The Game of Terror

Paul Campos recently posited on his blog that he could beat LeBron James in a game of 1-on-1 basketball… provided there were two special rules: The game lasted indefinitely, and once Campos scored, the game ended and he was declared the winner. His point was that this was similar to how we treat terrorism. No matter how many successes we might have in preventing acts of terror, a single score on their part constitutes victory for the other side. Further, once Campos did score (and eventually he would), the politicians and the press would loudly proclaim LeBron James as an inept player.

While terror is no laughing matter, and certainly one that doesn’t yield easily to a gaming analogy, it’s not a bad metaphor. The simple reality is that no matter how good our defense is, the other team will occasionally score. We can bemoan that, we can learn from it, but we can’t don the mantle of defeat when it happens.

To carry the sports analogies a bit further, another troubling aspect of how we play the “game” is how we shuffle our defense every time someone shoots on our goal. If this were a football game, we’d respond to a left side running play by shifting our entire team to cover the hole they last tried to run through. Clearly, there are some reasons coaches don’t play defense that way.

After the shoe bomber incident, everyone had to have their shoes inspected. The latest Christmas bomber has single-handedly opened up Yemen as the “new front in the war on terror”, and resulted in calls for full body scans for all airline passengers (only because of the impracticality of having everyone remove their underwear and place it in a scanning bin during the boarding process—although the prospect of that is more than a little amusing).

We can’t reasonably expect to mount a defense against which no one will ever score. The only way to truly prevent the other team from scoring is to get them to take their ball and go home.

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