Politics: Exploring the airline security myth

Mac LeBuhn

“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.”

George Bush spoke these words in his address to the nation Sept. 11 just hours after the attacks. For as long ago as it now seems, I remember there was integrity to those words: We, as a nation, were ready to stand together and respond to a terrorist attack. The American attack on Afghanistan was such a response. It is a pity that such admirable counterterrorist responses have to be included alongside the collective idiocy known as airline security.

I found myself thinking about that as I moved through airport security last week. In the name of the war on terror, I found myself apologizing for forgetting to remove my toothpaste and shaving cream from my bag. Into the garbage they went, as did a potentially hazardous half-full water bottle.

My shoes were checked for gel inserts. My laptop went through the scanner twice-just in case. I was metal detector wanded by a bored federal employee to make sure I wasn’t carrying anything else on my person and then I went on my way, just a little lighter from my now absent toothpaste.

Is this the legacy of the war on terror? Will the response of a great people be a series of half-measures and psychological pacifiers to foster the belief that travel is safe?The relevance of these issues was highlighted by the attempted Christmas bombing and the new proposals for full-body scanners at airports. A reasonable person cannot really believe proposals like these or, say, the prohibition of most liquids and gels will make air travel any safer.

For as unsettling as it may be to think about. an al-Qaeda operative infiltrated an American military base in Khost, Afghanistan and detonated a bomb that killed seven CIA agents less than two weeks ago. The sophistication required for that attack far outweighed what it would take to breach the security of the Duluth International Airport, no matter how many new rules TSA announces.

Given that many of the security measures presently implemented will do little to deter sophisticated terrorist attacks, it becomes evident that these security measures are in place for another reason, perhaps to comfort Americans that the specter of terrorism will not touch them. If that’s the real reason most airline security exists, it amounts to a victory for the terrorists, for what else are these humiliating and largely impotent security measures but an admission of fear?

Our nation is a nation at war, no matter how many rules and regulations we enact between the checking counter and the door of the airline. Rather than willingly giving up the liberties we supposed so cherish, we should respond to terrorism as a great people should, not as a group of cowed sheep all too willing to accept airline security. It is simply a great collective inconvenience and of a façade of a security that does not exist and will not exist until we can decisively claim victory.