Our nation has made extraordinary progress over Winter Break, best exemplified by how the fight attendants and passengers of American Airlines Flight 63 dealt with Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber,” on December 22 by “forcibly” preventing him from igniting his plastic explosive shoes, a threat significantly more substantial than the pen knives, scissors, and toenail clippers passengers currently are not allowed to carry onboard planes. It is highly probable that Reid’s terrorist attempt was thwarted because everyone is more vigilant since September 11 and always on the lookout for evildoers.
The authorities on the home front are equally vigilant. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told CNN, “Every single day since September 11, we’ve made ourselves safer, stronger and more secure.” He also said quite bluntly that when al-Qaida and Bin Laden have gone the way of the dodo, America can still expect our newfound heightened security sense to be a “permanent part of our environment,” equating it to the war on crime and drugs. That’s great. We know how successful the war on crime and drugs has been.
This new era of security/paranoia is only getting more intense. The Times-Picayune out of New Orleans recently reported an enormous fear that the Green Bay Packers might get into the Super Bowl. Why?
The Super Bowl is a “Special Security Event” for which plans to deal with everything from anthrax to SWAT deployment have been covered, but Cheeseheads are a special problem all to themselves. All sorts of terrorist devices could fit inside those innocent hats, including but not limited to plastic explosives, grenades, millions of fleas outfitted with the latest strain of plague, and even stereos equipped with never before released William Shatner songs. Cheesehead hats will most likely be banned from the Super Bowl, as well as foam rubber “#1 mega-hands” and other fan favorites. When asked how fans could deal with such limitations, the New Orleans Police Department said fans would have to “just pretend.”
That sounds grand. Let’s put other things on our pretend list while we’re at it. The anthrax scare is a foreign, not domestic terrorist problem. “Troubled young men” like Charles Bishop will never unpredictably fly airplanes into buildings. Parents of young hockey players will never beat coaches to death. Men with penknives can realistically hijack a plane now days, regardless of the demonstration we saw on Flight 63. We can screen our immigrants to the point of a fascist communist dictatorship, turning folks away due to their religious beliefs alone, and all our terrorists will disappear. I like this fantasy world.
Everything on our pretend list would have happened with or without a paranoid Home Security Branch. I’m not advocating that we do away with all of our home security nor our vigilance-I’m certainly glad vigilant people stopped a tragedy on Flight 63. But I’m also scared of where this vigilance might be headed. If Cheeseheads can’t watch their team play without sacrificing their “Cheesehood,” how many other freedoms must we sacrifice before losing our freedom entirely, for tragic events that likely can’t be prevented on any heightened security level?
Thomas Jefferson was right when he said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Let us not, however, forget Ben Franklin’s words as well: “Those that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Ken Hamner is a cynical graduate student.