Friday, November 19, 2010

Hands Off America

Alright, that does it.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have been willing to do their part for safety in the friendly skies. Indeed, citizens have generally been reasonable, even in the face of monumental unreasonableness, of the type only government can attain.

But now, it has gone too far. The Transportation Security Administration has begun offering air travelers an abominable, binary choice between nude, full-body x-ray scans and groin-grabbingly invasive “pat-downs.”

It is encouraging to read of danders rising all over the country, as people see this hideous overreach for what it is. It has occurred to me that this policy is in fact an elaborate prank, just to see if the nation still has any nerve at all. If, however, this federal initiative of naked pictures and government gropes is sincere, Americans’ response will determine their success or failure in the worldwide struggle with radical Islam.

Preposterous as it seems to suggest the war on terror will be won or lost in the trousers of America, what is at stake is nothing less than the character of the country. Has the Land of the Free reverted to such docility that its citizens will meekly let anyone in a uniform get to third base simply because those are the rules?

America has had a lot of rules in its time, some sinister and some asinine; segregation and prohibition come to mind, respectively. In each case, nonsensical or nasty regimes were overthrown when regular people, individually and en masse, said, “enough already.”

This is, or should be, such a time. A nation that will not tell airport apparatchiks to keep their claws out of their crotch cannot vanquish al-Qaeda.

Resistance to tyranny, petty or grand, is the spirit that created the country. If citizens cannot summon it now, even as twitchy, blue-gloved fingers creep below the equator, then America is simply living off the capital of previous generations as it whittles down to its inevitable demise.

One tires of those who shrug and say, “Go ahead and scan me – I have nothing to hide.” To them I’d respond, it isn’t about you and whether you can sell that look. Kids, families, or even just people who don’t share your ease with revealing their nakedness or watching their spouses do the same should not be subject to this insanity. Your comfort with your own body is admirable, whether well-founded or not, but if you suppose that your personal decisions should be good enough for the rest of the country, you are either a White House czar or you’ve simply missed the point.

The TSA and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have tried various tacks in responding to growing public outcry. Napolitano, in a USA Today column that reads like the copy of an automated complaint line, refers to this new system as “the evolution of our national security architecture.” Airport screeners who have received complaints from molested passengers have reportedly been parroting that, “The rules have always been the same.” Nice try, Charlie. I’m fairly certain we would have remembered that move, had you “always” been using it.

We are reminded, of course, that these enhanced techniques come in response to would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted Christmas Day attack in 2009. But Napolitano and her minions do not offer any counter to the argument that this new and invasive approach would not have stopped him.

And anyway, these are the same geniuses who responded to Abdulmutallab’s attempt by decreeing people couldn’t have books in their laps for the final hour of flights. What crack team gamed that one out? Besides the obvious incongruity – some guy stuffs explosives into his y-fronts so you can’t finish your chapter of Johnny Tremain until safely inside the terminal – what did they think would happen? That terrorists would seize planes using the complete works of Dickens? Perhaps Orwell would be more appropriate. To be sure, nothing cracks a cockpit door like Leon Uris.

But this is the way of bureaucrats. In lieu of doing the right thing, they must do something. The opportunity to stop Abdulmutallab came when his own father walked into the US Embassy in Nigeria and warned that the young man was a threat. For whatever reason – political correctness, overwork, under-interest – officials did nothing, so the first photos of your Disney vacation will be of you and your family without clothes.

There are, however, reasons for hope. Wednesday, November 24, which portends to be the busiest travel date of the year, has been declared “National Opt-Out Day” by grassroots organizers who are encouraging Americans to refuse to submit to full-body scans, thereby requiring TSA agents to perform pat-downs on all fliers. The prospects for this approach are unclear, but at least it’s something.

And that is what we need – people from all parts of the country finding ways to make their displeasure known. Moreover, folks must stick with it and keep up the pressure. Please do not get used to this nonsense. Stay outraged, America, and stay free.

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We Will Remember Them

Just what do we remember on Remembrance Day? Certainly, we recall that at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the armistice was reached to end The Great War, as World War One was known. All wars did not end with that consuming conflict, as had been hoped, and successive generations have stood against tyranny to preserve our freedom. In the words of British Major John Etty-Leal, “For your tomorrow, we gave our today.”

But what, exactly, comes to mind with almost a century of war and peace gone by?

Author and veteran George Orwell averred, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” That is true, so far as it goes, but many of those whom we honour on November 11 are neither rough nor men, and they stand guard for the best interests of their fellow human beings, regardless of faction. Western militaries in modern times are an amalgam of destructive power, engineering genius and humanitarian outreach unmatched in history.

Whether they carry a gun, or a tool kit, or a doctor’s bag, these are real people in unreal situations. And, in today’s all-volunteer force, they are there by choice.

Ray Wiss, a Canadian Forces doctor and author of A Line in the Sand about his tours in Afghanistan, says that it is not enough to “support our troops” in the parlance of some who are unsure about the cause. Go further, he instructs, and, “Support our mission.”

If you differ from the surrounding politics – for which civilians, not our military, are responsible – pick some portion of their mission you can support, and do so with strength and pride. Perhaps it is allowing girls to go to school, or protecting them from rape and mutilation. Maybe it is bringing medical care and supplies to people who have known only brutality and hardship. Or perhaps it is just the telling humanity of our military doctors that wounded enemies are given the same treatment as our own injured troops.

The Great Lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, opined, “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.” This bespeaks the monumental courage of those who face and return fire, but also the spirit of sacrifice evinced by those who sign up to serve. Most of us lack one or both of these towering qualities.

In honouring that spirit of sacrifice, we remember above all those who did not return, who died far from home in defense of the best things we know. As has been understood since the dawn of our culture, “Greater love hath no man than this – that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Although they answered a higher calling, these were people just as we are. Canadian Army surgeon and In Flanders Fields poet John McCrae captured this commonality by reminding us, “Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved, and were loved.”

And so, on November 11, consider that each name on a wall is a life that was lived. With a thankful heart for those who serve, and a thoughtful prayer for those who are lost, we heed the declaration of Laurence Binyon’s immortal verses: “We will remember them.”

Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.