes just anybody handy, to deliberately heighten the drama of the episode by placing human life in the balance, and thereby increasing their own leverage. In return for the release of hostages, terrorists have received millions of dollars in cash. In one single episode in Argentina they received sixty million U.S. dollars. I want to point out that is the equivalent to one third of that country’s national defense budget.”

Something that happened somewhere else, under someone else's watch, with someone else's government. The irony is that, in less than two years, we would be in the same situation so many else had been for so long. And a little over twenty years later, we would suffer the shock and horror of 9/11.

But in 1977 it seemed too absurd to imagine. Even though there were warning signs back then.

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