Belmont Club

New lamps for old

“The bomber will always get through.” No, this isn’t some modern day bureaucratic quote explaining how “the system worked”, the phrase is from British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s speech a “Fear for the Future” in 1932. Baldwin argued that against the threats of 1932, no defense was possible. Therefore only a policy of stability, no matter how distasteful, could prevent the apocalypse. The tightrope, for all its tension, was better than the abyss. Fear for the Future was the underlying justification for appeasement.

This was not hyperbole; at the time bombers had a slight performance advantage over fighters due to having multiple engines, so a successful interception would require careful planning in order to get fighters into a suitable defensive position location in front of the bombers. Before World War II and the invention of radar, detection systems were visual or auditory, which gave only a few minutes’ warning, not nearly enough to arrange such a mission. This balance of force meant that bombs would be falling and there was little that could be done about it. For Britain, the answer was to concentrate on bomber production, primarily as a deterrent force. …

In recent years, the phrase has been resurrected to refer to suicide bombers and the inability of legislation or security to stop someone intent on blowing something up.

Today, the bomber is back. This time he does not threaten the million with apocalypse, at least not obviously. Instead the new bomber menaces something almost as important: anybody. The degree of effectiveness of passive defenses was illustrated by two recent incidents. A successful attempt by Slovakian security authorities to test airport defenses by slipping RDX past the scanners and the third White House party gatecrasher. Our security it seems is ultimately dependent on the luck of the draw. Anything can be breached.  Things only hold up if it’s your lucky day.

The Irish police were furious at Slovakian authorities for not telling them that they managed to slip 4 ounces of RDX aboard a plane by planting it in the luggage of an unsuspecting plumber bound for Ireland.

Slovak authorities began the live security tests last Saturday but only contacted Irish police to warn of the lapse. Officers planted several items, including the RDX plastic explosive, in the luggage of eight unsuspecting passengers as they prepared to board international flights at Bratislava and Poprad Traty airports.

The other reminder of the vulnerability of passive systems was the identification of a third gatecrasher to the party thrown for the Indian Prime minister. CBS News reports on the activities of an apparently harmless man from the edges of showbusiness and event promotion.

The world is starting to learn more about Carlos Allen, the D.C. party promoter who has been identified as the third party crasher at the White House’s first state dinner.

Allen, like Tareq and Michaele Salahi, appears to enjoy the spotlight. He is the CEO of HUSH Society Magazine and The HushGroup, which he describes as “an exclusive and luxurious private social club whose members enjoy unparalleled access to elite movers and shakers.” (At left, check out a YouTube video showing HUSH Magazine’s 2009 Halloween Party.) He has posted photos of himself online with actor and rapper Ice Cube, actor Jeremy Piven and Gen. David Petraeus and calls his event space in D.C. the “HushGalleria Mansion.”

The bomber will always get through.

What ended the threat for Stanley Baldwin’s generation was the fact that it was faced and met. The ultimate defense against the bomber over London was the British Army of the Rhine in occupied Germany. The difference is that today, the bombers do not come from the factories of an organized state, but from the basement workshops of unstable countries, primitive but exceedingly cunning secret services and fanatical sects.

What equivalent to the British Army of the Rhine could there ever be against foes who can come from a thousand nooks and crannies? One possible answer might be a counterswarm. The military answer to the 4 ounces of RDX are the increasingly targeted and miniaturized weapons of the modern military. Wired describes the development of the micro attack drone.

The Air Force Research Laboratory set out in 2008 to build the ultimate assassination robot: a tiny, armed drone for U.S. special forces to employ in terminating “high-value targets.” The military won’t say exactly what happened to this Project Anubis, named after a jackal-headed god of the dead in Egyptian mythology. But military budget documents note that Air Force engineers were successful in “develop[ing] a Micro-Air Vehicle (MAV) with innovative seeker/tracking sensor algorithms that can engage maneuvering high-value targets.” …

The Air Force’s 2008 budget plans described the planned Project Anubis as “a small UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that carries sensors, data links, and a munitions payload to engage time-sensitive fleeting targets in complex environments.” It noted that after it was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Anubis would be used by Air Force Special Operations Command. The total cost was to be just over half a million dollars.

Maybe this is bureaucratese for ‘we have got something that can fire a tiny shaped charge into your brain while you’re strolling with your friends in a covered bazaar or sleeping in your bed’.  Swarm versus swarm. The unappreciated converse of the Baldwin’s dictum for al-Qaeda is that it applies to them too. For all the guys in the terrorism business, hear this: the bomber also always gets through.

The decisive physical defense against the World War 2 bomber was the imperceptible wizard ray of radar. Today, the real defense against the suicide bomber and the IED is likely to be the culture. The only possible analogue for a British Army of the Rhine standing in occupation over a fallen Nazi Germany is a popularly accepted idea standing in triumph over totalitarian creeds and extremist views. The war against terror will only gain traction when the war of ideas becomes a “people’s war” one which pits a whole civilizational idea against another. Like the wizard rays of the 1940s, it will be an imperceptible struggle, fought in schools, movies, the Internet, at meetings and in conversations. But it will be decisive all the same.

The question for the West is whether it has leaders fit to lead it in this struggle of ideas. David Brooks argues that despite their recent unpopularity, the urbane “educated classes” think they are still the best suited to lead. And though Brooks himself seems ambivalent, he sees the reaction building.

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones. Now the tea party brigades have all the intensity.

But are they fittest to lead? Perhaps the concerns of the “educated class” are too tangential to the crises of the times. People living beyond the charmed circle are worried about jobs, safety, the possibility that their airliner may be blown out of the sky by 4 ounces of RDX, or that they may wake one day to a Manhattan that is just a hole in the ground. So if the “educated class” is to lead the world forward, their obsession with  global warming may not be the best place to start.  This should be obvious. That it is not speaks volumes.

The intellectual map of the world has forever been changed by growing connectivity. Today there are only educated ideas, there are no “educated classes”. Powerful notions arise today, not in an ungraduate common room over sherry or port, but as memes which gain support from public resonance until they pass the “tipping point”. This is where the future intellectual equivalent of the British Army of the Rhine will come from.  One of the lasting results of the Great War was the destruction of the heretofore sacred certainty that “public school boys govern best”. The stupidity of Flanders Fields buried that. The “educated classes” of today are risking their place in the van with their irrelevant concerns, but maybe they can still catch the caboose.


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