There is no foolproof defense against a would-be killer who is both evil and irrational, as is Norway’s alleged largest mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik. His own lawyer called him cold and insane.
He appears to believe he is a warrior in a crusade to save Norway and Europe from a Muslim takeover. He said he believes he is joined in this effort by other, and probably fictitious, cells of like believers. Arguing for his insanity is his alleged decision to hold off the Muslim tide by killing more than 70 of his fellow ethnic Norwegian countrymen, most of them youngsters.
Norway will now engage in that national process of hand-wringing so familiar to the United States: Was this murderous outburst due to some defect in society, the culture, the education system, his parenting? How could a well-armed 42-year-old with violent and aberrant political views escape the attention of the authorities?
The Norwegians would argue that thanks to their commendably peaceful society, things like this don’t happen in Norway. They don’t until they do. Even in a country that’s shocked, but not terribly surprised, by mass killing, people were still repulsed by the 2006 murder of five little girls, all members of the pacifist Old Order Amish, in their one-room Pennsylvania schoolhouse.
In the aftermath of these killings, people ask what they could have done to prevent it. Fortunately, in the case of Norway, there’s a lot they can do. The killings revealed great gaps in the country’s domestic security.
Emergency calls from the island were put on hold because the operators were giving priority to calls from the bombed federal building. An emergency call center should be capable of handling more than one crisis at a time.
Norway’s quick-reaction Delta Force doesn’t own a helicopter. The police, for the entire country, own only one helicopter, a four-seater, based north of Oslo. Even if the first responders could have gotten aboard the helicopter quickly, the qualified pilots were all away on holiday. The nearest military chopper was 40 miles away.
The Delta Force drove to a point near the island but the rigid inflatable vessel commandeered from the local police was overloaded and swamped. They reached the island in a boat borrowed from a tourist. A rescue operation that should have taken 15 minutes instead took more than 90.
Once police arrived, Breivik allegedly dropped to the ground and tamely surrendered. Apparently his plans for mass slaughter didn’t include himself.
The Norwegians may see the security precautions they must now take as some kind of loss of innocence — the country’s previously most shocking crime was an art theft — but they have to be done. We know and, believe me, we sympathize with you.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.