- - Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Like most Americans, I have watched hours of TV coverage of the massacre at Las Vegas. The question that is constantly recurring in the commentaries is the wrong one: what was his motive?

Does it really change anything if he did it because he lost large sums at gambling, or had a break-up with his partner, or suffered from depression? He was clearly a latent psychopath, and whatever triggered his diabolical plan is rather unimportant, even if a twisted “lone wolf” religious or political motive is eventually uncovered.

The really important question is: why did so many people have to die? It is impossible to stop a maniac from shooting people, but what saves lives is cutting edge intervention planning.

When the shooting happened at the Bataclan theater in Paris almost two years ago, my immediate reaction was: the theater was packed, where was the security? I have attended concerts there, and the hall has rooms above backstage that overlook the entire audience. One armed guard there could have saved dozens of lives. After the Moscow theater was attacked by terrorists in 2002, it should have been obvious that theaters would be a target.

What was even more shocking eight months later was the absence of police at crucial points in Nice, when thousands of people gathered at the beach promenade to watch the fireworks. After Bataclan and the other terrorist attacks, how could they have no protection in place for such a large crowd? One or two well-placed sharpshooters could have taken out the driver of that truck early in the rampage.

At Las Vegas, a sniper with night vision scope could have engaged the shooter after the first round of shots, and surely saved most of the lives that were lost. Even a helicopter with a marksman on standby could have been there in 4 to 5 minutes; an armed drone in less than a minute. It is extremely painful to realize that so many lives were lost because no one thought of these defensive possibilities.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has spent millions of dollars and countless hours on planning to secure the country against terror attacks. Why did no one in Homeland Security ever think of a shooter from a high-rise building firing into a large crowd? The Austin tower shooter in 1966 was an example to work from. Obviously there is no way to protect against such a thing on the streets of a city, but a gathering of 22,000 people out in the open?

Even the 9-11 attacks should have been foreseen by those charged with security planning. It is not true (as often claimed) that using an airliner full of passengers as a weapon was “unimaginable.” The TV pilot of “The Lone Gunmen” was seen by an estimated 13.2 million Fox TV viewers on March 4, 2001. It showed a hijacked airliner heading for a crash into the twin towers, only to be saved in the last few seconds by the heroes.

And the TV movie “Flight to Holocaust” (1977) depicted an airliner crashing into the 20th floor of a skyscraper. Other movies and books had similar themes, and it is striking that such material did not lead to the conclusion that terrorists could surely do the same.

Equally distressing in retrospect is that no one thought of protecting the White House, the Capitol and of course the Pentagon from attack by plane, either airliner or small plane packed with explosives. This possibility should have been clear to security experts after a crazed individual crashed his plane onto the White House lawn in 1994.

And did anyone think of bombs in shoes or laptops until the tragedy (or very close call) occurred?

It seems that despite the enormous emphasis on security, we are always behind and reacting, instead of getting out in front of the next evil scheme by psychos or fanatics seeking to massacre.

• William Meacham is an American archaeologist who has lived and worked in Hong Kong since 1970.

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