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Stateside with Rosalea: A Castle In Spain

Stateside with Rosalea

A Castle In Spain

You have to wonder if the Netherlands will be next or if the Spanish bombs were a way of telling those nations fighting the war against terrorism that they're tilting at windmills. The town of Alcala de Henares, where the explosive devices were seemingly put on the trains, is the birthplace of Cervantes, creator of Don Quixote. Of course, the more likely reason that town was chosen is because of its schools where people from all around the world go to learn Spanish language and culture, so it would be easy for outsiders to come and go without being noticed much for the few weeks they were there.

I learned about the attacks at 4 in the morning on Thursday when I turned on DWTV, which was broadcasting in German but had an English-language ticker-tape running along the bottom of the screen. I didn't linger; Deutsche Welle doesn't shy away from showing gruesome scenes not usually seen here in the States. After one particularly bad bomb blast in Baghdad, it showed someone removing body parts from the rubble, tipping the cane laundry basket they were carrying towards the camera so you could see the bloody, mangled mess inside.

An explosion is anything that combusts with a spread of over 3,000 feet per second, and is primarily the rapid conversion by chemical reaction of a solid or liquid to a hot expanding gas, resulting in a release of energy and accompanying pressure. That is the very stuff that plasma TVs are made of. You'd think that if scientists know how to control that sudden expansion for some uses, they could come up with some kind of anti-plasmatic device.

Instead, federal grant money from the Department of Defense and DARPA, its entrepreneurial arm, is being gambled on finding ways to remove soldiers from the field of battle - where the greatest killer by far, even in this day and age, is the simple old explosive device launched from a tube of metal; be it a rocket-propelled grenade or an old-fashioned mortar. If you can't beat the technology, remove the target, seems to be the military's thinking.

It's a lesson they learned in Vietnam, when the North Vietnamese stopped using trains to move their ammunition and supplies, because they were such easy targets for US airpower. Instead, the supplies were moved by mules and foot-soldiers, invisible from the air. Couldn't that lesson be shared with the civilian population, removing the terrorists' target by rationing the work day and school day?

Just look at what the targets of terror have been: office complexes, commuter services. Not at the weekends, but on the days and at the times when they are filled with people. How hard would it be to at least distribute the concentration of people during the day by having staggered work hours? Why shouldn't at least 50 percent of those people be working from home? The technology exists to do that.

This week, the TV networks are doing retrospectives about the first year in Iraq. Let me just quote one thing I heard from a speech given by General Robert H. Scales, Jr. who won the Silver Star for bravery at the battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam: America fights short wars well; long wars badly. "I hope everybody is listening to that, " he said to the audience, after repeating it.

He's the person who coined the phrase pre-emptive war. He meant by that, that the US had to pre-empt the ability of the enemy to disperse and then trickle-defeat the military might of the world's only superpower, by turning it into a war of attrition. "Time is our enemy's friend. Time is our enemy." The twenty-three days it took to get into Baghdad was too long, let alone this whole year, in which weapons of mass destruction have killed not one person, but hundreds of servicemen and servicewomen have died because of an obsession with (dubious) strategic intelligence at the level of the US Administration, and a dearth of tactical intelligence at the level of the foot soldier, who kicks in a door not knowing if behind it is a mother and baby or someone with an AK47.

I sometimes wonder if the US *is* the only superpower, you know? Perhaps this week's carnage wasn't the work of ETA or Al Qaida. But I only wonder that because the night before the bombings that originated from a Spanish town named for its castle on a river, I had a really vivid dream that I was looking at a castle on a sinuous coast. It had fantastical towers like the onion-topped ones in Russia. And also in the dream, someone was stuffing something into a urinal, like one you might find in the cramped space of a plane. Or a train.


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