After Beslan, what next?

A while ago, I read a science fiction novel about an invasion of Earth (David Gerrold’s “War Against The Chtorr” series). The protagonist, over the course of several books, gains a reputation as being an “expert” on the aliens, based on his ability to uncannily predict just what they will do next. He explains his “gift” to another character (roughly paraphrased): “I just think about what would be the absolutely worst thing that could happen next, and then predict it. Then when it happens, I look like a genius.”

I’ve always been struck by that sheer, pragmatic pessimism, and found an element of realistic honesty behind it that I respected. With that in mind, I decided to apply that sentiment to the Islamic terrorists.

(Author’s note: I’m doing this “on the fly,” without extensive research. The sequence of events is far more germane than other incidents that have escaped my memory, so please spare me any nit-picks.) The first real strike against non-military targets was against the Israeli athletes in Munich. Then they moved on to hijacking planes. Then they hijacked a cruise ship and killed a passenger simply for being Jewish.

Then they started moving beyond threatening death (with the hijackings) and actually carrying out killings. Bombs were used first, then they moved on to suicide bombers. They targeted areas where they were guaranteed massive civilian casualties. They blew up buses, pizza places, buses, restaurants, buses, religious gatherings, buses, discos, buses, pizza places, buses, buses, and more buses.

Then came 9/11. They returned to hijacking planes, but this time they combined it with suicide bombings and killed over 3,000 in one fell swoop. In retrospect, it should have been obvious, this blend of two previously successful tactics. But hardly anyone could have foreseen the sheer magnitude of the act.

It cost them. It cost them dearly. It led to the unleashing of the United States military, and the destruction of their most secure base in Afghanistan. It cost them one of their major sponsors in Iraq. It cost them the tolerance of Pakistan. But by god, it worked for them.

Now, in Beslan, we see the next step. They targeted a school, and killed hundreds. It may end up costing them dearly again, but they pulled it off.

But where will they strike next? What taboo will they breach? Against what will they focus their next atrocity?

What would Jim McCarthy, the protagonist of the “Chtorr” books, think? Where would he look? What would, in his words, be the absolutely worst place for the terrorists to strike next?

One thought immediately springs to my mind.

HOSPITALS.

That’s right, hospitals. Maybe a veteran’s hospital, where they could slaughter those who have served our nation honorably. Maybe a hospital with a full obstetrics ward, jam-packed with innocent newborns worth more than their weight in gold as hostages. Maybe a research hospital, just brimming with biologically hazardous materials. Maybe a teaching hospital, where they can strike a blow against the future of our health-care system, the envy of the world.

I hope I’m wrong. Dear god, I’d trade anything to be wrong. But that’s what my gut and my intellect are telling me, and we’d damn well be prepared to deal with it if it happens. Because the type of people we’re facing are like junkies when it comes to atrocities. The last fix is never enough, and the next one has to be bigger and more spectacular and more horrendous than the previous one. And I can’t imagine any other way they could top their massacre at a school.

J.

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