Last Tuesday two HLSwatch readers had a quick dialogue related to the UKs new counterterrorism strategy. Their comments are worth further consideration.
In describing the British document’s value, one of the readers observes it models the principle: “Be clear about the threat and the government response. See former Senator Bob Graham on the importance of talking about risks clearly and without talking down to the public. Does there exist a comparable document from our government that clearly delineates the threat and the strategy behind the response? I would argue no…”
The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism is well-written in a way that can elude US official prose. We might amiably credit the Queen’s English or an Oxbridge literary education. But it seems to me something more fundamental may be at work.
In intelligence circles the Brits complain that Yanks are sloppy because we have too much money. We don’t make choices. We take-on everything… or at least try. In contrast the British spy services are careful in choosing their targets. They are acutely aware of post-imperial limits and make choices accordingly.
The British author and critic Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple) has argued, “In good writing, what is left out is at least as important as what is included.” Is this what gives the British CT strategy the clarity on which the reader remarks? Can Yanks learn what to leave out, in both our writing and in homeland security?
A second reader comments on the UK strategy, “Another example of where a smaller country demographically and geographically, and administratively centralized, can perform wonders that might fail or not work well in US.” Is our sometimes complicated and confusing approach to homeland security an inevitable reflection of national scope and scale? Does our size and diversity resist choosing what to leave out?
If so, doesn’t that argue for giving more priority to local, state, and regional approaches? The Founders’ original sense of a federal union can be seen as a proto-network well-suited for confronting modern networks.
It is not merely a matter of better or worse writing. Written words reflect and influence thought. Thought — we can hope — has a relationship to decision and action.