GEORGE EVANS: ONLY THE NAKED SHALL FLY
Based on what was initially announced regarding the August 10, 2006 terrorist plot exposé, we were encouraged to believe that twenty four Einstein‑like Middle Eastern types (17 years old and up) from Pakistan—a country we are not yet at war with—were arrested in England and Pakistan while in the midst of launching an attempt to carry off plans so esoteric, complex, and brilliant that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff declined to say (on the day of the announcement) exactly what they were planning. In general it had to do with smuggling various liquids onto US‑bound airplanes so they could blow them out of the sky over the Atlantic or over unnamed cities. But what lethal concoction of water, make-up, toothpaste, cafe latte, peroxide, shampoo, and lip balm they planned to mix and arm via iPods, cell phones and laptops was left to the imagination. Whatever their methodology, Mr. Chertoff decided it was better kept from the public, for our own good no doubt, in an era when one can easily find (so I’ve read) blueprints and operating manuals for nuclear weapons on the internet. In the meantime, airline passengers all over the world, but especially in Britain and the US, were being stripped of their possessions, their dignity (at least what remains of dignity in airports), and any sense of well‑being they managed to muster in order to fly at all during these horrific times.
Am I wrong, or did I actually hear, in Chertoff, the voice of someone so fearful of the American public that he thought we might do the same thing if he told us how the terrorists planned to succeed? “No, no,” reasonably couched voices might respond, “the discretion, the secrecy, is not because of you, good citizen, but for the sake of terrorists who might be listening. It’s them we do not wish to inform.”
That attitude is not only ridiculous but melodramatically avuncular, insulting, and dangerous. It’s high time someone informed the unelected minions of the Bush administration—which includes Mr. Bush himself—that terrorists already know what they need to know (if they don’t, they can easily find it on the internet, or by text messaging their nefarious colleagues), and not only is the general American public not a mob of copycat terrorists itching to use such information to blow up their own planes, its government’s employees do not have the constitutional right, responsibility, or permission to conceal (at any time) details about anyone planning to murder them. And it is not a conundrum to wish for the truth of homicidal methodology while wishing to conceal knowledge of it from one’s potential murderers. It is merely a symptom of the times, during which we must prepare ourselves for a future (as British novelist Martin Amis suggested in a recent interview) in which we will need to learn to bear a tolerable degree of terrorism in our daily lives, because it is not going away. But neither are the causes of it, nor the type of hysteria perpetuating its effectiveness.
In this most recent blur of non-information, we are not witnessing an exercise of caution by those who know better (“knowing better” is an argument best confined, if used at all, to parents with young children rather than government officials), nor are we witnessing the expressed convictions of anyone who has our best interests at heart. We are witnessing the machinations of control freaks and political manipulators who not only believe the public is better off in the dark, but might (just might) have a corporate interest in giving the airline industry further license to raise ticket prices and begin charging exorbitant, quadruple gas‑price‑level rates for bottled water, henceforth forbidden to be carried onto airplanes by passengers. Did someone suddenly see an opening for a little profit? And am I suggesting that airlines would exploit patrons in the shadow of tragedy, or that the US government would exploit its citizens via the drama of terrorist plots and tragedies?
Of course I am, because of course they do. They have a solid track record.
The air traveling public, after five years of abuse by the airline industry (beginning 9/11), and the general public, after six years of incompetent paranoiac caterwauling and warmongering by the unelected Bush administration, have a responsibility to be not only skeptical but borderline dismissive of anything any one of them claims, proclaims, declares, or decants.
Otherwise, on the airline front we will retain only the right to be strip‑searched and marched naked through airport detection machines holding our belongings aloft in transparent plastic bags (brutalized and insulted, as usual, by angry, underpaid, ill‑trained security personnel who may themselves never be able to afford airplane tickets to anywhere), and on the government front will have only the right to be stripped of all ostensible rights so that the juggernaut of an obviously pending Evangelical‑Fascist dictatorship can finally take over full throttle.
One clichéd response to the likes of the funereal Mr. Chertoff and his ilk (the non‑elected three Rs: Rove, Rice and Rumsfeld) might be to complain that, in the end, even appointed government officials work, in theory, for the public (not for lobbyists, corporations, or the soap selling media that can’t discern any important difference between a Federal mouthpiece and an animated toilet bowl character), and as employers, we have the right to know, theoretically, what’s going on in the front office, especially at the exact moment any events unfolding there threaten our lives, if indeed they do threaten our lives. I prefer to make the decision about whether or not to board an airplane on any given day on my own, and do not wish to defer that decision (which may determine the remaining length of my life) to the likes of a stuffed shirt at a podium or dry drunk president at a pulpit. Thank you.
If in fact, as British authorities claim, this latest terrorist event has been under investigation for months, why not at least alert us on the level of being frank, if not discreet, about needing to adjust the rules of travel, and allow travelers the personal choice of either risking their lives on airplanes or not? Or, on the other hand, since nothing had actually happened yet, why make the announcement when it was made? Why that particular moment? Could it possibly have political ramifications? Is it yet another political smoke screen of the sort we’ve grown to expect? And in light of the hard‑earned mistrust we have for our highest government officials (after a half decade of being subjected to their dark foibles), who among us can afford to be magnanimous enough with their lives and personal freedoms to trust them to the likes of Mr. Chertoff (a.k.a. the neo-con Bush administration), the morally bankrupt British Tony Blair government (from whence this conspiracy sprung), or the airline industry itself (which cares nothing about anyone—its employees included—or about anything except its profit margin? Who are they to decide our mortal fate? And who are we to be foolish enough to permit it?
In fact, Americans (of the US sort) do not really wish to be treated like employers by their elected (and non-elected) representatives, and don’t want to act like employers either; they simply want to be treated like adults. They want to be told the truth, and want their government’s officials to exude a sense of reasonable confidence that they can handle the truth because they are neither idiots nor terrorists.
We’re all dumbed‑down to some degree these days (who wouldn’t be after being condescended to like nursery inmates in the five years since 9/11)—numbed is a more appropriate description—but we deserve better than the lame, paranoid prime time interview or press conference blather we get, canned events that are no more than soap opera arias peppered with crypto‑jargon (terms like “asymmetrical warfare”) which everyone comes away from feeling less informed than they were, and even dizzy with deepened ignorance.
As for why this latest government‑TV media overkill circus event might be happening at this particular moment, just look around: our government’s US war in Iraq is lost; our government’s US war in Afghanistan is slipping out of control and the Taliban are ascendant; our government’s Middle Eastern ally Israel is butchering innocent people on a large scale right out in the open (with our government’s consent, support, and encouragement); and (surprise, surprise) it turns out (on the morale front) that our government’s “professional, all volunteer military” (perpetual motion machine of the unacknowledged backdoor poverty draft) is laced with rapists and murderers. Not only that, but the American public (if it cares to look) finally has proof (in recently declassified Army files) that civilian massacres by US troops during our government’s US‑Viet Nam War, were not at all uncommon (as many of us have long known), which leads us to believe they are not at all uncommon now.
To top everything off, anyone paying attention knew that the results of the Joe Lieberman‑Ned Lamont primary election in Connecticut (held two days before the London bomb plot was trotted out) was of profound importance to the Bush administration and Republican dominated Congress. Avid poll watchers could have predicted some type of a backlash in the event of a Lieberman loss, but is it possible that the sanctimonious, self‑serving Lieberman’s defeat (harbinger of neo-con demise that it was) sparked this latest madness?
Of course it is. First word of the London terrorist plot came twenty four hours after his defeat was announced, at a time when moderate progressives (those still buoyed by the notion that there is even a splinter of difference between current Democrat and Republican office holders) were celebrating a rare moment of ostensible success.
Once the Republican administration safely had its faux Liberal “Independent” Republican candidate in up‑for‑grabs Connecticut (where Bush II’s Republican granddaddy, Prescott Bush, son of an arms dealer, was first elected to the US Senate in the 1950s), it could only be expected that they would fabricate a means of changing the subject from their stealth candidate’s defeat, thus diminishing his negativity factors as well as the importance of the message delivered by his anti‑war, anti‑administration (not anti‑American), electorally legitimate and victorious opponent.
Two days after that election, on Thursday, day of the London plot announcement, Vice President Dick Cheney attacked the Democrats as weak on terror, and used the Lieberman defeat as proof. Also that day, Joe Lieberman himself, loyal Democrat reconstituted as an independent, resumed running for re-election as if nothing had happened to him. Smugly staging his first post-primary campaign stop in Waterbury, Connecticut, where he won big the night before, he seized on the terrorist plot in Britain as an argument for his brand of thinking, while beating the usual war drums and beaming like a fresh plucked flower.
While on a trip this past June, I sat in a hotel room one morning and watched a sneering press conference held by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to announce yet another earth shaking terrorist plot in which the plotters planned to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, conduct a ground war against the US, “kill all the devils” they could, and create a scenario “as good or greater than 9/11.”
The mainstream media had jumped the gun and mistakenly reported that the plotters were African Americans from the Nation of Islam, then changed their minds, then didn’t, and until the national confusion got sorted out at the press conference, no one knew exactly who the terrorists were, except that they were black and either al‑Qa’ida or trying to join the ranks of al‑Qa’ida.
The clarifying Gonzales press conference was like a Fellini scene: Gonzales holding forth, smirking, sweaty, and contradicting the hapless honesty of his confrere, F.B.I. deputy director John S. Pistole (with his ominous last name), while the reporters squealed and gagged for information like a nest of robin chicks. The occasional camera pan revealed looks of genuine concern that slowly slid towards incredulity as details of the plot emerged, or, rather, failed to emerge—credible details, that is. In the end, the plotting terrorists turned out to be a crew of seven luckless, unemployed men with militia‑like aspirations who were set up by an undercover FBI agent posing as an al‑Qa’ida operative. They were not Muslims of any sort, did not possess any weapons or explosives, and, it seems, agreed to the Sears Tower as a target only after it was suggested to them by the undercover agent, who took their “al-Qai’da” oath, along with their shoe sizes, afterwards rewarding them with some boots, which they supposedly requested from his al‑Qa’ida majesty, along with uniforms, guns, vehicles, money, a camera to photograph potential targets, and bullet‑proof vests (which they certainly would have needed in their ground war).
If you check the news you’ll discover things were not going well for the Bush‑Cheney administration that week either. As suddenly as it appeared, the Sears Tower plot vanished from view, but it had served its purpose: changing the subject in our attention deficit society. Twenty‑four hours into this latest plot (the Transatlantic Water Bottle Cabal)—which I reserve the right to revisit if it turns out to be true or genuine—it was already slipping from the headlines.
The next new airport announcement a traveler hears, might go something like this: “Your attention please. All passengers on Flight X to X city, remove your clothing and line up to board the aircraft.” As for the rest of us, until our own time comes, fellow citizens and fellow residents (legal or illegal) alike, it would not hurt to mull the words of our great 19th Century poet Walt Whitman, who sent us a message from the past:
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever afterward
resumes its liberty.