Independence Day

by francine Hardaway on July 5, 2002

Subject: Independence Day

Yesterday I watched more TV than I ever anticipated. July 4th, usually a slow news day, is not one on which I sit at either the computer or the TV, especially when I have crossed the desert to get to La Jolla and am within walking distance of the ocean.

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I was just getting ready to go to the beach when the TV in the hotel lobby broke into its regular programming to tell us about the shootings at LAX. It was pretty soon after the incident had occurred, and details were scant. Scant details are the most efficient marketing tactic a news channel could use; you can be sure we’ll all be glued to our sets until we find out the names of the dead, the details of the shootings, and the terrorist cell that claims responsibility.

Later in the evening, I reconnoitered with the TV set in my room to listen to the Israeli consul general. The question was whether the shootings could truly be called a terrorist act, and the parsing of the words “terrorist act” reminded me of the days of Bill Clinton. The American news sources said they did not ascribe the incident to terrorism, but rather thought it might be the act of an individual, or a hate crime. The Israeli official, however, confessed to a broader definition of terrorist act: “when a man comes into an airport and shoots people in a ticket counter line, Israel defines this as an act of terrorism — whether or not it is part of a broader series of planned events.”

Right. Terrorism is the act of making people afraid. It doesn’t matter whether it is done by Al Qaeda, Hamas, or a disgruntled El Al employee: the net effect is that people will be more afraid than ever to fly.

Today the pundits came on the TV. Ex-pilots and aviators, they were questioned about airport security. It seems we made a little mistake of the kind people make when they lock the barn door after the horse has fled. Rather than consider the broad scope of possible terrorist acts, we decided only to beef up our security to prevent another episode in which airplanes are hijacked and used as missiles. Our security is thus much tighter aboard the planes themselves, and once we have passed through the security checkpoints. But it is non-existent between the entrance to the airport as a whole and the magnetron on the way to the gate.

We now know that someone could come in the glass door and cause havoc in the terminal by carrying a gun *outside* the secure areas. Airports are usually crowded; every untoward event results in evacuations and delays; and it’s a much shorter walk if you’re a suicide bomber and you do your deed at the ticket counter.

Now we will take delayed action again. Yesterday, someone suggested aggregating all airline passengers at a central location away from the airport, checking luggage and screening them there, and then bussing them to the gates. By my calculation, that will lengthen every trip by a potential two hours. I’m sure that will help the airline industry, already struggling with the inconvenience of making passengers take off their shoes in security lines and empty their pockets into plastic trays.

People are already making the decision to drive short distances rather than fly; it’s probably a toss up whether it’s faster to drive or fly to San Diego from Phoenix, for example, and this year I drove for the first time. Making more stringent security measures will eventually make air travel so onerous that few people will undertake to fly, and an entire sector of the economy will collapse.

Soon we will reach a point of diminishing returns on all our security efforts. No matter what we do, we are always fighting the last war, and the terrorists will always find some new way to threaten us. We will never be able to protect ourselves from those who want to have their fifteen minutes of fame. Suicide bombings, like rap music and basketball, now represent a way out of the ghetto.



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