Over the past few weeks, just about everything that can be said about TSA has been said.
But not everyone has said it. At least not yet.
I was going to add more words to the TSA theatrical. I’d been collecting stories and ideas from colleagues all week, some negative and some positive.
But I’ll save those for another time.
I remembered as I sat down to write this post – on Monday evening — John Kennedy was assassinated 47 years ago.
I was riding a New York city subway when I heard the first rumors. A young girl was crying. The news buzzed through the car from person to person, like a primitive twitter message.
At the next station, I ran out of the train up the stairs into the city. Like a scene from a 40s movie, people stood around cars stopped in the middle of the street, listening to radio broadcasts.
If the president were assassinated today, the first question would be which terrorist group did it. We have so many choices.
No doubt we would spend countless hours considering the homeland security implications of the murder.
I wondered what John Kennedy would have to say about the nation’s recent belligerent, polarizingly directionless clamor about securing the homeland.
TSA may be the current – and almost perennial – focus. But other domains in homeland security get their turn: immigration, border security, intelligence, customs, defense, emergency management, pandemic response. The list extends into forgetfulness.
Kennedy once said, “If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a better place to in which to live.”
Based on that invitation to license, I gathered some Kennedy quotes and, with a few distorted interpretations, adopted his words to the contemporary homeland security environment.
Terror is not a new weapon. Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example. But inevitably they fail, either because men are not afraid to die for a life worth living, or because the terrorists themselves came to realize that free men cannot be frightened by threats, and that aggression would meet its own response. And it is in the light of that history that every nation today should know, be he friend or foe, that the United States has both the will and the weapons to join free men in standing up to their responsibilities.
On fear of Muslims and Islam:
For while this year it may be a Catholic [or Muslim] against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart in a time of great national peril.
On the difficulty of defeating 21st century terror, in all its forms:
We must think and act not only for the moment but for our time. I am reminded of the story of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.
On trusting the American people to handle the truth about threats, vulnerabilities and potential consequences:
We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.
On the tendency for government to keep secrets from its citizens:
The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.
On the need for government to listen to people who object to what is happening at airports:
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
On the motives of people who criticize homeland security and TSA:
Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘One who has the heart to help has the right to criticize.’ We are going to help.
On the importance of people who criticize TSA and anything else done under the banner of homeland security:
The [people] who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, but the [people] who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.
On what to do if you don’t like the way homeland security in general and aviation security in particular is being managed:
The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need [people] who can dream of things that never were and ask “why not?”.
On the perceived efforts of TSA, DHS, fusion centers, and other manifestations of “The Man” to steal our liberties:
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.
On the security implications of people who actually believe the federal government could get its act together enough to be the brains behind the 9/11 attack or to plan the wholesale incarceration of dissidents (either from the left or the right):
The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.
On people who visibly carry weapons to political gatherings, who plan to boycott backscatter machines on Wednesday, who protest the corporate takeover of politics, and who resist everything else that can be seen as a threat to freedom:
Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.
On the homeland security role of the Main Stream Media, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Drudge Report, Huffington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, blogs, et al:
Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants” — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.
But on the other hand:
Today no war has been declared — and however fierce the struggle may be, it may never be declared in the traditional fashion. Our way of life is under attack. Those who make themselves our enemy are advancing around the globe. The survival of our friends is in danger. And yet no war has been declared, no borders have been crossed by marching troops, no missiles have been fired.
If the press is awaiting a declaration of war before it imposes the self-discipline of combat conditions, then I can only say that no war ever posed a greater threat to our security. If you are awaiting a finding of “clear and present danger,” then I can only say that the danger has never been more clear and its presence has never been more imminent.
It requires a change in outlook, a change in tactics, a change in missions — by the government, by the people, by every businessman or labor leader, and by every newspaper. For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence — on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the … War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.
Nevertheless, every democracy recognizes the necessary restraints of national security — and the question remains whether those restraints need to be more strictly observed if we are to oppose this kind of attack as well as outright invasion.
[Senator Kennedy] On Afghanistan:
Mr. President, the time has come for the American people to be told the blunt truth about [Afghanistan]…… to pour money, material and men into the [mountains of Afghanistan] without at least a remote prospect of victory would be futile and self-destructive. Of course, all discussion of ‘united action’ assumes the inevitability of such victory; but such assumptions are not unlike similar predictions of confidence which have lulled the American people for many years and which, if contained, would present an improper basis for determining the extent of American participation.
Despite this series of optimistic reports about eventual victory, every member of the Senate knows that such a victory today appears to be desperately remote, to say the least, despite tremendous amounts of economic and material aid from the United States, and despite a deplorable loss of … manpower…. I am, frankly, of the belief that no amount of American military assistance in [Afghanistan] can conquer an enemy which is everywhere and at the same time nowhere….
On the role of intelligence and defense in homeland security:
I was assured by every son of a bitch I checked with — all the military experts and the CIA — that the [Bay of Pigs Invasion] plan would succeed.
Words scheduled to be delivered at a luncheon speech, Dallas Texas, November 22, 1963
We in this country, in this generation, are, by destiny rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, goodwill toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as it was written long ago, ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’