I’m standing here almost naked at San Francisco Airport security two years from now, trying to check in for a flight to New York. Two TSA staffers have got a Michael Chertoff Special in their hands, trying in the most painful way to explore those hidden places in my body where someone might hide explosives. Once more, I’m thinking that if this gets too much worse, I might just stop flying.
Think back to the glorious days of yesteryear in air travel. You could arrive at the airport fifteen minutes before departure time, run from curb to gate and hand your boarding pass to the attendant as you took a flying leap onto the departing aircraft. All that splendid efficiency is now gone. Air travel, like life in the industrial towns of 19th century England, has devolved into something two-thirds Hobbesian: nasty and brutish. The short part, unfortunately, has fallen by the wayside.
The hijackers of 9-11 not only blew up the WTC and killed 3000 people. They also ended travel as we knew it. TSA, like a giant wet blanket, settled over the air travel system and smothered it. We all became suspects, and the process of flying began top resemble a mass induction into prison. We watched in horror as nice old ladies were being felt up. Young mothers handed off their infants to strangers as each passed through x-rays. It couldn’t get worse than this.
But it did. Richard Reed and his pals came up with the notion of putting explosives in a hollowed out heel. Suddenly millions of people needed to wander around airports shoeless as they passed through security. Underwire bras were suddenly suspect. Infants were now so irradiated they stopped spoiling — but they did glow in the dark. It couldn’t get worse.
But it did. Several plots were uncovered to blow up a whole raft of aircraft simultaneously over the Atlantic using chemicals that in shaky theory, could be mixed in the aircraft’s bathroom during flight. Despite the fact that explosives experts said it would take three hours to mix the chemicals and even then they would not work, the entire world was now prohibited from carrying more than three ounces of liquid of any kind onboard. Gone was everyone’s mouthwash, shampoo, conditioner, and booze. We became a nation of sober, unkempt, stinkers. Travel had descended to something that would have inspired Dante, if he had lived to see it, to add a tenth circle to Hell. And his famed warning soon became the watchword to every traveler as they approached the Gates of Hellport: Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.
Surely it could not get worse. But then along comes Umar of the White Raisins (I’m not going to look up his real name and I would suggest you shouldn’t either. Who cares what his name is? Why add to his celebrity?) So along comes Umar carrying something special in his underpants. If his efforts weren’t for real it would be hysterically sad. The day after Christmas I seriously considered shorting my Jockey underwear stock in the simple hope of gaining a modicum of fame for being the first to short shorts. But I knew one thing for sure, air travel was about to get one little more step of degradation worse.
I’ve listened to Janet Napolitano, President Obama, and too many talking heads all agreeing that we urgently needed to close some more loopholes to make sure no one with explosives in their pants can ever get through security again. Well endowed men will get closer examination. Tiger Woods will thank his lucky stars he doesn’t fly commercial.
We can’t go on like this.
What’s really going on is that the terrorists are engaged in a war of escalation, while the West is engaged in a war of containment and defense. For little cost the terrorists send a guy out with some explosives hidden somewhere new (first a heel, then underpants, next a body cavity, then eyeglasses, then a baby) and we react by spending more billions on new machines, waste hundreds of millions of hours putting little old ladies from St. Louis through some wretched new humiliating process. With every new act, the terrorists automatically win, because our quality of life gets worse and our commerce, which requires easy travel to flourish, suffers.
We need to bow out of this escalation war. We can’t win it. But we can surely wreck our world by slowly losing it. The question is — how to get out of the war?
Imagine this scenario. We take down our conveyor belts, the X-ray machines, our blow machines, our body scanning machines. We announce to the world that we can detect explosives with only a single molecule (which we can in many instances.) We start relying on profiling, don’t announce how we’re doing it, and simply start to act smart. We take the billions we’re currently wasting and spend it on smarter security forces. When we catch a lunatic with something wicked up his derriere, we say nothing. And I mean nothing. Those schemers back in their caves will be reading the police blotters from Elkhart, Indiana wondering what the hell ever happened to Omar. Meanwhile, Omar gets tried, convicted for life, and disappears. The terrorists get no publicity. It takes two to play a war of escalation. We just need to get off the escalator.
What if a terrorist gets through? They’re as likely to either way. In the war of escalation, when a terrorist gets through, they kill a lot of people and the West spends billions escalating. If a terrorist gets through after we’ve quit the war of escalation, we still go after the bad guys in the same way, but we don’t escalate our defense in any way they can see. We appear to ignore them as we would ignore a child throwing a tantrum. Terror only works when there’s someone to terrorize. When we stop being terrorized, there won’t be any more terrorists.