Are Americans a bunch of weenies? Yup!

So I’m watching all the hubub over this Detroit Christmas terrorism bombing thing, and I see this commentary by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post asking, really, how can this be?

Her commentary is here (click!) and it’s reasonably good, except she gets to the bottom and seems concerned that this wing-nut, this incompetent, slipped  through all our traps and how can this be? It’s insulting, as if he’s not good enough to beat us.

I sent Ruth a letter with some thoughts. It went thusly:

Ms. Marcus,

I like your columns because you seem to be one of the brighter lights at the WaPost, but this column bothers me.

You ask, over and over, how it can be this most recent incident on an airplane can happen. That’s a rather shallow question from someone who, I think, should know the ways of bureaucracy better than most.

We’re not fighting a bureaucracy in this alleged war on Terrorism. We’re fighting irrational people who do not do as they are expected, do not follow rules, do not obey probability analysis, do not do anything that bureaucracies are designed to seek out.

Bureaucracies are, of their nature, inflexible, prone to habit, prone to inertia, prone to missing the allegedly obvious. They demand  probability, seek out rules, look for the expected. The question your column should have asked is “Why are we worried about this? How can it be that we expect perfection from a bureaucratic response to terrorism?”

The answer is, of course, that we cannot. We’re going to take some hits. In a war — Veep Cheney insists! — you take hits, you absorb them, you keep going. The United States of America, 303 million people and multiple dozens of trillions of net worth, is not going to rise or fall based on what happens to one airplane containing a couple hundred civilians. In Vietnam we lost several hundred soldiers a week, in World War II we lost several thousand a week. We lost whole battleships.

Somehow, people managed to not demand Congressional investigations or freak out or accuse the president of being a screw-up.

All armor has chinks, so don’t freak out over one small penetration that was inevitable.  Don’t demand perfection. To do so is to waste resources seeking the impossible. After all, despite having 12 million men under arms and spending billions of dollars on thousands of ships, planes and all the rest, Germany managed to land several spies on the US mainland who operated for several days or even weeks until captured. Since 9-11 we’ve spent $45 billion or so on new security, and some nut with dirty underwear slipped through.

Another $45 billion isn’t going to fix that, and like the spies in World War II,  he failed anyway.

Charles Trentelman
Ogden, Utah

In addition to that, I wonder: Why it is Americans are so afraid of these guys? The so-called war had massive support when we started it, and supposedly half of us, or something like that, still support the war. So what makes me wonder is, in a war we supposedly support, why are Americans so afraid of a little risk that one person like this can threaten the entire airline industry?

Because that’s really what’s at the bottom of all the airport security stuff: Protect the airline industry from fear. The people who run the country think — are they right? — that Americans simply will not accept risk. At the slightest chance of something bad happening to a one of multiple thousands of flights in the air at any given time, and the tiny chance that they will be on that flight, Americans will all stay home and the American economy will crash.

That’s what’s sad: They are right. Americans, without the security blanket of airport security that supposedly absolutely guarantees them a safe trip, will stay home. They don’t want taxes to pay for the war, they don’t want fear, they just want to be absolutely safe while they get where they’re going and don’t bother me with the details and don’t send me the bill either.

Hard to imagine these are the same people who set out, 150 years ago or so, to settle the west knowing full well that some of them would have their hair end up decorating an Indian lodge. Then it was absolutely guaranteed that some of them would die, and yet they went.

Now, oh my! Danger! A 1 in 100,000 chance that something bad might, maybe happen! Quick, spend another $45 billion on airport security!!!

Meanwhile, does the enemy worry about danger? Does the enemy fear dying?  Ask yourself, in all of history, who wins wars, people afraid of everything, or people afraid of nothing?


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12 Responses to Are Americans a bunch of weenies? Yup!

  1. laytonian says:

    Careful Charles. Speaking the truth can be dangerous.

    Remember what happened to Bill Maher, when he made a statement very similar to your last paragraph.

    Oh, wait! Maher got his own show on HBO.
    Keep on speakin’ and HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

  2. Michael Trujillo says:

    Amen, Charles. I’m saddened by how easily frightened most Americans have become.

    You’re last sentence is right on.

  3. Jim Hutchins says:

    Odds of dying in an airborne terrorist attack: 1 in 10,000,000
    Odds of dying from a lightning strike: 1 in 500,000

    (Source: )

    Plain and simple, Americans (and to some extent, people in general) are not very good at distinguishing between very low probability events.

    Everything in life involves a tradeoff, a risk/benefit ratio. My family lives in Colorado; about once a month I board a plane rather than drive across Wyoming. The drive to the airport is many, many times more dangerous than the flight itself. (The ride on the FrontRunner may be, but it’s too early to tell, so I generally take the FrontRunner and bus.)

    We need to have these things hammered into our heads. Unfortunately, there are those in the media (particularly television, print, not so much) who make a living off of creating a climate of fear. The less I watch TV, the more calm I am.

  4. Jim Hutchins says:

    This morning’s Glenn Greenwald column is, I think, relevant:

  5. laytonian says:

    Jim, you’re right about that Glen Greenwald column.

    I’d like to add one more thing to Greenwald’s list: the star quality they desire. What do they want? An out-of-breath US President rushing in front of a TV camera, legitimizing their efforts. This underpants bomber is as close to a reality TV star as comes out of that part of the world.

    Shame on Dick Cheney for pouring gas on the flames, by blaming Obama for being \slow to react\ YET neglecting to mention that it took Bush three times longer to come out and discuss the shoe bomber case.

    Get the damned politics OUT of this.

    Instead of creating another layer of government (Homeland Security), why don’t we totally reform ALL of our intelligence and law enforcement bureaus? We have several of each, stepping on each other’s toes….and still arguing.

    Why do I have to enter that ugly little code every time I want to post, even though I’m supposedly logged in? Windows Vista.

  6. ctrentelman says:

    mr greenwald makes the excellent point down at the end there that Americans seem surprised that we send our armies off to war, to do death and destruction, and the people in the countries we go to actually have the incredible nerve to fight back! How dare they!

    So we’re not only weenies, we’re clueless.

    the code, which i have to type in even when I’m logged in under an administrator setting, is to stop auto postings. It cuts down on the porn ads, I guess. Sorry, but we all gotta do it.

  7. flatlander100 says:

    In re: Greenwald’s point about people we are attacking actually fighting back. Molly Ivans [lord how I miss her!] made the same point this way. She said “it’s hard to convince people that killing them is in their own best interests.”

  8. laytonian says:

    Re: the code

    Thanks, Charflie. I knew what it was for…but it’s just especially annoying today since I’m trying to type with two fingers in band-aids (and last time, it took four tries to get the captcha right).

    I see it’s “crabby of” this time. You did that for me, didn’t ya?

  9. Jim Hutchins says:

    Remember the story that two of the four terrorists that were released from Guantanamo to do “art therapy” were involved in training the failed crotch bomber?

    Only 50% right.

    Retraction here:

  10. Jim Hutchins says:

    Oh, and 58% of us think that torturing the failed crotch bomber is a good idea. To what end, I’m not certain. Maybe he will tell us what happened to Jimmy Hoffa or whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, if we torture him enough.

  11. ctrentelman says:

    torture him enough and he’ll tell us who was on the grassy knoll, where judge crater is and who’s sleeping with Amelia Erhart. That well-known expert on torture, Sen. John McCain, says people being tortured will say anything to make it stop, eventually.

  12. sandyshoes says:

    I used to work at Hill AFB. I discovered during Desert Storm what wimps the wives were. Women were stalwart, in general, during WWII. Now they fall apart and whine for help,etc. when their soldiers are gone. The Prozac went out like aspirin. I was in Florida when the shoe guy lit his matches. Between that and massive snow in the south that year, the airports were mass hysteria. No one has suggested why this latest bomb didn’t work…any one taking bets that the bomber wet his pants? Cotman will be out of his mind now. Airports are ordering more body scanners and someone is going to see him! As if the person in the other room knows his name. I heard an interview with our previous head of Homeland Security. He was the one that ordered the scanners originally and now is working for the company. I wonder how long he waited before his job began?

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