Quite a few people responded to last week’s column about whether the airport screening program is a good utilization of resources in fighting against terrorist acts.
As you who read the column will recall, I questioned whether, for example, taking off our shoes to board an airplane and other similar measures are worth the cost in both money spent and time wasted.
This is a particularly important question because any even semi-intelligent terrorist could, without too much difficulty, come up with many other ways to bring down a civilian airplane.
Here is one of the responses I received to that part of the column, which I will quote verbatim so that you can consider what the writer said first hand: “In response to your article (I work in airport operations at an international airport), it is all what we call ‘eye candy’ to make the public feel safer. Internally, we’ve said for years that if someone really wants to get an aircraft, they can. The checkpoints are not going to stop them.
“It’s like having locks on your front door. As a judge you know that’s only to keep the honest people out.
“The TSA has not made us any safer than the security companies before 9/11. They fail just as many tests, and have almost the same amount of turnover among personnel. They have created a whole lot of high paying jobs for some people.
“They don’t try to hire the best qualified personnel available, they restrict most jobs to people who are already in the agency (and who is going to take the low paying screener jobs to start with?).
“The TSA is just another bloated government agency. It’s kind of like watching Barney Fife (fumbling for his bullet) guarding the front door.
“Anyway, what you wrote is correct ... just wish more people would listen. But maybe this is what most people want, they don’t want to know the truth ... just give them the appearance of being more safe.”
Instead of spending so much money on the airport screening programs, last week’s column suggested that the two most effective ways of combating terrorism, in addition to a strong military, are effective intelligence and undercover activities, and using our insights to anticipate and protect society’s most vulnerable areas.
Another letter took me to task about the narrowness of those two suggested remedies, saying that, “Your supposed ‘solution’ is exactly what the U.S. is doing, it’s just not that easy! Also, I’m disappointed you seem so clueless about the REAL issues at hand fueling hatred of America: our meddling with foreign nations to control markets like oil, and our support of non-democratic nations like Saudi Arabia. The only enduring way to end the threats and hatred will be to support foreign education, infrastructure and health — no strings attached. It’s our secret — and not so secret — foreign agendas that keep the hatred so strong — and justified!”
Actually I agree in large part with that letter.
In fact, the last three paragraphs of my column last week that addressed issues like this were omitted because of an editing error. They were as follows:
“And third, we should reduce the perceived reasons that persuade terrorists to act against us in the first place. This can be done by showing in both our public and private actions that the lives and welfare of people from all around the world, including Afghans and Iraqis, really are important to us. Greg Mortenson did this in his efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan as discussed in his book ‘Three Cups of Tea.’ This is a powerful force against terrorism, and we should all be familiar with his story.
“It is no accident that terrorists condemn us as ‘The great Satan,’ whom they define as wealthy people who are attempting in ‘Pied Piper’ fashion to mislead their youth into our immoral, unprincipled and hedonist lifestyle. So if we could continue to deal with people as people by encouraging students and travelers to come to our country to see us as we really are, and by refusing to allow our civil liberties and freedoms to be eroded in misguided attempts to ensure our safety along the way, we will ultimately be successful in bringing about the peace that we all seek.
“Why is that the answer? Because the ultimate truth is that life is better here in the West, where we still have our freedoms, a less regulated economy, and equality for all people in their pursuit of happiness. And the more that people around the world are aware of that fundamental truth, the safer we all will be.”
To add to these thoughts, this past week I happened to hear Rush Limbaugh say on his radio program that President Obama (whom I did not vote for) continues to apologize for things our country has done over the years, and that he should “Stop apologizing for America!”
I disagree with that way of thinking. Years ago, young Anne Frank in her autobiography said something that will live with me forever.
She said that “A Quiet Conscience Makes One Strong,” and she is right. My wonderful parents taught me that if I made a mistake I should own up to it.
I have tried to invoke my quiet conscience and offer an apology in those situations, and our country should do the same thing.
Over the years our government has undisputedly done some things that are richly deserving of apologies, such as our policies of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the 40-year syphilis experiment in Tuskegee, Ala., that was conducted on 399 African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and even the so-called war on drugs.
So it takes a country with a quiet conscience to own up to its misdeeds and tender an apology.
Appropriate and heartfelt apologies not only help both the mistaken parties as well as the recipient victims to feel better and be more able to get along with their lives, they also have other positive effects.
For example, I read that once a medical malpractice insurance company actually encouraged its insured doctors to apologize to their patients when the doctors made mistakes, and that those apologies actually resulted in a sizable reduction of claims filed in court for medical malpractice.
So it is OK — and even patriotic — to employ a quiet conscience to think and talk about things like the effectiveness of airport screening and various other government programs. And it is also OK, patriotic and even desirable for people and governments to apologize for their mistakes when appropriate.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at email@example.com or via his website at www.judgejimgray.com .