Once again, the U.S., through a combination of luck and bad-guy incompetence seems to have dodged a bullet. Last week's attempt to detonate a car bomb in the middle of Times Square has us scrambling to identify the heroes, point out the "missed signals", plug potential security lapses and generally fill up as much air-time as conceivably possible. The filling of air-time seems to be the only unqualified success I've noticed.
First off, I don't want to seem to be denigrating anyone's actions or reactions in this case, but really, do they all rise to the level of heroism? Put another way, lots of people in our military's history have performed bravely and courageously. They've put themselves in harms way to perform the tasks they were assigned. Many have performed heroically. Only a small fraction of them have been singled out for the Congressional Medal of Honor. None of this denigrates the actions of the many...it just highlights the actions of the few. If everyone is a hero, who remains to be singled out as special?
Let's start with the T-shirt vendor who pointed out the idling car with the flashers on in a No-Standing zone...that happened to be billowing smoke and making "popping" sounds. He immediately notified a mounted NYPD officer. Good call T-Shirt guy! Sure, he did the right thing, but is it heroic to point out a car fire to a cop? Call me naive, but I'd think that's a pretty basic reaction by anyone possessing a few IQ points. It's not quite heroic. Once again, I'm not implying his actions should be denigrated, but do we have to build him a statue?
Then, there's the NYPD cop. Once again, he seems to have done exactly the right thing...notify the Fire Department and start moving people away from the car that's billowing smoke and making...uh...ungood(?) noises. I'm glad our NYPD officers have this basic level of training.
Does the cop have to see one of these things to realize that having people hang around isn't a good idea?
The Fire Department showed up and quickly determined that spraying water all over the place wouldn't be a great idea. Kudos to them. They preserved evidence that needed preserving. And, once again, not to denigrate them, but they were actually following standard procedure. I've seen the FDNY respond to car fires before. To the uninitiated, the FDNY response to any car fire might seem a little lackadaisical and slow. The first thing they always do is pop the hood and smash all of the car's windows to see what they're dealing with before putting out the fire. That's because they want to determine, to some degree of certainty, what's causing the fire. Different types of fires react badly to high pressure water. Having done the usual, the FDNY determined that the presence of gas cans and propane tanks might indicate that this wasn't some random car that had a fire caused by a shorted-out electrical system. They put out the fire and had the Bomb Squad respond. Again, a bunch of guys who did the right thing. The fact that they hung around an obvious bomb to extinguish it shoots them up into the hero column, but truthfully, those guys get that just for showing up to work every day. There are tons of fires they respond to that have all sorts of volatile, nasty ingredients, and whether intentional or not, hanging around to douse the flames is pretty fucking brave.
Then, the Bomb Squad guys showed up. They're another bunch of guys who get held up for esteem just by showing up to work. How can you say enough about people who purposely put themselves inches from explosive devices to disarm them? And the fact of a bomber's competence (or lack thereof), doesn't change the scenario a whit. I mean, suppose you're a highly trained bomb disposal guy and you take your extensive training with you to the job and you take one look and think, "Oh, it's a BD-12/34R-6.1212C type device. I know how to disarm one of those." And then you cut the blue wire because it's always the blue wire and...oh shit...the bomber didn't know what the hell he was doing and he used the yellow wire by mistake and there goes an extensively trained bomb disposal guy because the douchebag bomber didn't follow the manual. Yup! The Bomb Squad guys get "hero" check marks.
Bomb Squad guys are better than Batman!
Another hero who isn't getting all that much credit is Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. After the Oklahoma City bombing, Kelly made it a personal priority to make fertilizer made of ammonium nitrate practically impossible to obtain in any kind of quantity anywhere in the Tri-State area without attracting the attention of law enforcement. Which is why the Times Square Bomber basically had a box of inert dirt as one of the components of his bomb. Kelly gets points for identifying and doing something about a bomb component that actually has a practical result here in the real world.
Then, there's Officer Dan Donohue of U.S Customs and Border Protection. He's the one who was going over flight manifests and identified Faisal Shahzad as having boarded an Emirates Airlines flight that was still sitting on the tarmac at JFK. In a more perfect world, he'd also rate as "just doing his job", but in the context of this whole affair, he comes across as uniquely diligent. Way to go Officer Donohue. (And while we're on that subject, I was kind of surprised to hear that airlines were only required to update their "No-Fly" lists every 24 hours and now, they're going to have to do it every two hours. What fucking century are we living in. I can type "tumor with teeth" into a Google search window and in 0.45 seconds, I'll have 1,130,000 results to peruse. Why can't that bar-coded boarding pass match up a name on the No-Fly list in the time it takes the boarding pass to pass under the bar code reader?)
Definitely not on the hero list is Sen. Joe Lieberman who has decided that being a suspect is a good enough reason to revoke someone's citizenship. We've managed to get through a couple of centuries without revoking citizenship until after someone is convicted of treason. And, truth be told, shouldn't prosecutors have treason as a potential charge to be levied against a suspect? Tomoya Kawakita, who had dual U.S./Japanese citizenship was tried for treason after WWII for torturing American P.O.W.s. He tried to claim that he had renounced U.S. Citizenship while in Japan and therefore couldn't be tried for treason. The U.S. managed to convict him in spite of this claim, and the fact that he availed himself of all of the rights of Citizenship during his trial. And then, in spite of being convicted and having his citizenship revoked (and sentenced to death), he still was allowed to file appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction. Eventually, Eisenhower decided the sentence was excessive and commuted it to life in prison and then Kennedy pardoned him in 1963 on the condition he be deported to Japan. (But Eisenhower and Kennedy were both pinko, commie, soft on crime pansies, so what does that prove?)
Lastly, I was watching one of the Saturday Morning News shows yesterday and they had on one of the ubiquitous "Terrorism Experts", to talk about how we can avoid the Faisal Shahzads of the future. Now, granted, this was a local show and they had to make do with some cut-rate "Expert" I've never heard of from a think tank I've never heard of, but hey, they had ten minutes to fill. His take on things was that everyone must be more vigilant and keep an eye on our neighbors. He pointed out that we should keep our eye out for people who suddenly change their behavior and to "notify the authorities" if our neighbors start acting suspiciously. He made a point of saying that it would be "for their own good"...to get them the "help" they so obviously need.
I completely trust my ability to decide if you're suddenly becoming a dangerous whacko who may snap at any moment and lash out at the world, but I don't know how much I trust you with that level of perspicacity. Just think about someone trying to decide if I need reporting to the authorities: He's somewhat reclusive? -- Check! He reads and writes weird crap on the internet? -- Check! He occasionally makes odd purchases? -- Check! He's been known to babble about shit that he really doesn't understand? -- Check!
On second thought, I may have to turn myself in. I sound pretty dangerous.