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Losing the War on Terror

A column by Steve Russell about the TSA and 9/11.

The terrorists beat us on 9/11 in that they changed our lives for the worse. I am reminded of President Bush's asinine remark, "They hate us for our freedom." I used to joke about the corollary to that. If our own government took away our freedom, would "they" still hate us? Or, consider us as brother/sisters in struggle against the infidels?

The grievance expressed by our Al Qaeda adversaries started in the first Gulf War, when infidel Americans put their profane boots on holy soil. No Americans got anywhere near Mecca or Medina, but within the borders of Saudi Arabia was enough for Osama bin Laden to declare the Saudi royals to be traitors to Islam for extending the invitation to defend their oil, er, soil. Saddam Hussein, having rolled though Kuwait, had massed tanks on the Saudi border, but bin Laden was of the opinion that the amateur soldiers of Al Qaeda should be sufficient defense. Such was the delusion of grandeur by the terrorist currently experiencing life as fish food.

As in the Cold War, when the Communists never hurt us nearly so much as they scared us into hurting ourselves, so it has been with the War on Terror.

I write this on a gizmo I bought to take on vacation rather than my laptop because I resent the government's claim that they can clone my hard drive when I reenter the country. They could do the same to a Neo2, but I'm betting they lack the equipment. This thing was built for schoolchildren and uses fairly primitive technology.

I've quit flying over the War on Terror, but not because I'm afraid of terrorists. I've never felt safer from terrorists, but not because of anything the government did. Before 9/11, getting hijacked might mean an unscheduled stop at Jose Marti Airport in Havana. Now, when it could mean death, passengers are quick to rise up as one and pummel anybody who threatens the aircrew.

The surly minimum wage workers of TSA, on the other hand, are a serious danger to freedom. I remember flying with a Mac SE and they made me extract all the parts from the Macbag and assemble them so I could boot it up and prove it was really a computer. As I addressed this pointless task, I was biting my tongue about the fact I had opened the computer within the week to install an additional memory chip and I knew there was empty space inside that sucker for enough C-4 to take down several airplanes AND IT WOULD STILL BOOT UP!

Had I blurted out that factoid, I would probably still be in jail.

So, is going by ship an improvement? It appears to offer the inconvenience of flying without the convenience. When in port, you show your identity card with every move, sometimes to a self-important twerp within plain sight of the last self-important twerp who carded you—but they could not be bothered to give each other the high sign. That, or they want to make it more expensive to pay off everybody who checks ID by increasing the number of checks.

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You also must pass a magnetometer that, from the amount of metal I passed though it, was set to rat you out if you tried to bring your pistol on board with a clip holding more than nine rounds.

The good part of going by ship is that there is plenty of good food and drink. Airlines, on the other hand, have accomplished a task I would have declared impossible before 9/11. They’ve made airline food less interesting while charging more for it.

Next week, I shall conclude my investigation of post 9/11 travel with the longest train trip I’ve taken. My wife and I have packed our required-since-9/11 passports for a trip to Canada, starting on Amtrak. We’ve booked a sleeper. Bunk beds and a restroom down the hall.

We are not taking our own food, so we will be captive customers of the dining car.

I’m retired and I consider this an adventure, like I considered the cruise ship an adventure. So far, given the choices I’ve experienced, I would go for the old-fashioned automobile road trip. You have the interstate pothole…er, highway system if you are in a hurry and plenty of back roads if you have time to see places and meet people.

As anybody who drives the pow wow circuit will tell you, it’s possible to drive the interstate system and never feel as if you’ve gone anywhere. A Mickey D’s or an IHOP is what it is, but you don’t need to leave home for them.

I grew up in Oklahoma with Route 66, the main street of America, as, literally, my main street. I always wanted to go where it went, and now the list of states I’ve not seen is very short. As I whittle down the list in retirement, I resent the losses from the War on Terror. Not from the terror, but from the war on it.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at