The Dream Of Invunerability

Megan on the TSA:

Terrorists are bound to get through airport security if they really want, or do something worse, like blow up the crowds of people patiently waiting in line to go through airport security.  Maybe we could do it smarter, like the Israelis do.  But the Israelis also armor the holds of their airliners, making it very difficult to blow them up--and impossible to fly at a profit.

No, what this points out is not that Napolitano is incompetent, but that our elaborate system of security theater is probably next to useless.  I cannot imagine where this is going to end.  No, actually, I can imagine all too well:  with passengers checking all luggage and flying in specially issued hospital gowns.  And when some enterprising terrorist manages to sneak through that cordon by swallowing his explosives, the TSA will tell us that "the system works" and start the cavity searches.

Jeff's two cents:

Why does our government continue to make believe that it can stop terrorists from boarding civilian planes when anyone with half-a-brain and a spare two minutes can think up a dozen ways to bypass the symbolic security measures at our airports?

I think this is what you get when you declare "War on Terror." The logical conclusion of this sort of phrasing is that it's actually within the power of our government, not simply, to protect it's citizens as much as humanely possible, but to "defeat terror." And so when something like this happens, bureaucrats and politicians feel the need to show that they're doing something to "defeat terror."

Jeff and Megan hint at a more sensible approach--that there is no such thing as invulnerability, that we have to acquit ourselves to the possibility that an occasional nutjob will get away with an occasional act. But that ain't enough. In a War on Terror mindset, there's no room for "shit happens."

I should add that highlighting the War on Terror isn't a shot at Bush. I think you can fairly say that, at this point, the idea of a "War on Terror" is as bipartisan as the "War on Drugs."

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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