One year after September 11
Scott Simon recently mentioned on NPR's "Weekend Edition" that American popular culture has reverted to its pre-9/11 fascination with superficiality. Anyone who has recently been to Shop 'N Save knows that the popular magazines seem enamored with Matthew Perry's struggle out of rehab, Oprah's apparent weight gain, and the news that Lance Bass will, at least for now, remain earthbound.
A year ago it was thought that the sooner we got back to our tabloid fascinations or popular diversions, the easier it would be to cope with the stark horror that was September 11, 2001. In the weeks that followed 9/11, many social commentators thought we could gauge our national health by the amount of time it took for us to start caring again about comedy, music, movies, and sports.
When President Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium prior to Game 3 of the World Series, he confirmed that baseball was not only our national pastime, but also that it could serve as national therapy in times of severe crisis and uncertainty.
Following 9/11 we were unified as a country. Flags lined our streets, people gave blood, thousands of young men and women volunteered for the Armed Forces, The Peace Corps, Teach for America, and other service organizations. The Congress voted overwhelmingly to give the President military authority in Afghanistan where we have since defied all expectations in rebuilding that country.
In the early months after 9/11, we made every necessary attempt to ensure that another attack would not happen again. National Guard troops patrolled our airports, F-16s were on call to thwart another hijacking, and we maintained our resolve even in the face of biological attacks. Passengers also aided an airline crew to stop "shoe bomber" Richard Reid as he intended to blow up a transcontinental flight. As a nation we appeared ready and willing to engage in a permanent "war on terrorism."
Yet I worry today that our spirit is waning. We have become too complacent-too willing to step back into our comfortable, hermetically sealed, climate-controlled "September 10" world. Our determination to do everything possible to protect ourselves has diminished.
Just this week, the Senate finally passed a law permitting pilots to carry handguns in the cockpit. The delay surrounding this basic step in bolstering airline security defies explanation. Though I understand concerns about the security of the gun and the risk of a bullet puncturing the plane's wall, there is no doubt that a gun in the cockpit would have delayed if not outright thwarted the 9/11 hijackings. As an airline pilot friend of mine told me, every passenger trusts his life to the pilot when he steps on board an aircraft. So why wouldn't he trust a pilot (who probably has military training) to use a gun properly?
There is much reason to be concerned about the state of airline security, and that concern is not only in the cockpit, but also before one even boards the aircraft. Last week, The New York Daily News sent reporters onto planes in eleven different airports, including Logan Airport and Washington Dulles airport (both airports from which 9/11 hijacked flights departed), to measure the effectiveness of airport security. Regrettably, these latter-day "muckrackers" successfully smuggled knives, boxcutters, and other verboten devices onto the plane. Instead of admitting the mistake and improving security, the feds are threatening to prosecute the reporters for violating security procedures.
Though it is unlikely that Al-Qaeda will strike again in the exact same manner as they did a year ago, it is still imperative that we make every effort and take every precaution to keep our skies safe. Demonstrating effective security serves as a deterrent to all forms of terrorism, not just attacks on airplanes. We are loathe to forget that Osama Bin Laden felt safe in pursuing the attacks on 9/11 because he sensed weakness in our resolve to fight back.
Ensuring that sensitive points in our national infrastructure are secure
is perhaps the most peaceful method in which we can combat terrorism.
It is reactive and not preemptive; it protects us without harming innocent