William Gibson's "Spook Country" (Part 2)

Second, William Gibson spoke about the incisive, expatriate politics behind Spook Country.

During the Blitz in London, at the back of every British Post Office there were enormous scarlet posters, with the Crown at the top and below it the legend: Keep Calm and Carry On. That was their response to some of the most massive bombing any European city had ever experienced. That is the much more appropriate response to any form of terrorism. The non-state actor has very very limited resources and depends necessarily on a sort of theater, and the peculiar mechanism that causes people to think they have a chance of winning a lottery — or its black obverse, that they or someone in their family might be killed by a terrorist. The British understood that when you ceased to keep calm and you ceased to carry on, that was where you started to lose…

I met a number of Department of Defense people about 14 years ago, and I was so impressed that they were on top of the asymmetric war paradigm, and so commited to not repeating the mistakes of Vietnam. Where did those guys go? I think they were fired, or frightened into silence. I know I comforted myself on the day of 9/11 by remembering those people. I was thinking: we have some really hip people in the Pentagon and maybe we won’t make the obvious and ridiculous mistakes that the terrorist wants us to make…

According to the emergent paradigms of warfare, when you invade another country, you just lost. Period. When you use air power against relatively undeveloped people, you lose. Period. Those are at the top of the list of things you don’t do if you want to win against non-state actors, but they’re culturally counter-intuitive… Everything the United States has done — I really can’t think of a counter-example — is the opposite of what the theory of asymmetrical warfare would suggest you do.

William Gibson, in conversation with Chris Lydon, August 20, 2007.

Click to listen to Part II (16.3 MB MP3)

Please continue to Part III of our conversation with William Gibson.

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