Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Curious Volume

ONce and a while when I'm scanning the stacks of books at the local Deseret Industries, something about a book -- a familiar font, some cover design element, a name, and, especially, the title -- will leap out at me and make it impossible to pass the book up. So it is with this odd little volume I found at the DI yesterday.

Touted as "a must for anyone who travels outside the United States," this book, written by Dan McKinnon, former chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, serves as a curious historical document into the frenzy and furor that circulated in the United States after a spate of terrorist hijackings of airliners in the mid- to late-1980s. The book uses the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 as kind of the high-water mark for terrorism against the average American. I remember this incident -- the plane flew several times between Beirut and Algiers for three days, during which an American Navy diver was murdered, Jewish passengers sequestered in Lebanon and others freed over the course of two weeks before the incident ended. (Kind of sounds innocent now, by comparison iwth more recent events, doesn't it?)

What I found most striking in McKinnon's book is this passage, which describes how terrorism affects people, the media and the nation. A few good lessons to learn here:

When terrorists can keep a running event alive, such as the 17-day TWA 847 hijacking and hostage crisis, they can manipulate the media -- and public opinion -- thereby having a direct impact on our government. It required the president, his administration and every member of Congress to become personally involved. Concern for the lives of a few became an overriding obsession. The wheels of government grind to a halt. TV cameras ask the man in the street his reaction. Reporters talk with the families of hostages. Prayer services are held and filmed. The nation starts to think with its heart instead of with its head. Fear begins to grip everyone.

So I have to ask the question: Does it matter now if Osama Bin Laden is dead now or not? And how long will it take us -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- to start thinking with our heads again, rather than our hearts? Yes, Bush was a lousy president. But when I hear the media giving glowing reports on the supposed influence for goodness and normalcy that having Barack Obama's mother-in-law resident in the White House, I have to shake my head and wonder if the Democrats are thinking with their heads or their hearts as well? Idealism is a good thing. Idolatry is not.

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