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Modern Conservatism and modern terrorism were born together - in the early 1790's. Two hundred years later, in the thermonuclear era, they are on a violent collision course.
Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism, saved his most impassioned and important writings for Reflections on the Revolution France (1790.) This was Burke's intellectual and spiritual reaction to the French La Terreur ( "Terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe and inflexible"--Robespierre.) Burke's ensights were prophetic. Two years later, in 1792, the Jacobins came to power in France and formally initiated the reign of terror. The fury and intellectual fodder churning on the Continent moved Burke to forcefully defend the principles of prudence, tradition and peaceful reform. The swift terrorist "justice" of the guillotine only intensified Burke's defense of liberty and prudent political practice.
It was in fact Edmund Burke who first popularized the term "terror" to describe the choatic political violence in France. In 1795 he wrote of "those hell-hounds called terrorists [who] are let loose on the people."
But the furious debate which led to enumeration of the initial principles of modern conservatism was precisely that: A debate-serious, to be sure. While 12,000 Frenchmen and women became victims of La Terreur, Burke's was concerned with the implications of the French Revolution's ideology. A redefinition of human rights and society based on natural law not divine law, sudden radical change vs. prudent slower reform. For Burke, it was a battle of ideas and beliefs.
Fast forward 200 years. Twenty-First century terrorism is not satisfied with radicalizing distant lands, as in Burke's time. This terrorism's goal is not to administer justice, "prompt, severe and inflexible." This terrorism's goal is in fact destruction and obliteration of Western societies with the ultimate weapons of terror.
Could Burke imagine a device the size of a suitcase that could kill 200,000 people in an instant and injure, many fatally, hundreds of thousands more? Placed in several key financial, commercial, and political centers (say, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta,) the terrorists would outstrip terrorism - not just to terrorize but to destroy the enemy once and for all by bringing down the economic and political centers.
Al Qaeda has been actively pursuing the purchase of suitcase bombs.
Graham Allison, now director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government says the threat is very real. Allison's believes we should assume several dozen nuclear suitcases in Russia are missing.
"I think the difficult thing for us all to come to grips with, that, my God, would people really want to kill thousands or tens of thousands of Americans," Allison said. Allison and most other experts say the real concern is not the suitcase but a thriving nuclear black market, in places such as Istanbul, Turkey. "There is a black market in weapons-grade uranium. There is a black market for weapons-grade plutonium.
And there certainly is a market for radioactive material in general," said Freidrich Steinhausler of the University of Salzburg in Austria. Steinhausler is one of the world's pre-eminent experts on the illegal market in stolen nuclear materials. "Al Qaeda is trying actively to obtain radioactive and or nuclear weapons grade material," said Steinhausler. "In terms of probability of threat, I would put the nuclear bomb rather low. I would put the radioactive dirty bomb, much, much higher." (From an ABC-News Report, November 8, 2001)
In February 2002 the British Medical Journal published a prediction, based on modelling done by emergency authorities in the United States, of what would happen if a Hiroshima-sized nuclear bomb exploded at ground level in New York City... a quarter of a million people would die. The modelling assumed terrorists could smuggle a nuclear bomb into the port of New York in a shipping container, and then detonate it.
And just after 9-1-1, NewsMax.com reported "the chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., warned Monday that the U.S. is vulnerable to nuclear attack by terrorists who may have access to as many as 60 briefcase-sized tactical nuclear weapons now missing from the former Soviet Union." Shays said an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin had initially admitted to his committee that "out of 140 of [their tactical nukes], the Russians could only account for about 80 of them."
But Russia's lost weapons and the Istanbul black markets aren't the only problems. Dozens of countries, including the United States, cannot account for significant amounts of the radioactive material needed to make a dirty bomb, and many have inadequate programs to track those materials, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
More than half of the nearly 1,500 radioactive sources lost by U.S. companies since 1996 never have been recovered, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A European Union study estimated that roughly 70 radioactive sources are lost annually in Europe. Once a radioactive source is obtained, making a dirty bomb would require relatively little expertise (from "Terror Targets," by John Yaukey, Gannett News Service.)
It may be too late. This week, according the London Sunday Express, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were warned that Osama bin Laden has 20 suitcase nuclear weapons obtained for cash from former KGB agents.
The country has settled into a tentative complacency, able, for example, to engage in sensational charges of the hidden racism of a Congressional leader. It fails to realize the real danger. Many on the Left and Right are still participating in the battle of ideas and control of legislative chambers. But, we are not dealing with a 18th century enemy, and unlike Burke, we are facing a multi-billion dollar terrorist network which is furiously seeking small nuclear devices to use in its next attack.
It began 200 years ago, this battle. Radical, emotionalized terrorism versus and conservative principles and practice. No one then could imagine how massively violent the battle would become, or that survival, not the triumph of ideas, would become the vital and primal mission.
Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks. His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications.
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