mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Black Tom Blows

95 years ago today, 2 million tons of explosives waiting for shipment to the allies in World War I exploded on a small island in New York harbor next to the Statue of Liberty.  Seven people were killed; the explosion was heard in Philadelphia; windows were shattered 40 miles away.

Almost forgotten today, the Black Tom explosion was a powerful demonstration to Americans that Europe’s problems would not leave us in peace.  It also set off a search for the terrorists in our midst; ultimately Germany was found responsible, and two world wars later, the German government actually finished paying for the damage.

Franz von Papen, who organized German sabotage groups in the US while serving in Germany’s diplomatic mission to Washington, one of the Germans believed to be involved in planning the raid.  Indicted for his part in another attack, he went on to become Chancellor of Germany in 1932.  It was on his advice that President von Hindenberg named Adolf Hitler Chancellor in January 1933.  Von Papen entered Hitler’s first coalition cabinet as Vice Chancellor, confident that he could outmaneuver the Austrian upstart.  He went on to serve as Hitler’s ambassador to Austria and Turkey.  He was acquitted of war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials.   Made a Papal Chamberlain by John XXIII, von Papen died peacefully in 1969.

Americans still live in the world of Black Tom.  Fears of terror and sabotage and the awareness that foreign struggles can endanger us at home are part of the background of our lives.  It was 85 years between Black Tom and 9/11; let’s hope it will be at least as long before we face anything else of this kind.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Acksiom

    More than ten times as many usa citizens committed suicide in 2001 as were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

    Last I heard, the federal government was spending about $40 million/year on both suicide research and prevention combined.

    In 2001, the feds spent about $4.7 BILLION on the TSA.

    Ten years later, that number has increased to $7.4 billion. Suicide research and prevention, AFAIK, is still around $40 million/year.

    So well over THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND OF US have killed ourselves over the past decade.

    Meanwhile, how many terrorist murders has the TSA prevented? We can be reasonably confident that there will be no more 9/11 scale WMD-converted jet hijackings, as shown by UA Flight 93. I haven’t found definitive averages for passenger/jet numbers yet, but my raw data so far suggests that about 300 is an acceptable estimate.

    Therefore, to be addressing a problem comparable in size to the suicide rate, the TSA would have to be preventing over 100 passenger jet hijackings, per year, every year since 2001, inclusive.

    Terrorists would have to be killing THIRTY THOUSAND AMERICANS PER YEAR just to be in the same range as the suicide rate. Terrorists would have had to have killed OVER THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND AMERICANS over the past decade in order to just APPROACH the suicide rate.

    And then there’s the possibility that the TSA’s grotesque violations of human privacy, dignity, and autonomy may have contributed to some people’s suicides.

    I’m having a hard time imagining how that could work in reverse. I don’t think identifying and reaching out to those most at risk of suicide is going to increase terrorist murders.

    If we can identify likely terrorists and prevent their attacks, we should be able to identify likely suicide victims and prevent their attacks as well.

    How many of the mass murders in recent years have been intentional murder-suicides? We know many of these people go into their rampages intending to die at the end. Just like the 9/11 attackers. Just like the suicide bombers around the world

    What if the willingness to kill ourselves is closely correlated with the willingness to kill others?

    What if suicide is the reason why intelligent, successful, degreed upper to middle class people become suicidal terrorists?

  • Kris

    “What if suicide is the reason why intelligent, successful, degreed upper to middle class people become suicidal terrorists?”

    Don’t be ridiculous, Acksiom; the reason is obviously ritual genital mutilation!

    For history buffs, see also “The Halifax Explosion”.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service