The Price of Courage

Ralph Peters makes an interesting point:

YESTERDAY, terrorists took the lives of almost 200 Spanish civilians, wounding perhaps 1,400 more. Ten coordinated explosions struck three morning commuter trains entering Madrid.

It happened on the 2-1/2 year anniversary of the attacks on Manhattan and Washington – 30 months to the day. The symbolism was intentional.

While 2-1/2 years doesn’t strike me as an especially noteworthy milestone, it does seem an odd coincidence.

[I]t’s startling how closely yesterday’s killers followed the 9/11 template. The terrorists exploited the openness of public transportation – this time trains, not planes – to stage dramatic, merciless and nearly simultaneous strikes on massed civilians. It was 9/11 on rails.

Whatever their other human flaws, terrorist leaders aren’t stupid. They learn from successes and failures. Even beyond the tactical details of the attacks, the greatest lesson the terrorists drew from 9/11 was the importance of thinking big, of staging stunning, interconnected attacks that, amplified by the media, appear even greater than the painful sum of their parts.

If anyone doubts that the War on Terror is global or that it’s a struggle between civilization and barbarity, yesterday gave further proof that we have no choice but to fight with all our resources.

Why strike Spain? The letter from the “Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri” reportedly said: “This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America’s ally in its war against Islam.”

But the deeper reasons those trains were attacked was because of Spain’s growing success, because of the Madrid government’s courage, and because of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar’s vision.

Spain has not only taken a firm stand against domestic terrorism, but joined the global War on Terror as an equal partner. The most striking strategic moment of Operation Iraqi Freedom wasn’t the opening salvo lighting up Baghdad, but the Azores summit before the war began. The three boldest leaders of Western civilization stood shoulder to shoulder: President Bush, the valiant Tony Blair and Prime Minister Aznar – in many ways the bravest of the three.

Update: Commenter Mike observes, “I have read elsewhere that it was exactly 911 days since the 9/11 attacks. I do not know if this is correct, but it is certainly close.” Dividing 911 by 365 gives 2.496; another amazing coincidence.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mike Spenis says:

    I have read elsewhere that it was exactly 911 days since the 9/11 attacks. I do not know if this is correct, but it is certainly close.

  2. M. Murcek says:

    If you add 911 to the date 9/11/2001 in Excel, you get 3/10/2004

  3. Yes, if it weren’t for that pesky Feb 29, it would have been 911 days from 9/11/2001 to 3/11/2004.

  4. Zygote says:

    Leap years are for the infidels!

  5. akim says:

    CBC (canadian) reported that this group, Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, has previously “claimed” the east coast black-out too. Not a very credible source.

    I am pretty sure necessary truth will emerge fairly soon. So far the only remotely certain piece of info is that ETA is adamant it didn’t do it.

  6. Leaper says:

    A news commentator I saw pointed out that most Muslim extremists would probably use the Muslim calendar, which of course is hugely different from our Gregorian calendar. Not to say, of course, they couldn’t plan things for Western “benefit,” but it probably wouldn’t be very up-front in their minds (meaning they probably wouldn’t think enough of it to play these IMHO silly number games).