I was there, you know. September 11, 2001, running from the office to Foggy Bottom with my future best man to make sure his then-girlfriend was OK after reports of a car bomb at the State Department (which turned out to be false). I knew that things were going to change in air travel – that was obvious. And when I flew to Alabama on a one-way ticket the following month to collect my own girlfriend, I got pretty much what I expected, which was fine – I figured naturally it’s going to be pretty ragged at first, but they’ll figure it out pretty soon.
I never expected that we’d go nine years without anyone figuring it out.
The amazing thing is how reactive everything has been, and how permanent the reaction. The abortive shoe-bombing attempt led to all shoes on the belt. The alleged liquid-bomber plot led to the 3-ounce rule and everything in a baggie and don’t bring your Coke through. And years on, we’re still doing that, despite the fact nobody else in the world does this shit. And now we have the much-debated “nudity machine”, which is one of two mandatory options – the other being the kind of roughing-up somewhere between second and third base that some of us would have killed to grasp at on prom night. And nobody else does that shit. Not Britain, not Israel, not places with a lot more experience of terror.
I honestly expected we’d get a ground-up reorganization of the entire way we look at airline security. Instead, we got exactly what we had before, with an extra layer added every time somebody pulled something. So now we have the computer out of the bag, the shoes on the belt, the jacket off, the liquids in tiny little bottles in their own bag, and now a little pirouette and maybe a bump-and-grind for the wage-slave behind the screen…because when you get right down to it, it’s still September 12. Everyone has carried on in the full flush of panic, when we had no idea what we were up against and for how long, and nobody has rethought our circumstances to account for the fact that we are not, in fact, fighting a vast secret army of superhumans.
This year, something’s going to have to give. Too much of our security policy has been driven by the absolutist ravings of square-state plushbutt yahoos who insist that we have to do everything in our power to stop the terrorists because that’s what the guy on Fox said, and if we don’t, we’ll all be destroyed, so quit your whining because lives are at stake. You know…September 12. It was the right response on September 12, 2001, but things may have changed a little in nine years. And now, a lot of amateur travelers are really going to get up close and personal with what it means to encounter the full force of an absolutist approach to airline security – and even if they don’t flip out in rage that somebody would dare inspect them, a white person, they’re at least going to come away with the thought that “there’s got to be a better approach to this.”
And there is. It’s called starting with a clean sheet – if we were to design how security is done in a post-September-11 world, based on the kind of attacks and plots we’ve seen, how would we do things? Other than, you know, doing the same thing we did before and then just slapping on an extra step every time we hear of something scary. It’s going to involve a lot of analysis, a lot of consultation, a lot of talking to people who have done this sort of thing before. You know, a lot of rational thinking.
And if there’s one thing we as a nation have completely forgotten how to do in the last decade, it’s think rationally.