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To Defend Everything Is to Defend Nothing

By Matthew Yglesias  

"To Defend Everything Is to Defend Nothing"

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I’m not sure if this will meet Kevin Drum’s odd demand that people refrain from making reason-based arguments about terrorism because many people have irrational reactions to violence, but I think there’s a strong case to be made against airport-style security at the Washington Monument.

The key issue, I think, is that if you’ve got an armed man in Washington DC eager and willing to kill and die in a holy war against America, he’s not going to just give up and go home simply because we’ve put metal detectors at the Washington Monument. Maybe he’ll shoot up the Pentagon City mall instead. Or maybe the Portrait Gallery. Or a movie theater. Or a crowded bar at happy hour. There are big crowds all across America and attempting to erect impenetrable static security at all of them would be a disaster. So you need to set priorities. And it’s clear to me why it makes sense for the White House to have much higher security than a movie theater. And it also makes sense for Capitol and the Supreme Court to have very high security. A lesser level of security would be appropriate for the various federal agency buildings around DC, but still higher security than we have at the movie theater.

But would the impact—in terms of lives lost, in terms of the national psyche, or in terms of the orderly conduct of everyday life—of an attack on the Washington Monument really be significantly different than an attack on a movie theater? I don’t really see it.

The point is that there are just way, way, way, way, way too many “soft targets” all across the country to harden them all in the way being contemplated for the Washington Monument. We need to focus static security on a smaller set of high-priority locations. For the rest we’re going to need to rely on proactive security via law enforcement and intelligence.

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