The Bomber Always Gets Through

It took less than 24 hours after the London bombings last week for me to get so tired of Edward R. Murrow impersonations that I was ready to report the next violator to Gregg Easterbrook.  Then on Sunday I was listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewing Charles Wheeler, a BBC correspondent who lived through the Blitz, and I decided that we could learn something from the comparison after all:

Well, I was very young—I was about seventeen, eighteen—and to be honest with you, I quite enjoyed it.  It was exciting.  The main thing about it was we expected bombing; we’d been told for years that the bomber always gets through.

What was true for easily-identified Luftwaffe planes is as least as true for domestic terrorists, as the British population learned in the 1970s.  Andrew Sullivan waxed Churchillian in his praise of the British response to the recent attacks, but (perhaps it would sound flat coming on the heels of his annual Independence Day bathos) he stopped short of judging the British attitude toward terrorism superior to that of Americans.  Such restraint is polite but misplaced.

It has been nearly four years since 9/11, and the American government has shown much more interest in keeping its population in a state of paranoid narcissism than in instilling public resolve.  We’ve added two hours to everyone’s air travel time and confiscated a landfill of nail-clippers, even though it’s an open secret that baggage screeners are under-trained and over-worked.  We’ve declared open season on harassing, detaining, and extraordinarily rendering immigrants and foreign students, despite the fact that welcoming such pilgrims has always the best way to spread the modernity meme/virus that so threatens the jihadists.  We’ve made it politically feasible to discuss extra-Constitutional incarceration of U.S. citizens, as if this weren’t the gravest possible insult to every serviceman who gave his life defending "The Land of the Free."  And we’re conditioning ourselves to accept an ever greater level of militarization and fear-mongering in every area of our lives, even though it in no way decreases the likelihood of a terrorist attack.  This is not how you win a war.  It is, apparently, how you win elections.

At the end of this month, I’m taking my three-year-old son for a weekend trip from Seattle to Portland via Amtrak.  As an urban resident in the 21st century, I fully expect to observe plenty of unattended packages and suspicious behavior, but I do not expect to notify the authorities of anything more threatening than an unsanitary restroom.  I owe my son what we as a free society owe ourselves: the dignity to live our lives unbowed and unfettered by either the solipsistic fantasies of our enemies or the paternalistic bullying of our government.

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