Close the Washington Monument

Security expert Bruce Schneier thinks that we should close the Washington Monument. The most distinctive part of the D.C. skyline has been a challenge to secure, but that’s not Schneier’s reason.

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They’re afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as “soft on terror.” And they’re afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they’re right, but what has happened to leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers’ inability to take that kind of stand — and their inability to truly lead.

Go read the whole thing.

Photo by Scott Ableman.
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Bruce Schneier for President

Or at least Secretary of Homeland Security? Of course, this kind of perspective is (by all conventional wisdom) unelectable. But I can dream, right?

Of course 100% security is impossible; it has always been impossible and always will be. We’ll never get the murder, burglary, or terrorism rate down to zero; 42,000 people will die each year in car crashes in the U.S. for the foreseeable future; life itself will always include risk. But that’s okay. Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy our country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage.

Really, any political party that adds the removal of unproductive security theater from TSA procedures – Passenger pat-downs before the flight from Lewiston, Idaho to Moscow, Idaho? Really? – will be a serious competitor for my vote. I’m looking at you, Modern Whig Party.

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Excuses, excuses

Via the Slate Gabfest on Facebook: a great long profile of Andrew Sullivan. I started reading the Daily Dish regularly during the presidential campaign last fall, and I still check it multiple times a week; I can identify with Sullivan’s attempts to reconcile his (apparent) internal contradictions. What struck me, though, was the piece’s account of what you might call Sullivan’s “neoconservative period,” his reaction to the attacks of 11 September, 2001:

“I experienced 9/11 very personally,” he says. “The jihadists attacked my dream, my place—I felt like I had been beaten or raped. I succumbed to the fear a lot of us felt—panic really—about this country being in mortal danger. And neoconservatism seemed like the only ideology on the shelf with a plan for how to react immediately, and I turned to it.”

Having voted for George Bush in 2000, he now became one of his most militant supporters, urging him to invade not just Afghanistan but Iraq, in charged and extreme language. His blog posts from that time are quite startling to read now—more expressions of rage and grief than political analysis.

Sullivan is hardly the only person in American politics who reacted like this. (I recall just about falling out of my chair when a commentator on NPR proposed that a nuclear strike would be a good response to the destruction of the World Trade Center.) And Sullivan has clearly come to his senses and now strongly repudiates the positions he took during that period.

But all that said, I’m tired of this narrative about post-9/11 panic. It feels like excuse-making, and it implies that the near-immediate search for a retaliatory target and the fearmongering push for the invasion of Iraq were natural, understandable responses to the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. You know what? They weren’t. Panic and fear and anger may be natural, but acting on them is stupid. If we haven’t learned that lesson from the Bush Administration, then we’ll almost certainly repeat the same mistakes in the aftermath of the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil. And I’ll be frank — the prospect of re-making those mistakes scares me more than whatever that attack may turn out to be.

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