The destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is one of the most appalling news stories within memory. A commercial airliner cruising six miles in the air, destroyed instantaneously by a surface to air missile–like September 11, I am afraid this event will permanently erode our sense of security.
I agree with what Paul wrote this morning: the downing of MH17 should have serious consequences, but probably won’t. Here are a couple of additional, modest observations.
First, the responsible parties were pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Their reckless incompetence was staggering. They didn’t mean to shoot down a commercial airliner; they did it by mistake. In the transcripts of their cell phone conversations that have been made public, they sound like morons. And yet they had access to a sophisticated surface to air missile, capable of seeking out and destroying an airplane six miles high.
In this particular case, they got the missile from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But there are other sources of such weaponry. Given the increasing ubiquity of massively destructive weapons, whether conventional like a surface to air missile or nuclear, biological or chemical–not to mention the worse weapons that have not yet been devised–it is hard to escape the conclusion that outrages like the destruction of MH17 are inevitable, and that their frequency can only increase. As I recall, John Kerry said during the 2004 campaign that terrorist attacks, being rare, are a “nuisance.” It remains to be seen how the civilized world will deal with a seemingly endless series of increasingly devastating attacks, whether by terrorists, states, or in-between entities like the Ukrainian rebels.
Second, it is remarkable that within a matter of hours if not minutes after the event, the Ukrainian government was able to release tapes of the rebels’ telephone conversations. Who knew that Ukraine had this sort of capability? Or maybe it wasn’t Ukraine at all, but the NSA that was listening to the pro-Russian separatists, and gave the recordings to the authorities in Kiev.
In this instance, I have no problem with the eavesdropping. But it reinforces, once again, the fact that the only reason why you and I enjoy any privacy is that no one cares much what we do. The loss of privacy is just one more regrettable fact about the modern world, much like the ever-increasing risk of random (from the perspective of the victims) violence.