Tilting at Terrorists
The O Pine

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© 2001 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Anyone care for some boiled frog?
Congratulations are in order for the terrorists. For not only did they succeed in destroying two large office buildings, they've also struck fear in the heart of America.

Well. Sort of.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, the typical American isn't all that struck with fear. Oh sure, there are a few paranoids who won't get on an airplane, but we've always had them. The only difference now is that reporters actually talk to them as if they're suddenly legitimate. No, most Americans are pissed off: at the attack on our soil, at the loss of civilian lives, at the slowed economy from the chaos.

But by and large Americans are following the advice of the president -- we're living our normal lives -- whenever the government allows us to.

See, the real success of the terrorists has nothing to do with the American people and everything to do with the American government. The people may be a lot annoyed and a little worried, but the government is quivering in its boots. While they make a big show of a tidy little war halfway around the world where we fight from 30,000 feet and our allies fight on the ground, they paint an entirely different picture at home.

Office of Homeland Security.

Er, knock-knock, before you push that panic button, isn't anyone worried about how this new federal agency's concept of "homeland security" might conflict with the people's concept of "civil liberties"? Oh, right, I forgot, the polls say the American people are behind this all the way. 1,001 randomly selected people who would much rather be doing 1,001 things besides talking to an annoying telephone pollster agree that the president is "doing a good job". So the American people must be behind this all the way! Thank heavens our nation is in such good hands.

The trend of the federal government toward utter paranoia is all to clear, everywhere from the cancellation of White House tours to heightened security at all federal institutions (NIOSH a big terrorist target are they?). These sudden, inexplicable actions will provide fodder for conspiracy therorists for years, and it's hard to blame them.

Today, entering almost any federal building requires some form of identification and a specific reason for being there (the fact that we paid for the damn place is not sufficient reason -- much like a teenager not letting his parents into his room). This despite the fact that there have been no known terrorist attacks on any federal building after the airplane in the Pentagon (which a checkpoint is not likely to have prevented). If these safeguards were effective, then why weren't they put into place after the Oklahoma City bombing, where a federal building was actually attacked? What does the fact that we still haven't seen a repeat bombing -- despite a total lack of increased security until now -- tell us about the likelihood of these checkpoints ever doing any good? Can you say Big Fat Waste of Money?

Today, going to the airport is a tremendous ordeal, and probably a much bigger reason for the reduced flying than the terrorist attacks (attention lawmakers: when road fatalities spike next year, we'll be sure to thank your heightened airport security for it). And despite all the new security rules, crackpots still get through. Some normal people have brought forbidden weapons through just to prove how useless the new rules are! It is simply not possible to catch every goofball that crosses through the system. The problem here is the government's desperate attempt to prevent the unpreventable, when they would be far better served to strike a balance between basic safety and freedom of movement. Accept that sometimes people will try to hijack an airplane. Then allow the pilots to arm themselves so that no matter how sneaky the bad guys are (boxcutters?), potential hijackers will always be hopelessly outgunned on any civilian aircraft. The more they heighten security, the less people are going to be willing to travel. While this will make things easier for the government, this is not what a free society is for.

Today, if you want to mail a package that weighs more than a pound, your address label had better have the same zip code as the one nailed to the post office door. If it doesn't, then you'd better have a photo ID that matches the address label! If not, too bad! No shipping for you! All this, to prevent what? There have been no terrorist attacks that would have been stopped with these new rules. The one single postal criminal who might have been stymied by these new rules -- though it seems like an easy enough rule to circumvent, by forging the return address -- was the Unabomber, and we took no special precautions against him.

Here's a basic civics lesson for all bureaucrats who think more rules solve problems: any time you impose rules that are so easy to break that any criminal with two wiggling brain cells can work it out, you will prevent exactly zero crime and earn the contempt of the citizens, who will violate your rules just because they are annoying. Think about that the next time you jaywalk.

At times like this, the federal government needs our support more than ever. Likewise, however, the citizens need to see our government act responsibly and pursue real problems, not tilt at windmills. Where are we going with this new wave of restrictions? Will we like the company we keep when we get there?