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There has been some discussion (mostly a week or more ago -- sorry, I've been distracted) on how Britain ought to treat people who condone or justify terrorism. For instance, in a recent consultation on the use of his powers to exclude or deport non-British citizens under various circumstances, Charles Clarke writes of his intention to chuck out anybody who is guilty of ``unacceptable behaviours'' including,
[using] any means or medium including: [list of media including the written word, public speaking, the internet etc.] [t]o express views which the Government considers [...] [j]ustify or glorify terrorism.
(Two brief comments. Firstly, I think we can safely say that by `justify terrorism' Clarke means `explain why somebody might think planting a bomb was a good idea' rather than `deserve to be blown up by a terrorist'. Secondly, I note that the British government is now singular. It used to be plural. Is all hope now lost, etc. etc.? cont'd page 94....)
Now, the question of what is meant by `terrorism' used to be a matter of opinion and the subject of frequent arguments, the cliché, ``one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter,'' and so forth. But happily the ever-busy Parliamentary draughtspeople at the Home Office have come up with a handy definition of terrorism which they've inserted in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000: (the literal text is a bit tangled up with references to previous subsections; I've flattened it out here)
(The Act further -- s.1(4) -- clarifies that actions may take place outside the UK, that persons, `the public' and `property' may also be foreign, and that `the government' can refer to the government of another country.)
Now, this definition passes a quick smoke test: the 11th September 2001 attacks were certainly `terrorism', as were the recent London bombings, IRA bomb attacks, the attacks by `insurgents' (or whatever we're supposed to call them) in Iraq, suicide bombings in Palestine and so forth. Good enough so far.
Unfortunately, as with biometrics and spam detectors, it's also important to consider the false positives. While the definition probably catches 100% of what most people think of as `terrorism', it's a bit broader than that.
For instance, when the IDF killed Ahmed Yassin, a terrorist, in an airstrike, that was terrorism, because: it (a) involved serious violence against a person, (b) involved the use of firearms or explosives, and (c) was done to advance `a political or ideological cause' (specifically,
[to make] a significant blow to a central pillar of the Hamas terrorist organization, and a major setback to its terrorist infrastructure
according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who ought to know).
For instance, in 2003, the armed forces of a number of countries, including Britain, invaded Iraq. This (a) involved serious violence against a number of people (as well as serious damage to property, endangering life, creating serious risks to public health, and interfering with various electronic systems), (b) was intended to influence the government of Iraq (either, if you believe the British story, into giving up its `weapons of mass destruction'; or, if you believe the American story, into not being run by Saddam Hussein any more) and involved the use of firearms and explosives; and (c) was done in order to advance a political or ideological cause.
Actually, maybe the war against Iraq wasn't the uncontentious example I was looking for. Let's instead consider D-Day, which (a) involved serious violence etc. etc., (b) was intended to influence the then government of Germany (into not fighting a war any more, or continuing any of its other murderous activities), and (c) was intended to advance an ideological cause; it was therefore an act of terrorism. Personally I don't agree... but that's the law.
Let us hope that our government follows its new policy of expelling or excluding the advocates and defenders of terrorism without fear or favour and that it does not try to discriminate between the terrorism of which it approves and all the rest. Alternatively, they could give up on the whole idea. Up to them, really.
Before embarking upon today's brief ramble through the applications of physics, I should confess to a small but significant personal bias. I am, in general, opposed to the blowing up of people with nuclear bombs, except where all of the alternatives have been exhausted; and even then only after the most careful consideration. On to business.
Oliver Kamm writes in today's Times a brief rant on the subject of this publication by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; as you would imagine, he is against it. (Unaccountably he somehow forgot to link to the CND piece, but it is easy to find on their home page.) His complaint, so far as he has one, is this:
Conventional wisdom has it that the US dropped the nuclear bombs in order to minimise casualties, claiming that a ground war would have killed many more people. However, historical records have shown that Japan was in fact trying to surrender at the time. Dwight Eisenhower, commanding general of US forces in Europe in World War II and President of the US from 1953-1961, said, ``Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of face. It was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing.''
The Eisenhower quote is footnoted as a reference to Gar Alperovitz's Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam -- Kamm's `long-debunked thesis'. But Oliver, I think, is interpreting this as the citation for the whole paragraph, which continues,
The annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a defining moment in global warfare and marked the emergence of the US as the world's dominant super power, a position secured by its unchallengeable nuclear might and its preparedness to wield it. This is the only time that nuclear weapons have been used in war.
Conventional wisdom has it that the US dropped the nuclear bombs in order to minimise casualties, claiming that a ground war would have killed many more people.
CND quotes Eisenhower on this point, but we can do better. From Richard Rhodes's (recommended) The Making of the Atomic Bomb we have, (pp 684--685)
US intelligence had intercepted and decoded messages passing between Tokyo and Moscow instructing Japanese ambassador Naotake Sato to attempt to interest the Soviets in mediating a Japanese surrender.
You can read some of the correspondence in translation at nuclearfiles.org (or in a library...). As Rhodes says, Sato was asked to interest the government of the USSR to mediate a negotiated peace; this wasn't really on, and Sato said so. The United States did not shift in its demand for ``unconditional'' surrender (i.e., surrender under the conditions in the Potsdam declaration -- roughly: occupation and withdrawal from the territories invaded by Japan; but the Emperor to keep his throne), but it is certainly true that Japan had a go at surrendering on its own terms in July 1945 -- before Truman made the final order to use the bomb (on the 24th, according to Rhodes).
Dwight Eisenhower, commanding general of US forces in Europe in World War II and President of the US from 1953-1961,
said, ``Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of face. It was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing.''
[CND's] treatment of the subject consists in denouncing as a lie the notion that the US dropped the nuclear bombs in order to minimise casualties, claiming that a ground war would have killed many more people.
The reference to `lies' is in the heading above the paragraph quoted: ``Dispelling the lies''. The CND author doesn't state their thesis explicitly, but it's clear enough by implication: a settlement with Japan could, they claim, have been achieved by accepting a negotiated surrender -- which Japan made some effort to offer -- with the result that fewer people would have been killed than would have been killed in the atomic bombings.
Now, there are solid reasons to think that that's not a very plausible counterfactual. But Oliver (`excluded middle'?) Kamm doesn't address them. Instead he shoots off on a tangent, quoting a US Army study on the likely number of casualties which the US would have suffered in an invasion of Japan (very large, not surprisingly). This isn't germane to the point; the thesis in the CND document is that both the bombings and a ground invasion could have been avoided.
In 1998, the Japanese historian Sadao Asada demonstrated, after assessing newly released documents about the surrender, that the dropping of both bombs was crucial in strengthening the position of those within the Japanese Government who wished to sue for peace.
Of course, if you want to address the question of why a negotiated surrender before the bombings was pretty unlikely to interest the Allies, you get into the (interesting but difficult) question of whether the bombs should have been dropped at all. Instead Oliver signs off with,
(More entertainingly headlined in the Mirror as £3 MILLION PAEDO SPY FARCE, but I'm not sure how long that link will last.)
The Police will keep tabs on offenders (especially sex offenders) using `satellite tracking', by which they mean some kind of GPS thingy which transmits its position back to Mission Control periodically.
(The answer to the question, by the way, is, ``pretty well, so long as you're not worried about offenders travelling around on the Underground, inside cars or trains, in very built up areas, or anywhere else that a GPS receiver may not be able to see enough of the sky to get a decent fix.'' So that's alright then.)
What we should do is build a great big building and then build a high wall around it. Inside the building we build lots of rooms with locks on the doors, one for each criminal, and facilities like canteens, classrooms etc.
Then hire lots of staff to keep an eye on the criminals to make sure that they don't escape, or do anything criminal, and also to serve them food and teach them how to not be criminals (or whatever the current fashion in rehabilitation is). Hey presto!
Another great thing about this scheme is that we don't have to rely on tagging the criminals to make sure that we know where they are, because they'd always be inside the big building! (Unless they escaped, but in that case we'd be no worse off than under this tagging scheme.)
Even better, while they're inside this big building, their opportunities for committing crime would be much reduced, and anyway the only victims would be other criminals. Oh, and the staff of the facility, but we could pay them extra to compensate for the risk. And probably it'd be pretty easy to catch the offenders when crimes did occur.
This is all done with wwwitter.
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