The machine that will save the world?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 12:00am

Oh, to be wide-eyed and innocent again. Terrorism, globalisation and the need for greed dictate our lives, rather than us determining how things should be done.

As a child in suburban Australia three dozen decades back, my family went to sleep with the front and back doors open to let in the cool, night breeze. The doors and windows got closed only when we went on holiday - when there was a scramble to find where the keys had been hidden.

These days, my mother's house resembles a high-security prison. There are so many locks, sensors, lights and bars that she dare not go out for fear of having forgotten how to get back in.

This is the way the developed world has moved - the innocence has ended and with it has come crime, fear and a need for protection. You do not want just anyone trawling through your computer hard drive, giggling over your DVD collection or trying to make off with your iPod, after all.

So until Sony develops the time machine, forget those golden-glazed, hazy childhood days and keep in mind that you are stuck with what you have got.

Of course, that is not to say that a little tweaking is out of the question. That is where people like United States President George W. Bush, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, and his Australian counterpart John Howard, can help out. They, after all, are a big chunk of the reason we are renting videos instead of going to the cinema, or having holidays at home rather than on a pristine beach.

The terrorism in the US on September 11, 2001, was world-changing. American intelligence had long known of the threat, but had no inkling of the scale of the attacks or when they would take place. That was the crux of the two-day testimony in Washington this week at an independent inquiry into the failings.

Americans want to know if Mr Bush could have prevented the attacks. Their desire to know the truth is as much a matter of future prevention as of history. Verbally, Mr Bush reacted to September 11 as a leader should. Diplomatically, his subsequent approach was flawed.

The war on Afghanistan's Taleban regime and the al-Qaeda terrorists they protected caused divisions in international relations with the Muslim world. By invading Iraq, the remaining diplomatic windows with allies were shattered.

Mr Blair and Mr Howard chose to side with the American leader on Iraq. A year on, little has changed for Iraqis or the rest of us.

That is one reason for the inquiries - a desire to explain how so much expenditure could amount to so little. Step forward, Mr Bush, Mr Blair and Mr Howard. We have heard enough of your attempts to explain and would prefer some corrective action. Muslims and Arabs still argue that your wars were about oil, not terrorism.

Perhaps the solution lies in the SUV, or sports utility vehicle, the gas-guzzling, much sought-after icon of the good life enjoyed by middle-class America. I, for one, would feel a lot better if I had one, and I am sure everyone else in the world would too - even some would-be terrorists. Who would not trade the smug comfort of whizzing about in an SUV with a one-way trip on a crowded bus wearing a suicide explosion pack?

In fact, Mr Bush and his buddies-in-war should launch a new global crusade with the slogan: 'An SUV for every family on the planet'. The peace-building potential would be enormous - although before the keys are handed over, there would need to be some tinkering with the engine to keep pollution to a minimum.

Car manufacturing plants would go into overdrive to churn out the necessary six billion vehicles, creating a boon for everyone from miners to the people who make those furry dice that hang from rear-view mirrors. The world's oil-producing Muslim nations would have to markedly increase production to meet the demands for petrol. Rapid declines in fossil fuel supplies would force governments to search for clean energy alternatives.

Global unemployment and poverty would be wiped out. This would deprive terrorist leaders of their supply of recruits. Terrorism is, after all, partly a byproduct of the have-nots wanting revenge on the haves. Convincing an impressionable youth from a poor country to act against the rich world is easy when he is unemployed.

The world's problems solved, Mr Bush, Mr Blair and Mr Howard could head off to a well-deserved retirement. The rest of us, sitting above the traffic jams in air-conditioned comfort with a row of seats for each of the children to stop them fighting, would have broad smiles.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor