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Opening Arguments

Courage is contagious

This reaction seems a tad extreme:

 Europe's media is still abuzz with the extraordinary story of three Americans who tackled a suspected terrorist on Friday on a train in Northern France. The question being asked is this: Were they displaying a distinctly American can-do spirit?

That's probably inevitable, but a better question would be: Should Western countries consider reintroducing compulsory military service to spread some can-do spirit around?

[. . .]

Soft targets -- from trains to buses to bars to shopping malls -- can be attacked. No police force can protect them all, and no intelligence service can monitor every suspect. So if this incident tells us anything useful about defending against terrorism, it is that ordinary people will sometimes be the only defense. The key to making ordinary people effective isn't the American spirit, it's training. Because they knew what to do, Stone and Skarlatos were confident enough to say, "Let's go," and empowered to succeed.

[. . .]

Even so, it's worth considering that the most effective defense against a certain kind of attack that appears increasingly part of the jihadist tool kit, may be to make the training Stone and Skarlatos had much more widespread.

The training gave them the confidence to act, OK, I get that. But I don't think you can easily get from "must serve" to "can-do spirit." We've gotten to the point where conscription should be reserved for times of true national emergy. Of course, some people might say we're at that point now, and, yes, I mean jihadism, not climate change.

I like this reaction better:

Bureaucracies have their place, but they don’t deal well with diffuse threats such as terrorism. By the time “first responders” get there, it’s usually too late. But there’s one group of “responders” who don’t have to go anywhere, and that’s the group already on the scene. In conventional analysis, and in the terrorists’ hopes, those people are called “victims.” But as the three Americans on that French train demonstrated, victimhood isn’t the only response.

 And there’s more. The purpose of terror is to terrorize. But responding appropriately has the opposite effect. The response of British businessman Chris Norman, who helped subdue the attacker, illustrates this: “Norman said his first reaction was to hide," The Fiscal Times reported. "But after he saw the Americans fighting the attacker, he said he went to help them.”

Fear is contagious. But so is courage. People should respond not like a herd of sheep but like a pack of wolves.

On 9/11, It was a group of ordinary Americans -- not trained, just prepared to act -- whot kept Flight 93 from its mission as part of the larger terrorist plot unfolding in New York and Washington. Ordinary people are xapable of extraordinary actions. Alas, we just don't have the culture that fosters and encourages such courage.

And, oh, bravo for the French in so quickly honoring these heroes.