Press-Republican

FYI...

October 12, 2012

What the Vikings can teach us about terrorism

(Continued)

MONTEREY, Calif. —

Just what are the conditions that allow ages of terror to emerge or re-emerge? O'Connell and I think there are three: favorable technologies, mobility and lack of international order.

Perhaps the greatest early technological enabler of terror was the swift, shallow-draft ship. The Vikings perfected this kind of vessel, which gave them great mobility — and the lack of international order of any sort during the Dark Ages gave them plenty of opportunities. That they used violence to cow their victims into submission all around the European littorals, and even deep into Russia, is best reflected in the common prayer of the time: "Lord spare us the fury of the Norsemen." Pirates ever since have done their best to emulate the Viking model, and have waxed or waned in tandem with technological advances or international developments that affected their relative mobility and the resolve of their opponents.

Two centuries ago, for example, as the Napoleonic Wars were nearing their end and the age of steam was beginning, pirates from Barbary to the Far East suffered from lack of access to the emerging propulsion technology and, once the Royal Navy and its allies were free to police the "ocean commons," had to face formidable opposition from the new world order of its day. Piracy went into eclipse, and has since only flared up occasionally — the resurgence of Somalian sea predators (whose takings have declined by 90 percent this past year) being in part a function of the disorder in their homeland.

The astounding increase in acts of terrorism since the turn of the millennium — from 10 in 2000 to over 10,000 in 2006, according to State Department and National Counterterrorism Center figures — can be best understood in terms O'Connell and I suggest. At the technological level, the disruptive and destructive power of small groups has grown considerably — see how much damage the 19 attackers did on 9/11 by riding the rails of a key transportation technology of our time to turn civilian airliners into missiles. Further, cyberspace has proved a virtual haven for terrorists, who can recruit, raise funds, and plan operations on a global scale with a few secure clicks.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
FYI...
  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 23, 2014

  • Why it's basically impossible to delete those naked selfies you text

    If you're selling an old Android smartphone on an online auction site, you could be giving away rather more than you intend to, according to a recent investigation by anti-malware company Avast.

    July 21, 2014

  • Why does the Vatican need a bank?

    The Vatican Bank's history reads more like Dan Brown than the financial pages, but its worst -- and weirdest -- days may be behind it.

    July 18, 2014

  • Almost half of the world actually prefers instant coffee

    Americans' taste in coffee might be getting more high-end _with a growing fixation on perfectly roasted beans, pricier caffeinated concoctions, and artisan coffee brewers - but it turns out a surprisingly big part of the world is going in the opposite direction: toward instant coffee.

    July 17, 2014

  • ent_taylorswift.jpg There's less good music now — here's why

    Taylor Swift, the seven-time Grammy winner, is known for her articulate lyrics, so there was nothing surprising about her writing a long column for The Wall Street Journal about the future of the music industry. Yet there's reason to doubt the optimism of what she had to say.

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can plants hear? Study finds that vibrations prompt some to boost their defenses

    They have no specialized structure to perceive sound as we do, but a new study has found that plants can discern the sound of predators through tiny vibrations of their leaves - and beef up their defenses in response.

    July 12, 2014

  • wheat1.jpg Backlash has begun against gluten-free dieters

    The swelling ranks of Americans adopting gluten-free diets have given rise to another hot trend: people calling the whole thing a bunch of baloney.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140516-recalls_1357_88cb85dbc81b724b4ae9c83db4426fd8.jpg Auto recalls break single-year US record with six months to go

    With six months left in 2014, automakers have already recalled more vehicles in the United States than in any other year on record.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • The science of shyness

    Shy people have quite a bit to contend with - not least the word itself. It has a number of different meanings, none of which are flattering. To "shy away" from something implies avoidance; to "shy" can also mean to move suddenly in fright; to "be shy of" something can mean to come up short, or be insufficient.

    July 8, 2014

  • Wanna write a pop song? Here's a foolproof equation

    Pop songs (generally) stay in one key, are in 4/4 time, last between three and five minutes, are organized into chunks of four or eight bars, have a repeating chorus played two to four times, include the title sung at least three times, and feature short melodic fragments that repeat a lot to help everyone to remember them.

    July 7, 2014