The Zodiac killer, the nature of terror, and terrorism

I was interested in reading, in a review of the new film Zodiac, that the director’s intent was to try to recreate the sense of terror felt by San Franciscans in the period in which the Zodiac killer was wreaking mayhem around the city. It tempts me to see it, if only to see if he succeeded. Somehow I doubt it.

In the period in which Zodiac was running around offing folks, apparently at random, and sending cryptic notes to the newspapers and law enforcement agencies, I was a young bride living in a nice middle-class house in what is known as “the Avenues,” the fog belt west of Haight-Ashbury and the Fillmore. I lived a half block from Golden Gate Park, and frankly thought very little about risks in going walking there at all hours of the day and night. What a different world. . .

Zodiac (never apprehended–the main suspect has long since died) more or less paralyzed the city for a period of time. I still remember the first reports on the TV of these random shootings. A friend who lived four blocks away was visiting, and her boyfriend called and demanded that she not walk home as usual–he would come and pick her up.

I think what made the news so terrifying in this period was two-fold. First there was the apparent complete randomness of the attacks–just a case of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The second thing was that the attacks took place mostly in residential neighborhoods, those little of havens of safety that we all regarded as being far from the occasional insanity that struck downtown or some of the seedier areas. No one wanted to go out, anywhere.

In short, the terror came from having what we thought was a cocoon of safety ripped open.

We’ve been told that the attacks of September 11, 2001, were made with the intent of terrifying the U.S. population. If that’s the case, I have to think the terrorists failed miserably in their goal. The WTC towers and the Pentagon were high-profile targets, just the sort of thing you’d expect maniacs to attack symbolically. I think the attacks stunned the general population, but I don’t think they terrified us. It took our own government to do that.

I’ve often wondered what impact terrorism would have if terrorists understood us better. If I wanted to make the American population truly afraid (and I don’t, lest this be misunderstood), I sure as heck wouldn’t attack the high-profile things that to most of us are part of a world other than our own. I’d strike in small towns and small cities, at random, without apparent cause or benefit. I’d attack the fabric of safety that most of us seem to think surrounds us.

We have an unprecedented security in this country. Even the poorest of us, and the homeless, have things so much better than in many countries of the world. This doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for the “less fortunate” (Lord, I hate that term). I think the division of wealth is obscene, the constant push for “things” an atrocity, and the commercialization of nearly everything a great sin. But I don’t have any fix for it unless someone wants to give me absolute power for about five years (I think it would take at least that long). And frankly, the older I get, the more my energy flags and the less I fantasize about being a benevolent dictatoress.

Now, after that depressing post, I’ve got to go feed my fire. I’m getting ready for the second  batch of bread to go in the oven.

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4 Responses to “The Zodiac killer, the nature of terror, and terrorism”

  1. Jeff Moriarty Says:

    Oh, I think the terrorists from 9/11 succeeded. Every little thing is now a source of concern and panic. Look at the Boston police detonating light-brite signs from a cartoon show? Or the thousands of hours of lost time now spent at airports going through extra screening, removing my shoes, checking the size of my toothpaste container. American citizens held without charge under the guise of being enemy combatants. Stastically and logistically these things will never stop a major plot… but we do them anyway.

    Zodiac paralyzed a whole city, even though he was just one man. The city was in terror. Terror comes in the side effects. It is the things we no longer feel safe doing, the liberties we’re willing to give up, the price we feel the need to extract from others to feel safe again.

  2. mklekacz Says:

    Hey, Jeff, I understand the argument, but I don’t really agree. The things you cite as examples are concerns and panic generated by our venerable leaders, not by the loonies who decided to make a statement on 9/11.

    We are doing “these things” at the behest of our elected leaders, not because they will help the situation in any way, shape, or form but because they create an atmosphere of uncertainty in which the known devil (the incumbents) is preferable to the unknown devil.

    As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

    I’ve given up panic and concern, and I urge the rest of you to do likewise.

  3. whitishrabbit Says:

    I hope no terrorists read your blog, m.k. 🙂

    It’s actually been in the best interest of our government to prolong the panic, because a fearful populous is a malleable one. That last quote I was trying to remember on your blog turned out to be from V for Vendetta, and I’ve got another from that movie. “People shouldn’t fear their governments, governments should fear their people.”

    I’m sure 9-11 was terrifying to those involved, and anyone who had a loved one near the attack or flying that day. But unpredictability would be the more effective, long-term method of waging terror.

  4. mklekacz Says:

    I’ve thought about that, Rabbit, and I thought about it before I posted that response. We spend so much time and energy on the news telling those who would harm us exactly how to go about it. It sometimes leaves me shaking my head. But here I am contributing.

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