It seems we live in a world of missed opportunity. It was said of Yassir Arafat, that he never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and while he may have been the prince of “miss,” the folks who decide security policy at airports, and the broader struggle to get a grip on terrorism, must be right behind. Ever since the 9/11 attacks over nine years ago, there has been an oscillating sense of what security is. We go from Orange to Red, to Yellow, and there isn’t one American in a hundred who could tell you what the differences are between the different color levels. (Including me.) Yet, as the supposed clamp downs occur, with some regularity, in the ongoing attempts to fight the last threat instead of the next, travelers are treated like dumb beasts, told what to do and how to do it, and essentially given zero encouragement to be part of the solution. In fact, to the contrary, the whole security structure is designed to attempt to intimidate the traveling public, seemingly unmindful of the fact that people whose mission it is to create havoc tend not be actually follow the ridiculous rules for the rest of us. It’s as if the only thing that matters is that the people who actually have some respect for the rule of law are the only ones the rules apply to. The bad guys kind of do their thing, playing by their own skewed set of rules.
There was a time right after 9/11 when the vast majority of the world was sympathetic to what had happened here, and had we had the tiniest sense of smarts, we could have leveraged that good will to our own, and that of the civilized world’s betterment. But the administration went crazy with organizational ideas run amok (to bring all the security agencies under one banner: Homeland Security, where they would be able to continue to not speak to each other), and above all – the absolute greatest missed opportunity in my opinion, to treat each and every passenger like a potential felon. They attempted, and have pretty much succeeded, to cow the traveling public to endure some of the most ridiculous screening procedures ever devised. Not only was the government unable to maintain a long term sense of cooperation and sympathy from other countries, but treating our own citizens as if each was a terrorist in waiting, we managed to fritter away the greatest potential power within the country: the righteous strength of the people at large. We were all supposed to shut our traps, and say “yessir” when subjected to these inefficient searches, and in doing so, we gave up the one thing which really could have made air travel in this country safe again. The ability of the people who had the most to lose – the flying public – to get involved.
There were a few reports in late September 2001, as air travel began to start up again with regularity, of pilots beseeching the passengers on their planes to maintain a certain vigilance, and that if something untoward were to happen, that they, the passengers were in fact the only real line of defense. Who, more than the flying public, wants a plane to arrive without incident? Certainly no one wearing a blue uniform and working for an hourly wage. For those folks it remains a job. Some are, yes, more committed to their task than others, but in the end, every change made by the TSA has been an attempt to keep something which already happened from perhaps occurring again. I’m sure there are a few things which have not been made public, which have helped in the search of stability in the air. But for the most part, the desire of the traveling public to be a part of, a major part of the formula, has been totally squandered. We like to think we are a country of greatness, though a little stroll through the America of Walmart malls might make you reconsider that. We watch Band of Brothers, and Saving Private Ryan, and we appreciate the sacrifice and strength of that Greatest Generation. We know about the troops who endured the battles of Khe Sanh and Hamburger Hill. And now, because the government, neither the Bush Administration nor the Obama Administration, has no faith in that same public, no faith in the people, no faith in what it was that once made this country great, we have to fly on airplanes with no blankets on our laps, no magazines, no ipods, no nothing. They turn off the little maps which show where the plane is. They cut off the movies and the internet. And like meek lambs, having waited innumerable hours for delayed flights, people say the stupidest things like “as long as it’s for our security, I don’t mind the wait.” Yeah, those are really the attitudes of the people who parachuted into Ste. Mere Eglise, and withstood a siege at Khe Sanh. I haven’t had to fly in the last couple of weeks, and am glad of it, because I know that the ridiculous attempts at fighting the last fight are only worse than before.
On a trip to China two years ago, a young man went a little bananas, and I awoke from a mild sleep to see a half dozen passengers restraining him, holding him down and getting him cuffed. They weren’t air marshals. They were just folks. The kind of folks you want to travel with. The kind of folks who take charge. The kind of folks who don’t whine, but just DO. The ones we think of what might have once been the kind of people we called Americans, people who just do the right thing because it’s the right thing.
When you get on a plane, you should be able to look around, find a few like minded folks, and almost without any words exchanged, know that if the shit hits the fan, they are the people you can rely on to try and bring things under control. We have spent so much time and effort delegating responsibility to everyone else, be it school boards, the police, the mall cops, or TSA, that we’ve forgotten how to get involved when something goes wrong. It’s time to get over it. The only that will save air passengers if something goes down are the anger and and righteous action of right-thinking people, not a TSA person in blue, who is now five hundred miles away. It’s not too late for the President to actually address the people, and ask for our help, not just our acquiescence. People are ready to be involved. This is the single greated untapped resource of the last decade. People know that in the end, they have to stand up for themselves. In a world where it has taken twice as long as the whole of World War II just to try and figure out what the 9/11 Memorial should look like, the chances of any rational behaviour by the government is probably too much to hope for. But in the end, my money will be on the beefy guy in row 13 who once played college football, the biker in row 24, and the lawyer who goes to the gym every day in row 18. When push comes to shove that will be the only team we have. Don’t let that power and strength just waste away. Let’s try and take care of ourselves. We’re just sayin’….David