Liam Farrell: Learning to live with terror

Life; so hard to bring about, so easy to destroy. We've just experienced it in London, I saw it for years in Northern Ireland, and Siegfried Sassoon wrote about it in 1918: 'If I were fierce and bald and short of breath, I'd sit with scarlet Majors at the Base, And speed glum heroes up the line to death.'

Young men are always best at dying for lies and empty concepts, seduced by evil old godfathers aiming to provoke an excessive response which will set communities against each other and sucker even more gullible and vulnerable young men into doing their dirty work for them.

Violence begets violence, and perceived injustice and repression is the best recruiting programme any terrorist organisation could desire. I've seen my share of bloody messes, young lives wasted and ruined, dead faces staring sightless, and the only true war on terror will be a war that breaks the cycle, a war on poverty, ignorance, and injustice. It will be a long war, and it won't be a war that will make viewer-friendly headlines on CNN, but it is the only war which will have any chance of success.

You do get used to it. More visible security, regular searches, frequent false alarms, delays on trains and buses; all these things will gradually soften like music into the background, muted by the realities of daily living. Life has to go on, the anxiety will fade as you adjust to a different dynamic, you’ll go back to talking about football and the weather, and patients will still want antibiotics for colds and sore throats even as the sirens wail.

Statistically the chances of being involved in a terrorist incident are very small. During the Troubles about 3,000 people were killed, but in that same period the death toll on the roads was over 6,000. But the increased threat does make you more alert to small things, a little bit more cautious and thoughtful.

I was driving to a house call when I noticed a cardboard box at the side of the road. I stopped the car and sat for a while, pondering. All was tranquil, it was just a cardboard box on a small country road, almost certainly nothing but a piece of stray litter; no wires, no traditional whiff of cordite, no sound of merry gunfire in the distance, no sign of any 'insurgents', nothing at all suspicious.

I got out of the car at a prudent distance, and looked sternly at the box; I consider myself an alpha male. It looked back at me, unblinking. Observing the conventions, it exuded a faint air of menace: 'You’re alive, you’re dead,' it seemed to be saying, 'it really doesn’t matter to me.' For a long moment neither of us moved. The box said nothing more, only louder.

I turned around and made a detour which cost me 10 miles; fortune may favour the brave, but the devil hates a coward.

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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