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Published: 12/28/2002

Saturday essay: The next war will be in cyberspace, cities

BY ROBERT G. MORRIS

A recent column by The Blade's Jack Kelly compared American military strength with that of Iraq in terms of tanks, planes, tactics, and military command structure, and confidently predicts a U.S. victory in a walk.

That approach typifies the old saying that “generals are always getting ready to fight the previous war.”

Even in the cramped mountain roads of Korea and the hilly jungles of Vietnam, our military leadership yearned wistfully for the glory days of World War II, when masses of American armor swept across the French plains, and American fighter-bombers dominated the battlefield, ravaging railroads, and supply dumps.

Our generals briefly recaptured that nostalgia in Operation Desert Storm, which was a brilliant victory except that it tended to blind us to the fact that warfare has changed its character entirely.

The battlefields of the next war will be in cyberspace and in the cities of America. The enemy soldiers will be computer hackers and terrorists. They will not wear uniforms. They will move among us undetected until the moment they choose to strike.

In preparing for that kind of war, we are our own worst enemies.

Our military is dangerously dependent on computer programming and satellite communication.

The film “2001: A Space Odyssey” warned us against over-reliance on computer technology.

We know that computer hackers have managed to penetrate Defense Department computers.

We know that some of them work in foreign countries, and some are here among us.

We don't know what they do with the information they gather.

We're not sure how much damage hackers could do to our communications-satellite network, if they really set their minds to it.

The same goes for terrorists.

Sept. 11, 2001, simply validated what the world has known for centuries: terrorists get to pick the time and place when they will strike.

It is virtually impossible to anticipate how, when and where acts of terrorism will happen, let alone who will commit them.

Actually, 9/11 was a failure for al-Qaeda, because if it had been followed up the next day with multiple acts of massive urban terrorism, we'd have lost the war at the outset.

So far, we are inviting further losses.

We've gotten into the habit of looking on hackers as gifted pranksters: a bit mischievous, perhaps, but nothing to worry about.

We assume that everyone who applies for entry into this country is either fleeing from political persecution at home, or just “seeking a better life.”

This indulgent attitude is identified with the political philosophy called “liberalism.”

It began as reform, morphed into social experimentation, and is now a flabby and complacent “anything goes” permissiveness.

What began as rights, which carry corresponding responsibilities, have become licenses, which don't.

One lesson of history is that the social pendulum swings from left to right and back again over periods of time, and that it goes about as far to one extreme as it does to the other.

That ought to scare principled conservatives, as well as principled liberals, because the pendulum has begun to swing.

If it goes as far to the right as it has gone to the left, we are going to see some substantial abridgement of what we have assumed (in some cases incorrectly) to be “rights.”

The “preventive detention” of some of the people we captured in Afghanistan is a case in point.

Civil libertarians are fretting and stewing about that, but the next act of domestic terrorism may provoke re-interpretations of the Fourth (illegal search and seizure), Fifth (self-incrimination), and Sixth (right to counsel) amendments to the Constitution, and to arbitrarily exclude certain ethnic or regional groups from entering the country.

It may even come to issuing national identity cards.

I probably won't like that any more than I like the uninhibited permissiveness of the present.

I don't like going to war with Iraq, either, and yet, suppose that terrorists were to perpetrate another 9/11 on American soil, and that their weapons and/or training were traced to Iraq.

The same people who are today President Bush's most vocal critics because he threatens war against a suspected aggressor will tomorrow be his most vocal critics for not taking steps to foresee and prevent the aggression.

It was so with President Roosevelt for not preventing the holocaust, and for not foreseeing the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Eight separate investigations were launched into that catastrophe. Hindsight is a lot more fun than foresight, and a damned sight less controversial.

The drums of hindsight are already beating in the form of the commission that is supposed too investigate the failure of the airlines, the FBI, the CIA, the military, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and God only knows who all else, to foresee and prevent the massacre of the World Trade Center.

If the commission is going to do anything at all constructive, it must recommend preventive measures. Prevention will inevitably involve curtailment of somebody's “rights.”

There should and will be debate over the nature and extent of that curtailment, but we have reached the point where Pavlovian carping alone without advocating positive and workable alternatives - an art form at which the left excels - just won't hack it.

Robert G. Morris is an attorney in Toledo.



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