Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Let's Roll"

The passenger takeover of United Flight 93 is the most moving act of heroism in American history. Having discovered that their hijackers’ plan was to use the plane as a missile, the passengers resolved to risk life and limb to retake control of the plane. As a result, they forced the plane to crash into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, rather than its presumed target, the United States Capitol.

As inspiring as their self-sacrifice was, and remains, it seems to me we are ignoring its true lesson: this kind of hijacking will never work again.  We know this because it stopped working that morning.  Recall that because of then-existing airport security measures, the 9/11 hijackers had to hijack the planes with meager weapons such as box cutters and mace. The reason this worked was: (1) the crew and passengers believed that the hijackers were returning to the airport to seek some kind of ransom; and (2) the hijackers were able to gain access to the cockpits, which were not secured.

Never again will American passengers and crew accept a hostile takeover of an airplane with box cutters and mace. In fact, it's unlikely that any American airplane will ever be hijacked again, even with a bomb, unless the hijackers can succeed in killing or subduing the vast majority of crew and passengers and find some way to get through the now-reinforced cockpit doors.  The worst thing that can happen now, if airport security were to fail, is that terrorists could blow up a plane.  That would be a tragedy, but not a disaster.

But isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Absolutely not. If it were, we would never leave the house. We certainly wouldn’t drive. And it would be absolutely crazy to imprison ourselves for hours in steel flying contraptions.

There is a safe-versus-sorry balance to make.  And when it comes to airport security, we are so far over the line into “safe” that it’s sorry.  As just one example, our airport security professionals are now searching vaginas – perhaps looking for liquids?

We should honor the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93 by using our heads and being smart about the tradeoffs we must make between security and liberty.  By failing to learn the lesson that they taught us, we make a mockery of their sacrifice.

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