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Of Tots and Terrorism

Hayden Hollingsworth

The smoke is clearing . . . at least it seems to be happening.  The entire furor of the holidays has quieted. No missing grandchildren have been discovered in the closets, despite their tears about leaving.  The lighted deer, while still standing in the snow, are dark.   The tree is down and all the paraphernalia of December thoughtfully stowed in the garage.  The promise we secretly made midway through the visits that, “Next year we’re going to really keep it simple,” has been replaced with, “I wish it was this time last week.”

One of the most sobering thoughts about the holidays is the requirement for travel.  In years gone by that was usually limited to a car trip or two, but now our families assemble from all over the world.  That’s hard enough given the security concerns and this year, it was complicated by the weather.

Airlines pose their own universe of problems.  Some years ago, Heathrow was nearly shut down at Christmas when it looked as though countless tins of an explosive similar to Semtex that brought down Pan Am Flifgt 103 in December of 1988, were being picked up by luggage x-ray.  They all turned out to be English plum puddings.

Easy to laugh at that now, but this Christmas came tragically close to being remembered as horrible.  Being told by the Secretary of Homeland Security that “the system functioned perfectly” was particularly alarming.  The only thing that saved  NorthWest Flight 253 was the ineptitude of the bomb carrier.

That anyone could be so stupid as to think you could sew pouches of PETN, a deadly brew, into your underwear and get within a hundred yards of a loading airliner is mind boggling.  Add to that he was on the terror list, he had no luggage and bought his ticket at the counter with cash.  It’s beyond unbelievable.  But it happened, leaving us to wonder who the truly stupid ones are.  In this case, everyone was unbelievably lucky, if we have heard all the facts.  We probably haven’t.

The most frightening aspect is we are so vulnerable to anyone who wants to do us harm.  It doesn’t take a complicated plot like September 11 to bring us to our knees.  Homemade devices, placed in strategic spots, could paralyze the country.  I leave it to the mystery novel writers to enlighten the public about how easily such terror could be visited on a hundred cities in one hour’s time and no one would have had a clue that we were at those risks.   Finding the perpetrators would be next to impossible.

While we should never relax our guard, we must avoid becoming a police state where intrusive government surveillance is viewed as our only haven.  Our enemies have shown their willingness and ability to attack their own people while taking their own lives.  They do so with apparent impunity in Iraq, in Pakistan, and in Afghanistan.  It is surprising that there have been so few attempts to do damage to us here at home and most of them unsuccessful. Those who believe it is our security system keeping us safe are whistling as they pass the graveyard, as the people on Fl 253 nearly discovered.

How sad that a time of joy for tens of millions Jews, Christians, and Muslims can be transformed by a tiny number of terrorists who have become so radicalized as to believe they alone know the will of some malevolent god.

This holiday, as always, we looked forward to the headlights swinging into the driveway, car doors opening and precious cargo tumbling across the lawn. Happy confusion reigned for a week. To be honest, there was some relief when we saw the taillights rounding the curve, heading for home.  But two things are certain: We won’t make it simpler next year and we should be profoundly grateful the clearing smoke was not caused by bombs.

By Hayden Hollingsworth
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