Airline Security: A Metaphor of Cultural Passivity

Turks pinged me this shocking – though, not-really-shocking story about the farce of airline security called The Things He Carried:

Airport security in America is a sham—“security theater” designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists. Smart ones can get through security with fake boarding passes and all manner of prohibited items—as our correspondent did with ease.

Full Article

Yeah…great!

This reminded me of a great post 9-11 piece by Mark Steyn called “The High Cost of Cultural Passivity” where he draws some striking comparisons (Emphasis mine): 

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It’s not a left/right thing, but something broader that speaks very poorly for our culture. The airline cabin is the most advanced model of the modern social-democratic state, the rarefied version of trends that, on the ground, progress more slowly. There is no smoking. There is 100% gun control. You are obliged by law to do everything the cabin crew tell you to do. If the stewardess is rude to you, tough. If you’re rude to her, there’ll be officers waiting to arrest you when you land. The justification for all this is a familiar one — that in return for surrendering individual liberties, we’ll all be collectively better off. That was the deal: Do as you’re told, and the FAA will look after you.

On Tuesday morning, they failed spectacularly to honour their end of the bargain — as I’m sure the terrorists knew they would. By all accounts, they travelled widely during the long preparations for their mission, and they must have seen that an airline cabin is the one place where, thanks to the FAA, you can virtually guarantee you’ll meet no resistance. Indeed, in their FAA-mandated coerciveness the average coach-class cabin is the nearest the Western world gets to the condition of those terrorists’ home states. We’ve all experienced those bad weather delays where you’re stuck on the runway behind 60 other planes waiting to take off and some guy says, “Hey, we’ve been in here a couple of hours now. Any chance of a Diet Coke?”, and the stewardess says he’ll have to wait, and the guy’s cranky enough to start complaining. And one part of you thinks, “Yeah, I’m pretty thirsty, too”, but the rest of you, the experienced traveller, goes, c’mon, sit down, pal, quit whining, don’t make a fuss, they’ll only delay us even more.

And so, on those Boston flights, everyone followed FAA guidelines: the cabin crew, the pilots, the passengers. There were four or five fellows with knives or box-cutters, outnumbered more than ten to one. If they’d tried to hold up that many people in a parking lot, they’d have been beaten to a pulp. But up in the air everyone swallowed the FAA’s assurance: Go along with them, be co-operative, the Feds know how to handle these things. I’m sure there were men and women in those seats thinking, well, there’s not very many of them and they don’t have any real weapons, maybe if some of us were to … But by the time they realized they were beyond the protection of the FAA it was too late.

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…we do know a lot of what happened on that fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93. Thomas Burnett, Jeremy Glick, Mark Bingham and perhaps others phoned their families to tell them they loved them and to say goodbye. Then they rushed the hijackers. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, not at Camp David or the White House. Jeremy Glick knew he would never see his three-month-old daughter again, but he also understood that he could play a small part in preserving a world for her to grow up in. By being willing to sacrifice themselves, Mr. Glick and his comrades saved thousands, perhaps including even the Vice-President and other senior officials. They took, in a word, responsibility.

Could you or I do that? This will be a long, messy, bloody war, in which civilians — salesmen, waitresses, accountants, Canadian tourists — are in the front line. America will need more Jeremy Glicks, and not just in the air. What Dave Kopel, in a brilliant column for National Review, calls the “culture of passivity” is spread very wide throughout the West – the belief that government knows best and that citizens have sub-contracted out their responsibilities to protect and defend their liberty. The question of whether America and its allies have the will to wage this war depends, in large part, on our ability to resist that “culture of passivity.”

We know now that the government wasn’t up there over upstate New York when Flight 11 doglegged and began homing in on Manhattan. We know, too, that when you’re facing terrorists willing to kill and die that the decisive moments are the first — the few minutes before they’ve established control or killed their first stewardess. So the next time it happens, we can follow FAA guidelines — or we can say screw ‘em and their worthless assurances, and rush forward to overpower the fanatics, even if the FAA has seen to it we’ve nothing to charge them with except the rubber chicken.

If you want a name for it, try the “Minutemen” — the men of the Revolutionary War who were pledged to take the field at a minute’s notice. In this new war, we are all called upon to be Minutemen.

The heroism of the passengers of Flight 93 deserves America’s highest honours. And, instead of indulging in gestures like confiscating plastic knives, the government should summon up the will to match their courage.

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