An unpleasant myth is taking root in the American folklore regarding the Al-Qaeda attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. The hearings last week of the 9/11 Commission only enhanced the growth of this myth – that no one could have prevented the attacks. The word “lie” suggests a willful distortion, and so I will use the word “untruth” instead. The attacks need not have happened.
Putting aside blame for a moment, there were terrorists in the US who were planning to hijack aircraft and fly them as guided missiles into targets of their own choosing. None of these is a new development. Instead, we were asleep at the wheel as a nation.
Terrorism in the US is old hat. The World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. Tim McVeigh killed almost 200 people with a truck bomb in Oklahoma City years before 9/11/01. Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army occurred years before that. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris count in my book. In short, we knew the terrorists were here because they have been committing acts of terror for ages.
Terrorists hijacking aircraft goes back decades, peaking in the late 1960s. It may come as a shock, but those born before the Nixon years can recall a time when getting on a plane did not require a security check. You could even walk out on the tarmac to see your grandma off. Then, too many planes wound up on an unscheduled detour to Cuba – the result was metal detectors. Later, came the stupid questions about one’s baggage.
Flying airplanes as guided missiles is not new either – the word “Kamikaze” came into the American dictionary in the 1940s.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, and if the investigations result in a more secure nation with a better organized intelligence community, that will all be to the good. However, imagine how different recent history would be if someone at the airports had spoken this simple sentence, “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t let you on the plane with that box cutter.”
What I’m getting at is the overall lack of vigilance that every US resident needs to carry around each and every day. That is not the same as fear, but rather, it is paying attention. It doesn’t matter if you find yourself in Times Square, the Pentagon or a strip mall in small town America. We’ve been too soft for too long about things that don’t look right. If your neighbor leaves his briefcase in your car after he gets a ride home, it’s no big deal. A briefcase by itself in a hotel lobby or on a train is a potential problem, and it’s OK to make a fool out of yourself in getting the bomb squad out.
There is no doubt in my mind that the enemy will try again if they can – we can’t leave this to the FBI, the CIA, the military, or the local police. We are all on the front lines, and we don’t have any choice about it. There are two major political conventions and a presidential election coming up – but if all 265 million of us are paying attention, we’ll be fine.