A banner in front of a Barcelona high school where Spanish police clashed with voters during Catalonia's banned independence referendum questions Europe's tepid response on October 3, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Yves Herman

It was as if the world did not already have enough to worry about, what with North Korea brandishing missiles, Russia and China rampaging around their respective areas displaying their military hardware and cyber-capabilities, the Middle East and North Africa continuing their slide into chaos, and Venezuela demonstrating how very bad governments can turn a rich country into a starving pauper.

Natural disasters also abound, especially hurricanes and earthquakes, turning various small and large Caribbean islands into basket cases. In the social sphere, we have seen the continued precipitous decline in the West of civility, rational discourse, classical education and the traditional family, all leading to the emergence of populist movements of the right, left and center.

Finally, there is the descent of the former world hegemon, the United States, into a debt-ridden, socially cratered mess lacking the most fundamental elements of a coherent domestic or foreign policy.

And now, events separated by thousands of kilometers have added to this woeful list startling demonstrations of police incompetence in two so-called “advanced” countries.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, a psychopath was able to amass an arsenal of weapons enough to furnish a fairly well-equipped regiment in his retirement home and take much of it to the 32nd floor of a downtown hotel apparently without anyone noticing it, or if they did, bothering to notify the authorities. Then when he fired out of the window of his room into the crowded street below, killing almost 60 and wounding hundreds, it took the police more than an hour and a half to locate him, despite continuous gunfire from the hotel.

Several of the terrified people under attack saw where the shots were coming from, but not the police. This might be characterized (being charitable) as police under-reaction.

Sixteen years have passed since the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, innumerable terrorist incidents and other similar atrocities have taken place all over the world, but apparently some of the police forces in the US, even in such crime-ridden locations as Las Vegas, have learned little or nothing from them, and are unequipped to deal with them.

The overreaction of the Spanish police and the Civil Guard contrasts with the under-reaction of the police in Las Vegas. I can think of nothing the Spanish state could have done that would more effectively have supported the position of those advocating independence.

A world away from Nevada, what can only be described as a region-wide police riot resulted in injuries to more than 800 people, attacked with truncheons and plastic bullets while they waited peacefully in line to cast their ballots in what the Spanish courts had declared was an “illegal” referendum on Catalonian independence. In this case the overreaction of the police and the Civil Guard contrasts with the under-reaction of the police in Las Vegas. I can think of nothing the Spanish state could have done that would more effectively have supported the position of those advocating independence.

Frankly, who would want to be part of a country that does such things to its own people? If the Quebecois can vote peacefully on independence in Canada and the Scots vote peacefully on independence in the United Kingdom, why not the Catalans?

Those who ordered this behavior should be arrested and tried as criminals, but this, you may be sure, will not happen. As a sad coda to the affair, King Felipe, supposedly the symbolic representation of Spanish unity, gave a television speech in which he condoned the attackers and condemned the attacked. And the outraged reaction from other countries and international organizations? Tepid at best.

In the same country during its horrendous civil war between 1936 and 1939, Madrid fell to the enemies of the Republic not because of the four columns of insurgent troops closing in on the capital, but because of the treachery of its internal enemies, dubbed for all time the “fifth column”.

The Western world is currently full of “fifth columns”, and they are more dangerous to its survival than its external enemies. If North Korea and Iran were erased from the map tomorrow the rot would continue unabated.

Appeasement, surrender and “political correctness” are running amok, and we can only hope and pray and all of us in our own way work toward turning back the tide.

Societies can rebuild after hurricanes and earthquakes or even after wars; they cannot rebuild if there is nothing left to be rebuilt.

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Norman A. Bailey

Norman A Bailey is the author of numerous books and articles and recipient of several honorary degrees, medals and awards and two orders of knighthood. He also teaches economic statecraft at The Institute of World Politics and has experience on the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and in business, consulting and finance. He is professor emeritus in the National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and a columnist...

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