Mumbai Musings

Like most people, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India last week. Close to 200 people dead so far, with untold numbers more injured. It is a tragedy of terrible scope.

Speaking as someone who works with violent crime survivors, I can attest that there is a hidden cost that very few of us will ever see. Thousands upon thousands of people were involved with the victims, from family members and close friends to coworkers and casual acquaintances. Most of those people will find their lives have been changed, and rarely for the better.

Although hardly an expert on terrorism, I have been paying attention to the issue over the years. I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

The first thing that struck me, as the reports of the carnage trickled in, was that this smelled like a Hail Mary play.

The flashiest and most capable international terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda, have taken it on the chin for the past few years. Our invasion of Iraq five years ago, as well as our efforts to build and nurture a liberal democracy built along Western lines, created an irresistible target for the jihadists. They have been spending their resources at a dizzying pace in an effort to sabotage the process of nation building. Although still dangerous, they are now but a shadow of what they once were.

But other terror groups have also been aggressively pursued by Western security and intelligence services. al Qaeda might have borne the brunt, but they are all in the same boat.

Terrorist groups rely on donations and other support from people who share their prejudices and goals, just like any other NGO. Besides ferreting out the foot soldiers and leaders that plan the terrorist attacks, law enforcement agencies across the planet have also moved to clamp down on the money those terrorists need to fund their ghastly work. This has hurt them where they live because private donors who perceive an NGO as being ineffective will look for a more capable group when the collection plate comes around. There is less money being donated, and the terrorists are seeing even less of that because it is harder to hide the fact that it is being used to fund terrorism.

So it appears to me that this is a big push, a final effort to garner support from like-minded radical Islamists before the last of the hidden money and arms is seized.

I doubt that this attack is the work of a single group, although I have no real evidence for this opinion. It just seems logical to me that an organization big enough to put something like this together on their own would have been under greater scrutiny by the security forces in India. But an ad hoc collection of smaller groups might have been able to slip under the radar, pooling their resources for one big event. Considering that India has been having trouble with terrorist attacks for decades, and that their intelligence services enjoy a reputation of competency, it seems incredible that a large international terrorist group on the scale of al Qaeda could pull something like this off. We will have to wait and see if this is the case.

I would wager that we will see a small spike in terrorist activity in 2009, as the news of this attack energizes and inspires supporters of terrorism to dig deep and show their love. But I suspect that it will be temporary, and quickly squashed. It wouldn’t surprise me if the overall global death toll from Islamic terrorist acts continues to fall for the next year, and we see less dead bodies in 2009 than we did in 2008.

Now I would like to discuss something that is closer to my own area of expertise.

There is a now famous eyewitness account of the attacks which states that several armed police officers failed to draw their weapons and fight. Instead they took cover and cowered with the civilians they were charged to protect, even refusing outright to take action when their own deaths were but moments away. (Hat tip to Steven.)

This seems absolutely incredible to Americans, but it is understandable when one considers the efforts that have been made over the past 50 years to bring realistic training to US law enforcement agencies. There has been a fair amount of speculation across the blogosphere as to why most of the police officers on the scene acted the way they did, but I bet it would be obvious to anyone who spent even one day observing classes at a police academy in India that their training falls far short of preparing the average street cop for real combat.

And let us not forget that training takes both money and time. Ammunition expenditures and replacing broken or worn out equipment is not cheap, and entire countries have been known to skimp on the ammo their military needs to train so they can defend the homeland. Some beat cop who is just supposed to direct traffic, write tickets, and arrest those who are drunk-and-disorderly is much farther far down on the list of priorities.

I’m willing to bet that there is going to be a major overhaul of the training programs for most of the India law enforcement agencies in 2009, at least for the agencies in the big cities. In light of the terrorist attacks, this has been long in coming.

Could a similar attack, where a score or more of armed terrorists attack a crowded financial and recreation area, take place here in the United States? Sure, it could happen. But I bet that the terrorists won’t be able to achieve such stunning success if they tried that here.

Besides the fact that US police are almost certainly better able to correctly respond to such an attack in order to minimize the death toll, there should be some help from private citizens if the terrorists are not smart enough to carefully choose the city where they commit murder. Although there are some areas of the country where people are not allowed to go armed, those areas are shrinking. I just wish they would disappear altogether.

A private citizen armed with a hidden handgun won’t be enough to stop a large scale terrorist attack, but they could do their bit to whittle them down some.

“I couldn’t stop the whole bunch myself, but I could cause them problems, maybe take one or two out of the equation. And, being from OK, I’d have the knowledge that there’s a fair chance someone else with a gun would be handy to help out. Kind of makes the job of the bad guys more difficult.”

So we know that there probably won’t be a terrorist attack of this type in Oklahoma because a stunning success is unlikely. I bet the terrorists know this, too.

8 thoughts on “Mumbai Musings”

  1. A very different incident – that of Lindh in 2003 – came to mind. The approach of a cowboy may not always work, but passivity too often ignores the dead by democide, while criticizing the warrior in much less lethal war. The passive ignore the more common death of a child by parent while fearing the violent pedophile. Passivity notes some costs but ignores others; surely in any calculus a policeman’s error in killing a bystander in the early hours would have been balanced many times over if the next shot had taken down a terroist. We forget that not acting is as consequential as acting. I tend to fuss that this is the error of our time – we are post-“Prufrock,” post-modernists. And I’m pretty passive. Perhaps, however, passivity is the natural condition of man and the expectation of responsibility (& risk-taking) rare and difficult to nurture.

  2. I’m amazed that you’re shocked. How is that possible? These folks have told the world in no uncertain terms what they plan to do, given the opportunity. Did you think this was all a Bush fever-dream? I recommend you turn off the TV for six months to see if anything has changed when you reboot. In the meantime, contemplate Theo van Gogh, the Towers, stadium beheadings and various other novelties undertaken by individuals of a similar ilk.

  3. In Northern Virginia we saw a big increase in requests for concealed carry permits after 9/11/01. Another flurry occurs after each well publicized active shooter event.

  4. More and more this reminds me of the beginning of WWI. Terrorist groups, financed by through convoluted means Serbia’s spy agency, attacked Austria-Hungry repeatedly. Eventually their efforts killed someone the whose death the government couldn’t ignore. How long before India holds Pakistan (rightly, IHMO) responsible for these attacks? Will other countries use the opportunity to settle scores? Will the war be a general call to war for the entire globe?

  5. The two most dangerous and unstable islamic regimes in the ME are Pakistan and Iran, especially the latter as the price of oil falls and it approaches bankruptcy. In any scenario involving significant future hostilities with either one of these regimes, an alliance with India would bring large benefits to the US.

    Now that the cold war antagonisms between India and the US are in the past, it would be natural for the two countries to cooperate more deeply against an obvious common enemy, and terroristic islamic groups are certainly that. A look at a map shows the benefits of our access to bases and allies in any future problems with Pakistan and Iran if we are reliably allied with governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and India.

    A stronger relationship with India would not be lost on China either.

    The future of the US is in Asia anyway. Opportunity knocks…

  6. > entire countries have been known to skimp on the ammo their military needs to train so they can defend the homeland.

    LOL, weren’t the soldiers in the USA pre-WWII supposedly, in some cases, training with broom handles in place of guns? Possibly apocryphal but I’ve seen the story bandied about in many places in the past.

  7. “LOL, weren’t the soldiers in the USA pre-WWII supposedly, in some cases, training with broom handles in place of guns?”

    The opening years of World War II was seen with some dread by most Americans. The voters in the United States were determined to avoid having their country become embroiled in what many saw as yet another senseless war in Europe, but many top people in the US military and government harbored no illusions. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, it was obvious that the US would eventually be drawn into the conflict whether we wished it or not.

    Protected by vast oceans on two sides, and faced with no credible military threats that could cross our land borders, the US had shrunk the size of the standing army to little more than a maintenance level. The size of the armed forces would have to be expanded very rapidly, and equipment would have to be modernized.

    By the summer of 1941, the number of men under arms had certainly increased, but production of new equipment had not yet caught up with demand. There certainly were enough weapons and ammunition to train the troops, just not equip them in the field.

    What you are thinking of is called the Louisiana Maneuvers. The largest troop movements on US soil in our entire history was a war game conducted in August of 1941, and it was essentially a massive test lab to determine the best tactics, strategies, and doctrines for meeting a modern European army on it’s own ground. Since actual equipment was in short supply until the factories delivered, and the troops weren’t really supposed to shoot at anyone for real during the wargame anyway, mock ups were used in place of some real weapons.

    Trucks were used in place of tanks, broom handles in place of rifles, soup cans in place of grenades, and crude wooden models in place of machine guns.

    This got a lot of press at the time, but it was hardly as wide spread as many people have since come to believe. The vast majority of troops carried rifles, just without ammunition, and only a few were told to make do with a stick. There were plenty of machine guns available, it was just that most of them were huge water cooled monstrosities that weighed a few hundred pounds and were slated to be replaced with more modern designs. Why haul something like that around when it was never going to be used on the battlefield?

    Soldiers wouldn’t be issued actual grenades during maneuvers because someone could be hurt if there was an accident, so why not have them tossing soup cans around instead of dummy grenades? At least then they could retrieve the cans later and eat the contents.

    Training wasn’t skimpy, nor was ammunition when it came time to teach the recruits how to shoot. If there is one thing the Americans have a greater appreciation for than any other culture on Earth, it is the value of a well seasoned rifleman with a full load of ammo.


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