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Von Schirach, Fedinand
Terror / Ein Theaterstück und eine Rede
BookID 155283520
ISBN isbn
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Description (from Amazon)

My review: 3.5/5Why this review now? Because last week I received from the Goethe Institut in Turin an announce that "Terror" will be on stage in Turin later this month.

I actually had the book standing on my reading list on my bookshelf since I bought and previewed it in Frankfurt in November 2017.

I found the story intriguing.

I will try to avoid spoilers extending beyond what you can read on the "blurb" on the book cover.

The story is simple, and obviously inspired by 9/11 and other events around Europe were planes were either almost shot down, or crashed into a building on purpose (Milan).

The title tells it all "Terror".

The moral conundrum is: what would you do if you had to choose between an airplane with 164 passengers, and a stadium with 70,000 people?

There are obviously a couple of holes in this question (I will discuss them in the "SPOILERS" section at the bottom of this review).

But what attracted me, as I had in the past read the 9/11 report and previously books on other life-and-death decisions in complex environments (from nuclear accidents, to NTSB reviews of accidents), is the perception on the issues.

If you are from a business or technical or political background, often you end up "sanitizing" your own perceptions of the side-effects.

I still cringe when I hear in business people that never were in the tight spot having to make decisions that weren't reversable talking of "collateral damage".

Before continuing with my review, I would like to add here a couple of references:
1. leadership under pressure https://www.librarything.com/work/9603330/book/133520940
2. the pathology of leadership https://www.librarything.com/work/7484821/book/40302140
3. the 9/11 report https://www.librarything.com/work/39409/book/79486561
4. Outbreak (the movie) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114069/

Now, the book presents various viewpoints: from observers that were within the chain of command, to relatives of those onboard.

As well as the usual interaction.

The main reason why I waited until now to read it is... the extent of my German vocabulary does not cover enough legal and military words, so I had expected that would be boring to read a book with a dictionary.


After the first few pages checking words, the argument itself, and the "tempo" were fast enough to turn this script into a page turner: started yesterday, completed today, just using spare time.

As I wrote above, I will postpone my criticism of a couple of points to the end, as that amounts to "spoilers".

The more interesting element of the book is the interaction of the various viewpoint, with the legal perspective being the "common sense perception".

The complexity of chain of command, the "one man decision" that triggers the book (as it starts at the beginning of the trial), and risk perception in our complex society during a "war on terror" is sometimes just hinted- probably, if it had been a novel instead of a script, many of the threads that are opened during the short exchanges would have been developed into full chapters.

That would, anyway, have altered the "tempo", so all those "question marks" are left to the reader (or the audience) as "think about it" homework.

Hence, the 3.5 stars for this book: not just for its content, but for its value as a "catalyst", a reminder that options first have to be assessed from various perspectives, then selected, not the other way around.

A "principle", to paraphrase closing pages of the script, applicable not just for life-and-death decisions, but also more mundane choices.

And now, the SPOILERS section


The two obvious questions were:
1. why didn't they evacuate the stadium, as an half-German half-Italian friend immediately asked when I outlined the book?
2. why didn't the pilot state that the question wasn't to choose between 164 and 70,000, but between 164 and 70,000+164

Within the book itself, the first question is answered in the simplest way: a failure in chain of command in a complex environment, but reporting that, in effect, after 9/11, security procedures were updated to ensure an evacuation in a fraction of the time between the notification that an airplane was under the control of terrorists, and the estimated time of arrival at the stadium.

In both cases, with or without evacuation, the terrorist(s) would have had probably no information on the evacuation, and would have anyway dropped the plane into the building- or into another building at the last minute, if informed by their spotters on the ground (as you would have expected).

In the past, hijacking an airplane was a sick way to attract the media to whatever "cause" the terrorists were promoting, since 9/11 it is plain and simple lowering of the perception of security provided by democracies, as proved by other actions on the ground since then.

Therefore, both questions, if answered within the script, would have just added pages but not altered the moral dilemma: who gives right to dispose of the lives of others, what the State Procurator at one point describes as "Ist es nicht so, dass Sie mit Ihrer Entscheidung eine gottgleiche Stellung einnehmen?"- a God-like attitude?

There is another theme within the book, that unfortunately takes only few pages, and is outlined within the "duet" between the Prosecutor and the Defendant: another peculiarity of our society and the "war on terror" is the meaning and assessment of risk- and if risk is something that we embedded willingly into our lives since 9/11.

[Review released on 2018-11-18]
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