How to Defeat Terrorists

I was having dinner with family and some good friends, one of whom is an engineer several scores my elder. One of the topics that came up was how engineers see the world differently. This can be a potentially prickly question, especially since engineers are often considered to lack adequate social skills.

I have always been a “glass is twice as big as it needs to be” kind of guy — neither optimistic nor pessimistic…things just are.

The Boston Marathon Bombing a month ago was a horribly tragic event. In the aftermath, I felt powerless. I was scared that I no longer had sufficient control or predictability in my life, that at any moment a bomb may go off and I would be the one killed.

As I let that sit, the conclusion my mind settled on is remembering that life is unpredictable. We can guess what will happen next with relatively good accuracy. And for everything else there is typically various forms of redundancy.

In the end, things just seem to work. Except when they don’t.

Redundancy provides a statistical reduction in probability of failure through investment. It could be considered a form of insurance since it’s a risk shift through payment.

Redundancy is not free, and may often go unused. Sometimes we misjudge the risk and bad things happen.

Bruce Schneier is one of my favorite authorities on system security and once again provides great insight:


It’d be easy to feel powerless and demand that our elected leaders do something — anything — to keep us safe.

It’d be easy, but it’d be wrong. We need to be angry and empathize with the victims without being scared. Our fears would play right into the perpetrators’ hands — and magnify the power of their victory for whichever goals whatever group behind this, still to be uncovered, has. We don’t have to be scared, and we’re not powerless. We actually have all the power here, and there’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.

Empathize, but refuse to be terrorized. Instead, be indomitable — and support leaders who are as well. That’s how to defeat terrorists.

I disagree with Bruce on being scared, in my opinion feeling scared is valid, especially immediately after something like the Boston Marathon Bombing. What I believe Bruce is getting at is our long-term stance, and I agree that in the long-term we must choose not to be scared. We need to understand the bigger picture and choose to not be terrorized. Far to many of those whom we have elected (and continue to elect) are scared, even if they are only are only scared of losing their next election.

We must make better choices. We must choose to be indomitable. We must choose to support leaders who are not afraid. We must choose to make appropriate choices in the redundancy of our systems. We must not let the terrorist win.