2001-12-29 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

This is the time of the year that I usually do my "Diamond or Coal," column, pointing out the winners and losers in Rockaway in the past year. This, however, is not the year to do such a column. There were too many locals who lost their lives, their fortunes, their relatives and their best friends in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and in the crash of Flight 587 just two months later.

Instead, it is a time for reflection about life in general and Rockaway in particular.

Life is short and then you die! That is the main lesson to be learned from 2001. Upwards of seventy Rockaway residents died in the cowardly attack on the World Trade Center. Most of them were young, the cream of the peninsula’s crop. Five more died in the Crash of 587.

That young people die is nothing new. They die each year in car accidents, from crime, from sickness, even, sometimes, at their own hand. That so many died at one time at the hands of a madman who cowers in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan makes no sense unless the world is crazy.

That a group of men would use airliners as weapons of mass destruction makes no sense in a sane world.

That a lone madman would send out letters laced with Anthrax in order to kill thousands of his countrymen makes no sense in a sane world.

That a man would pack his sneakers with enough explosive to take out a plane and then try to light the explosives off on a crowded airliner makes no sense in a sane world.

That two Semitic peoples would wage a 50-year-long war to eradicate each other when they come from the same ancestor makes no sense in a sane world.

That two nations linked by their blood and common history would try and bomb each other out of existence makes no sense in a sane world.

Since each of those things happened in 2001, we have to understand that this is no longer a sane and rational world.

There was a time when a person was reasonably safe if he or stayed out of certain areas and minded his or her own business. That is no longer true. Thousands of people who were at work, minding their own business are now dead, simply because they were Americans.

Unfortunately, many Americans are still acting under the delusion that the world is rational and that they can find rational solutions to such things as a man packing his shoes with explosives and bringing down an airliner.

That is a little like the scientist in one of my favorite movies, "The Thing." In that movie, the alien monster, made out of some kind of vegetable material, is moving towards the Air Force crew, which is waiting to electrocute it. The scientist runs out towards the alien, saying, "don’t kill it. We have lots to learn from it. I can talk to it." The monster kills the scientist and then the Air Force crew kills it, saving the world.

No doubt that the scientist believed that he could deal rationally with the monster. He found out the hard way that he could not.

Realistically, the only way to deal with monsters is to wipe them out, whether in the movies or in real life.

Richard C. Reid, the man who packed his shoes with explosives, fit the profile that security would have been using had they been allowed to use a profile to pick out possible terrorists.

To my mind, he looked Middle Eastern; even though the latest intelligence is that his mother is White and his father is Jamaican. I guess that it is a matter of perception. He was young. He was traveling alone. He had no baggage. He looked to the other passengers "to have a blank stare," and "to be on something."

True, he was flying from France, but the outcome would have been no different had he been flying out of Logan or JFK.

Had he tried to board at any American airport, he would have been passed through because, though he fit the profile, it is not politically correct to use profiles to stop and search people.

He would have been passed through, and, had it not been for the flight attendant who challenged him and the other passengers who subdued him, he might have taken the plane down.

Is it rational that we should allow such a man to board a plane without being vetted?

Is it rational that we stand by and allow blow after blow without acting in our own defense?

What is less rational than allowing such a person to get on a plane without being checked in the first place?

Have we become so politically correct that we can no longer defend ourselves from the vagaries and the crazies of the world?

That is the question that America needs to answer and answer quickly.

I do not think that every Middle Eastern man needs to be stopped and searched before he can get on a plane. I do think, however, that given the fact that this is no longer a rational world, that we do need to check those who fit the terrorist profile.

If 7 out of 10 left-handed man under the age of 20, for example, were known to carry a very communicable disease, would you not then check every left-handed man under the age of 20 for this disease prior to allowing him to travel on public transportation? Of course you would. Is that "profiling?" Of course it is.

It is also a rational way of dealing with the threat.

We clearly cannot deal with the monster by talking with it. Nor, can we deal with the monster by trying to be rational. This has become an irrational world and we have to learn to deal with it in irrational ways or we will not be around to deal with it at all.


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