President Obama’s remarks at the memorial for the Tuscon shooting were moving, appropriate, and at times powerful. Taking one step back from the specifics of that terrible event, several portions of his speech have potential meaning for homeland security in general.
As the quote from the remarks I used as the title of this post makes clear, bad things happen and the reasons are not always easily identified.
Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “When I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.
This holds true not only for the tragic actions of madmen, but also in the motivation of terrorists of any ideological stripe (think all the talk about “draining the swamp” that produces terrorism following 9/11) and even technological disasters like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill (find the final report of the National Commission here). Problems that at first seem easily explained can instead be found to be caused by a web of interconnected failures.
Simple explanations may not hold true, and assumptions require examination:
You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations –- to try and pose some order on the chaos and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health system. And much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.
So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.
Questioning assumptions is in general good practice, and especially vital for homeland security. Are the threats we perceive the ones we should be most concerned about? Do the systems currently in place to prepare for and respond to disasters and terrorist attacks meet the benchmarks set? Is it even possible to set goals or benchmarks for an amorphous subject such as resilience?
And the following passage makes me wonder if Homeland Security Watch’s own Philip Palin had a hand in the drafting process:
Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.
Update: To be a little more provocative and question a larger underlying assumption, whither resilience? I understand the concept as a philosophy, can see the importance of the idea for homeland security in general, and can point to particular actions taken in the realm of critical infrastructure….but as an overarching strategy for homeland security at all levels of government across all possible constituents: where is the beef? At this point, aspiration should not count as progress. If a NSS desk is referred to as resilience, shouldn’t it mean something besides continuation and evolution of pre-existing policy?