By Marcus Flores
I spent my honeymoon in Curacao, an island in the southern Caribbean quite near Venezuela. Flying by commercial airline in the post-9/11 era entails security procedures that, while mildly inconvenient to some (my wife, for example), constitute civil rights infringements to others. As a libertarian, I think I needn’t bother saying to which camp I belong.
Perhaps it comes with the ideology, but I am also not scared shitless of the .00000004% chance of dying in a terrorist attack. No, what unnerves me is the chance that some drunken airline mechanic fails to notice a leaky hose, or that a recently divorced pilot brings his distractful personal baggage with him into the cockpit. (I am not at all reassured by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the Comair Flight 5191 disaster, which listed small talk among the factors that led the pilot down the wrong runway at Bluegrass Airport in 2006.) In short, I hope that more attention is directed at preventable dangers rather than the guy with the beard.
Until my Curacao trip, I had been lucky enough to avoid those airports that fully utilize the wretched body scanners—never needing to submit my non-confrontational disposition to the awkward but necessary task of trying to defend my rights. At least to maintain the semblance of respect, a sign at Louisville International Airport notifies you that the scanning procedure is “optional,” meaning you can forego the nude photo op for…what, exactly? I asked, only to learn that a pat down would substitute. Being on my honeymoon, I decided I did not want the first foreign hands on me to be those of some imp of the government. So, my battle lost, into the scanner I went.
The procedure was harmless, I think. Or maybe thousands of frequent flyers will someday develop brain tumors only explainable by the time spent discounting them as terrorists. Not that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been particularly effective in that endeavor, having ensnared a slew of grannies, disabled children, and a U.S. Senator while missing the shoe and underwear bombers. I was later struck by the idea that maybe the most dangerous area in the airport is right there awaiting security screening. Exactly nothing stops a smartly dressed mad man from strolling into the “secure area” and detonating himself before reaching a single TSA agent. Such attacks, remember, are not without precedent (see the bombing of Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, in January 2011).
Since 9/11, popular attitudes now also serve as a deterrent to airline hijackings. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, could barely light a match before he was swarmed and hogtied by flight attendants and passengers. Similarly, a Dutch passenger hurdled rows of seats to subdue Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, whose pathetic attempt at terrorism likely ended with his scorched groin as the only casualty. Airliners no longer seem that conducive to terrorism simply because passengers refuse to go quietly; it is an attitude every American ought to carry with him wherever he goes.
In the events that transpired following the Boston Bombings, I began to wonder why that same rage against victimization was conspicuously absent. A little chaos following the explosions can be attributed to basic human physiology—loud sounds trigger the startle reflex in most mammalian species. The security response to the attack, however, seemed fashioned to induce more panic than the bombs themselves. Taxi services were suspended, subways stalled. Workplaces ground to a halt. A no-fly zone was established. A Black Hawk helicopter circled the city. It makes one wonder if Gov. Deval Patrick hadn’t borrowed his disaster script from Don DeLillo and inserted Rambo as a villain.
Except it was not Sylvester Stallone or anyone nearly as fearsome. The surviving suspect is a curly headed loser who happened to rig a pressure cooker to explode—not a feat beyond anyone with a high school education and a local hardware store. Then, after the suspect had been apprehended, President Obama said the bombers failed because the city of Boston had “refused to be intimidated.” What is intimidation, if not two days of martial law? Boston’s paralysis proved that even when terrorists fail, we ensure they succeed by cowering in fear; instead of respectfully morning the victims, we disgrace them by surrendering more rights. Even when the casualty count is zero—as was the case with Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab—new policies force us to remove our shoes and submit to digital strip searches.
Now, there are already calls for more public surveillance following the events in Boston. I specifically mention GOP Representative Peter King who said cameras, which aided in identifying the suspects, enable us “to stay ahead of the terrorists.” Imagine those same TSA agents who overlook explosives and weapons set before a slew of screens, monitoring millions for misplaced backpacks in NYC.
At the end of the day, I prefer the occasional terrorist to the surveillance state.