Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The Psychology of Times Square
The vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) left in the smoking Nissan Pathfinder in Times Square on the evening of May 1, 2010 send a message even though the homemade bomb never went off. (Photo New York Times)
Times Square owns an indelible space in the psyche of America. It has been considered the crossroads of the world, the gateway to Broadway and one of America’s consummate gathering spots. Whether for the annual New Year’s dropping of the ball or celebrating the end of World War II, Times Square has been a focal point.
The brazen nature of the failed attack could be compared to the Doolittle Raid in World War II where US bombers were launched on a one way trip from the decks of aircraft carriers to strike at Tokyo as a way of showing the Japanese people that they were not invincible and that America could still attack. American has been relatively safe since 9/11 and our enemies would like to shock us once again.
The faceless, nation-less criminals behind the Times Square plot sent a message. While the intent of the message was to create bloodshed and tragedy in the heart of an American public gathering place the message received is that our enemy’s want to harm us and will stop at nothing to do so. They will not play by the rules of war and civilian targets, even purely soft ones are fair game.
The fact that a suspect was arrested in slightly more than 50 hours after the smoking van was spotted by a Viet Nam veteran street vendor was impressive. The fact that a terrorist on the watch list could get on a plane bound for Dubai was not.
What kind of psy-act could the US send in return? First of all who would be the target? Where are they? What kind of act would have such a dramatic effect so as to send the strong message? Sadly there is no easy answer. The shock of military action in Waziristan (the lawless area of Pakistan believed to be the hiding place of Osama Bin Ladin and others) has worn off. Only the unseen death caused by UAVs has seemingly had any effect.
Sometimes it’s hard to be the good guys and play by the rules even in PSYOP.