A few years back, I was in Canyonlands National Park for a couple days. I went to a talk by a park ranger about the various types of wildlife that live in the park, including coyotes. And I learned something that’s been fascinating to me every since. The park ranger said that studies of coyote populations have shown they have an interesting counter-intuitive population pattern. The more coyotes that are trapped or shot, the bigger the average litter size is. In other words, when coyote mothers are in an area that has good food sources but not a high population, they create more pups to increase the population.
According to the park ranger, scientists have only discovered this weird pattern in the past 20 years. But all the efforts by ranchers in the late 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s to eradicate coyotes from their grazing areas has actually had just the opposite effect – more coyotes. To stop the coyote population explosion, we must end the organized efforts to extirpate them.
Shortly after President GW Bush and his administration started the “War on Terror” as an attempt to stop terrorism through military force, I immediately thought of the parallels to the park ranger’s coyote story. And it seemed to me that the more we try to eradicate terrorism by killing and subjugating people far from home, the more terrorists we’ll probably inadvertently create.
I can certainly imagine some kid growing up poor in a Muslim country. Let’s say his father falls in with the wrong crowd and gets shot by US soldiers as part of the “war on terror”. What is the kid likely to do? Do you think he’ll grow up thinking “Being a terrorist is a bad thing; Daddy did that and he got killed, so I’m going to be a bean farmer instead”? No, I think it’s a lot more likely that he’ll grow up thinking, “I’m gonna go get those bastards who killed my father and ruined my family’s life!” And his brother is probably going to say the same thing, so now we’ve got two terrorists (the sons) instead of one (the father).
It’s always seemed to me like getting to the real root cause of the problem – whatever caused Dad to become a terrorist in the first place – is the only way to solve it, ultimately. And I’m no expert, but I would guess that Dad probably became a terrorist because of something like foreigners occupying his country, or someone taking away his honest job, or destroying his culture, or some similar form of desperation. (Those are the exact reasons we Americans became terrorists a couple hundred years ago to drive the British out of our land, so I’ve got to think they’re probably good reasons.)
Now, fast forward about 6 years into the War on Terror, and it looks like some well-respected deep thinkers now actually agree with me! The Rand Corporation, noted military and political think tank, says after extensive study, that to defeat Al Qaeda, we need to end the war on terror.
I told you so.