This year I took the train. I sacrificed the 11 hours I might have saved by flying to my vacation destination and instead opted for an overnight trip on Amtrak. There were a few advantages, not the least of which was the $280 I saved. Another welcome amenity was the fact that coach seats on Amtrak provide more room and comfort than first-class airline tickets. But none of that entered into my decision making process.
In truth, I'd have chosen the train even if the cost and comfort was equal. I'm simply sick and tired of airport security. It's reached a point now where going through airport security is only slightly less demoralizing than getting arrested.
I proclaimed my decision loudly and publicly and naively assumed that many people would applaud my choice. I hoped that others might be inspired to give up a few hours in exchange for keeping their dignity. I was, of course, hopelessly wrong.
"But we have to stop the terrorists!" the public exclaimed. "It's a worthwhile sacrifice if it saves lives, isn't it?"
And I rolled my eyes. I've gotten really good at rolling my eyes in the last few years. "No," I replied to the paranoid public at large, "It is not remotely worth it."
"Are you saying terrorism is no big deal?" my fictionalized detractors responded.
And the nation gasped with horror at the very suggestion that perhaps we shouldn't spend each waking moment terrified that some random jackass would wander onto a plane with a bomb in his Fruit of the Booms. They looked on in slack-jawed disbelief at the idea that we should have perspective on this issue.
And, of course, that's the point. A terrorist's job is to terrify people and to that end they have been incredibly succesful in the US. It doesn't seem to matter that the odds of an American being killed on US soil by a terrorist are smaller than the odds of being killed by a falling meteor. We have to stop them at any cost. We have to implement any security protocol we can dream up regardless of the cost/benefit ratio. We have to do everything we can regardless of the civil liberties we crush under the tires of security theater.
But what are we accomplishing?
This nation has been in a stupor since 9/11 and that is understandable. Such a coordinated and devestating attack forced us to rightly reconsider all of our security procedures. There was obviously an unacceptable level of risk and we moved quickly to right it.
This was reasonable. Afterall, before 9/11 it was perfectly legal to board a plane with a pocket knife big enough to be a lethal weapon. Before 9/11 one could all but accidentally wander into the cockpit looking for the bathroom. Before 9/11 one could hijack an airplane with nothing but a box-cutter.
And thus we shifted our focus and revamped our security procedures. Many of the changes were common sense ideas that should have been implemented decades earlier. Many more were essentially useless security thater procedures that existed to reassure weary travellers that the TSA had their act together. Still others were there to remind the potential terrorists that we were no longer going to have lighter security at our airports than our inner-city high schools.
And that was good. Not only was it sensible, it was necessary in order to reestablish the trust of the travelling public and make them feel safe enough to climb aboard a plane once more. The problem arose when we failed to downshift afterwards.
It is as though a switch was flipped and then broken and now we've lost the ability to reasonably assess the pros and cons of any given protocol. A few terrorists in Europe cook up a Rube Goldberg-esque plot to take down a plane by combining liquids in flight to make a bomb. It doesn't seem to matter than this plot failed and was deemed horribly unrealistic by experts in the field. We respond by banning all liquids on planes.
A dingbat squeezes some explosives between his butt-cheeks and sets his Underoos on fire in flight. We respond by spending $173 million on full body scanners at airports. It doesn't matter that the plot failed and was considered horribly improbable by the experts. Somehow it is considered reasonable to respond by forcing modest old woman to walk through a machine that photographs them in the buff. Nevermind that only a few decades earlier that was such an assinine notion that it was actually an Abrams, Zucker & Zucker gag.
Of course, we can point to the success of such systems by saying that we've not suffered a terrorist attack since 9/11. Of course, we could just as realistically attribute the lack of attacks to the fact that 3rd Rock From The Sun was cancelled that year as well.
The thing that we seemed to have forgotten after 9/11 is that despite the brutal and horrible success the terrorists achieved on that day, the enemy here is still a group of bumbling idiots. Recall that the first time they tried to bomb the WTC they got caught when they went back to the rental house for the deposit on the van they used in the bombing.
It is as though Wile E. Coyote, after many years of failure, actually managed to catch the Road Runner for a change. Would this one success force all the other Road Runner's to drive around in Pope-Mobiles? Would the landscape of the cartoon Southwest suddenly be littered with coyote insurance plans, coyote detection equipment and batteries of anti-coyote missiles?
A single success, no matter how massive or devestating should not force us to lose sight of the fact that we are up against a bunch of cottage-cheese-for-brains zealots who do things like accidentally set their underwear on fire.
Now, I'm not trying to make light of the tragedy of 9/11 and I'm not trying to underplay the dangers that terrorism presents. But without perspective, everything in our lives is terrifying beyond belief. We all understand the dangers inherent in, say, driving on the interstate. We accept the risk and go about our lives. We take reasonable precautions by building safer and safer cars, but we don't close down the lifeblood of commerce every time there's an 18 car pile-up.
If we wanted to eliminate the dangers of interstate travel, we could do it tommorow. We could implement a national 30 MPH speed limit and set up random check points where teams of mechanics could inspect the brakes of every vehicle that passes. That would undoubtedly save tens of thousands of lives every year. Of course, we opt not to do so because the risk is deemed less than the inconvenience of tooling around like Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy.
But if you divided the cost of setting up these checkpoints by the number of lives they would likely save, the sum total comes up to far less than the dollars-per-life-saved that we invest in anti-terrorism procedures. Does that not make it reasonable?
Keep in mind that the goal of the terrorist is to terrorize. Their goal is not as much the body count, but the echo of horror that the body count leaves in its wake. The terrorists did not "win" on 9/11, they won on 9/12 when the reaction to their attack came. They won when we hunkered down in our basements with our shotguns and our duct tape. They won when we started thinking that a few dingle-berries in a cave in Afghanistan were a worthy enemy for the full force of the American military. They won when we invested billions upon billions of dollars in the fruitless and unrealistic attempt to insure that no terrorist attack would ever happen again.
Every time we funnel a few million dollars into an unnecessary security procedure, it is a victory for the terrorists. Every time we strip away a layer of civil liberties from the American populace, it is a victory for the terrorists. Every time we elevate a bunch of bumbling douche-bags to a legitimate national threat, it is a victory for the terrorists.
I for one have grown tired of handing these victories over and I refuse to do so any longer. I will take the train until the terrorists bomb one of those and the TSA implements full cavity searches for train passengers. At that point I will drive where I need to go until the terrorists blow up a bridge and prompt the TSA to strip search every driver at every interstate on-ramp. At that point I will walk until the terrorists drop thumb tacks on some sidewalk and the TSA responds by forcing all pedestrians to walk naked with their hands behind their heads.
I vote with my dollar and I hope that there are enough like-minded people who choose not to go through the demoralizing nonsense that is airport security. I am clear headed enough to know that the risk of the plane falling out of the damn sky is greater than the risk of a terrorist attack and I refuse to live my life as though that were not the case.
This is an unpopular view, I know. My hope is that our paranoia is on the wane as we approach the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. My hope is that reason will someday shout louder than Chicken Little. My hope is that someday soon people will realize that "liberty" and "freedom" are synonyms such that one cannot be traded for the other.
Until then the terrorists are racking up victory after victory.
PS Sorry it's been so long since the last blog. I'm on vacation and while I never vacation from blogging, I've been away from a computer for several days. I'll be back on my game in no time... Unless the terrorists get me on my way back home.