Ashamed in the security line
I'm ashamed of myself. I'm ashamed of all of us.
He appeared to be about 80 years old and disoriented. He was in a wheelchair, pushed along by a middle-aged man, himself disabled, who may have been his son.
They were negotiating one of the lengthy security lines at Lindbergh Field, San Diego's international airport.
A less-threatening pair would have been hard to find that morning last week. Hard for anyone, that is, except the eagle-eyed agents of the Transportation Security Administration, the TSA, part of the United States Department of Homeland Security.
The two men were pulled aside and searched. Not a cursory search, but an ongoing, interminable search of themselves and everything they brought with them, conducted by a team of stern-looking TSA agents who not only examined the contents of carry-on items but the contents of wallets. A search that lasted long enough to perhaps have caused the men to miss their flight. A search that you would consider abusive if it happened to you.
The other hundred or so of us in the line stood by and watched. There was visible disgust on some of the faces, but nobody said a word. If any of us had, our collective wisdom told us we would have gotten into trouble with the authorities and possibly have missed our own flights.
That is exactly how millions of people walked without protest into the gas chambers during the nightmare of the Nazi holocaust, many of them knowing full well what was to be their fate. Nobody said a word. If they had, they would have gotten into trouble with the authorities, and so they crowded, unspeaking, into eternity.
Oppressors do business that way. We're systematically being taught to be afraid. We're afraid of the shampoo and mouthwash in our carry-on luggage. We're afraid of our government.
Most sadly, we're afraid of each other. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, was not the cause. It was the excuse. Since then, every government excess, every billion dollars squandered, every personal right given up, every American military life lost, every no-bid contract awarded to a well-connected corporation, every American principle compromised has been for your own good, to protect you from The Terrorists.
Or so we've been told again and again, as though it were an advertising slogan. "Tastes great! Less filling! Let us run roughshod or The Terrorists will get you!" And quite literally, "Vote for me or The Terrorists will get you!"
The perpetual bogeyman lurking under the bed. Or, more truthfully, hiding in plain sight in Pakistan, where we're not even looking.
Many books have been written about human motivation, and the central lesson in most of them is that people are motivated by money, power, fame, sex and fear. In view of the drastic shortage of money, power, fame or sex coming our way from our government, it appears that fear is the high card.
We've bought their story, swallowed it hook, line and sinker. And so we're willing to stand by, disgusted but silent, while our government infringes our rights, at the same time invasively searching old men and infants. Because we're afraid not to let them.
It wouldn't have changed anything, but I wish that I … I wish that someone in that airport line … had felt enough outrage to summon the courage to say something.