Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is bin Laden still winning?

I spent most of last month traveling in the South and Northeast, which explains the lack of posts recently, but also prompted this one.

While at an airport in Boston, I experienced the infamous full body scanners. I was not a fan -- probably because I accidentally left a quarter in my pocket, which won me the prize of a figurative and literal groping of my coin purse.

As I sat on the plane on my way back home, I wouldn't say that I felt violated, but I didn't feel any safer.

Before I had even arrived in Boston, I spent several days in New York. While there I took the subway most everywhere I couldn't walk. Also, to save money I decided to take a train to from New York to Boston rather than fly. Once in Boston, I walked most places, but used the train and transit bus system for longer trips.

At no point on either the subway, the bus or the commuter train was I or my belongings inspected. The most I ever needed was a ticket and a drivers license. If someone had the desire, he or she could easily blow any of those transit cars to hell and back.

I'm not saying I want all travel to be like it is in airports or that I want to blow anything up (talking to you government employee who reads every blog), but it did get me thinking about how selective we are in our screening. Airport travel is a bitch because of 9/11 -- or more of a bitch now anyway -- but that's a seemingly random selection.

Many people fear flying naturally, but bin Laden enhanced that fear and scarred our collective memory. But then again, that was the point.

Terrorism, as defined by the American Heritage dictionary, is "the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence to intimidate or coerce societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons."

Some people might say that bin Laden's actions failed, that his death marks a victory and that we were not coerced, because as every action movie buff knows, we don't negotiate with terrorists.

I, on the other hand, could care less about negotiating with terrorists. I'm more concerned about how we negotiated with ourselves.

Freedom and security exist in an inversely proportional relationship. As we increase one, we sacrifice from the other. Maintaining that balance is tricky, but we've swung too far in favor of security following 9/11. Hell, even the fact that "post-9/11 America" is a commonly used phrase speaks to some kind of change anyway.

Think of the costs in money, liberty and lives that came from two botched wars, the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, Gitmo, etc. And still we aren't safe -- and never will be. There are too many contingencies and dangers we simply can't prevent without sacrificing the very ideals that make us who we are.

I'm not arguing for a security free-for-all. All I'm saying is that without liberty, it's the pursuit happiness in this life may not be worth it. Also, taking off our fucking shoes before we board a plane doesn't make us safer, it just makes us look stupid.