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Enemy that knows no borders and has no mercy

It's been almost 70 years since Bermuda experienced war at first hand.

The entire Island was mobilised during the Second World War. The entire population was prepared, vigilant and ready to meet the dangers which threatened the Island.

Hundreds of young Bermudian men and women went overseas to serve in the various military theatres of operation. Hundreds more guarded barbed-wire barricades set up on the Island's beaches to foil possible landings by U-boat-borne Nazi saboteurs. Or were aboard the patrol boats which combed inland waterways and convoy-crowded harbours. Or manned the Island's iron ring of coastal artillery batteries.

The war's impact was in evidence in all aspects of daily life. What little food that was available was rationed. Bermudians knitted for the Red Cross, bought defence bonds and prayed ships approaching the Island at night would reach port safely given the lighthouses were blacked out in accordance with emergency regulations.

The geography of the Island was literally changed beyond all recognition as great fortifications built on reclaimed land emerged from the sea at the East End and in Southampton.

True, Bermuda was a front-line tripwire during the Cold War. But as Soviet submarines carrying lethal cargos of ballistic missiles and American patrol aircraft based out of Bermuda played endless games of hare and hounds in the waters off the Island, most locals remained oblivious. The militarised, high-alert worlds which existed beyond the cyclone fencing of Kindley Air Force Base (later the US Naval Air Station), the Naval Operating Base and the Tudor Hill submarine listening post were worlds apart, entirely detached from the everyday Bermudian experience.

Frankly, the only times the American bases tended to intrude on the thoughts of the average Bermuda resident were when Navy aircraft were dispatched to search for overdue fishing boats or yachts.

Today the closest most of us get to a war-zone is in front of the television or computer. We distractedly watch carnage unfolding half a world away for a few minutes before switching over to The Big Bang Theory or The Real House Wives of Atlanta or our Facebook newsfeed updates.

War is almost an abstract concept for the overwhelming majority of Bermuda residents. The bloodletting tends to be occurring in such distant places that even though we see the gruesome images and video footage transmitted live from faraway battlefields and shattered cities with unfamiliar names, we don't really believe in war. It is so remote from our experience, so remote from us geographically, it seems literally incredible — entirely beyond belief.

Nevertheless, it is worth remembering the world is currently engaged in what amounts to an open-ended war against a remorseless and implacable opponent.

The modern battlefield is truly global, the combatants drawn from all quarters of the planet and the atrocities are not always taking place so very far away from home at all.

In recent years New York has been transformed into a war-zone. And Washington. And Boston. And London. And Madrid.

The Russian city of Volgograd was rocked by multiple suicide bombings in the run-up to the 2012 Sochi Winter Olympics.

And blood ran in the streets of Paris just a few weeks ago and in the streets of Amsterdam even more recently.

The enemy is consolidating its power in the widely disparate areas already under its control, expanding into new territories and growing its forces. Almost 150 school children were massacred in Pakistan last December by an enemy which has declared war on modernism, secularism and humanism and which now dominates vast regions of that strategically vital country, a country which is now less a nation-state than it is a geo-political fiction. The Nigerian town of Bogo was transformed into an open-air abattoir in January by a terrorist movement which effectively rules large portions of that country, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. And the black standard of jihadist insurgents has been hoisted over increasingly wide swathes of Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi territory since the beginning of the year.

While the fundamentalist extremists of Islamic State in Syria & The Levant (ISIS), the Taliban and Boko Haram are more preoccupied with entrenching their positions — and slaughtering native opponents deemed to be apostates — in the lands they now rule, al-Qaeda and its associated, increasingly amorphous terror movements are still pursuing a global hit-and-run strategy.

Its shocks troops are as preoccupied with headline-grabbing spectacles now as they were 15 years ago. The recent attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris was a textbook al-Quaeda operation: a soft target, a major Western city, maximum publicity value.

And Bermuda would be foolish in the extreme to believe an event as rich in potential symbolism for the thoroughly modern, media-savvy militant as the forthcoming 2017 America's Cup has escaped the notice of jihadists.

For obvious reasons security precautions for what is now the world's fourth-most popular global sporting event after the Summer and Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl are unlikely to be discussed publicly. At least in any detail.

But it's safe to assume international counter-terrorism agencies, various branches of the US and British militaries and private security contractors will, along with elements of the Bermuda Police Service and the Bermuda Regiment, all be involved in a major if low-profile effort to ensure the event runs safely.

After 70 years of peace, Bermuda is quietly but efficiently beginning to mobilise again to meet the dangers of a new century and a ruthless new enemy which knows no borders and has no mercy.

Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

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Published March 14, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated March 14, 2015 at 1:07 am)

Enemy that knows no borders and has no mercy

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