Thursday, June 16, 2005

The war on terror and my Swiss Army knife

Last week I flew to Chicago for the HOW Design Conference. Due to the confusion caused by US Airways locations in two different terminals in Philadelphia—F and C—I had the misfortune to have to go through security twice. And as if that wasn't bad enough, I got pulled aside into the line where they've spotted something troubling in one of your bags. I knew I was innocent, not carrying explosives, heroin, or illicit cash. But still I sweated a little as the agent dug around in my suitcase. He finally found what he was looking for and triumphantly pulled out my Swiss Army knife.

This Swiss Army knife had been with me for more than 25 years. It was one of the first gifts my wife gave me, early in our relationship. It's been on camping trips, to Italy, and its handy corkscrew has opened many a bottle of wine. But now I had to say goodbye to it because it might enable me to hijack an airplane.

I was so relieved that I wasn't going to be strip-searched I thanked the security agent and told him that their discovery of my Swiss Army knife made me feel good about the effectiveness of all this screening. And, I did feel momentarily safer as I boarded my plane, knowing that it was unlikely anybody could have smuggled a gun aboard.

When I got to Chicago, I came across a column in the Tribune by Charles M. Madigan—their op-ed editor. In it he details his progression from being a liberal to being a pragmatist. "I may have been liberal a long time ago, back when blue jeans had bell-bottoms, people spoke about what fun pot smoking was, women broke the bonds of fashion, loosely embracing nature, and sensitive men said they wept sad tears at 'Love Story' instead of gagging, the more natural response... so liberal? No, that's wrong. Pragmatist is what I am."

"Come up with a health-care program that works, that provides benefits for all Americans and I'm on board. Develop a realistic foreign policy that isn't going to drag people we love and cherish into war, and I'm with you."

"Protect us realistically and effectively. It's not too much to ask."

"Somehow, that has been translated into taking Swiss Army knives and other pointy things from folks at airports. We get cut to the very heart by terrorists and the government concludes Swiss Army knives are the problem."

After reading Madigan's words, I no longer felt patriotic about the loss of my Swiss Army knife. I felt stupid, used, exploited. We create thousands of new terrorists each day with our national blunder in Iraq, Osama bin Laden goes free as a bird, and the skies are safe from the likes of me.

Please let me wake up from this national nightmare someday soon and find myself back in the America I used to love.


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