Thursday, May 12, 2005

Risk: Deal With It

All in all, today's happenings in Washington went off well. It seemed to me that a good job was done by security personnel and that this served as an left-handed drill for a more serious situation. Luckily, it turned out that it was a lost pilot and all is forgiven.

If you are not sure what I'm talking about or were loaded or in a coma today, read the story in the Washington Post.

Two things, however, stuck with me out of today's ordeal, brought to you in vivid color by the twenty-four hour news cycle. First, we still seem to think that there could be a better way to do everything related to national security. Jets were scrambled, but not fast enough. People were evacuated, but not quick enough. The threat was not neutralized, but not before it could have turned ugly. Security is an ever-changing and flexible notion, especially in a post 9/11 world. In responding to an asymmetrical attack on American soil, there are plans in place and it seems that they were followed as well as could be expected today. The problem that I have is that some people still seem to think that all risk of dying in an attack or incident can be eliminated if we just work hard enough. This is just not possible. It bears repeating that the world is a dangerous place. People around the globe have lived with fears like this for years. It seems that we were roused from our slumber with the attacks on 9/11.

We figured that, after the fall of the USSR in 1991, that there would be a certain time where we would enjoy a peace dividend. This was not to be, but we seemed blind to this reality. As I said above, the rest of the world has had to deal with the possibility of dying in a terrorist attack for quite some time. One need only look at the last fifty years of the twentieth century in western Europe. If you lived in Northern Ireland or Great Britain, you lived in fear of attack by the Provisional IRA. If you lived in Italy, you had the Red Brigades to fear. If in Germany, you had the Baader-Meinhof gang/Red Army Faction. If in Spain, it was ETA. This is just a few of the worries, not to mention what was going on elsewhere in the world. Living entails risk. If we ignore this, we might as well end it all. Risk is the center of a lot of what we do, at the smallest level just going out in public. The sooner we get over the fallacy of a perfect safety of all within our lifetimes, the sooner we can move on and live our lives.

Secondly, and lastly, why was it that the President of the United States was not immediately informed? It seems to me that it is the job of the President to be abreast of these things rather than going on with a bike ride in the D.C. suburbs. A lot of questions spring to mind. Did the Secret Service themselves know (it seems they MUST have)? If the situation did escelate, would the president be involved in the decison to shoot down a private plane? If not him, then who? Does this not seem oddly similar to the president's demeanor on the morning of 9/11 in that school in Florida? Where was the chain of command here? Did things actually work, or was this an accident?

I think that we would all do well to review the 9/11 Commission Report and ask wether any of these big ideas are being implemented or did Congress just slam something through to get out of town last December?

We need to realize the risk of life in our times, but we cannot be blind when it comes to the situations that now involve not just those in power or with influence but each and every one of us. Ignorance is no excuse nor does it have to be permanent.

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