Sunday, May 5, 2019

I Wouldn't Do That...

I have decided that the War on Terror is an abject failure, and has been for some time now; especially on the home front. A friend of mine and I were on our way to the theater to see a movie. We were walking past the drugstore, and there, next to a wooden parkbench-style seat, was a box. The kind of box that you'd get from an office supply store. Fellows makes them, I believe. They're lockable with a key, and designed to keep your swag intact after your house or office burns down - you wade into the wreckage and retrieve your box, unlock it, and voila! your precious loot is undamaged. This particular box was mostly tan, but colorfully decorated with flowers and big bright letters - it fairly shouted that it was the secret swag box of some adolescent girl - the place were she kept all the stuff that she didn't want her oh-so-uncool parents and/or siblings to find out about. The diary, the pictures of boys, condoms, the small stash of pot, Ecstacy and/or meth - you get the idea.

Anyway, this colorful box was sitting forgotten next to this wooden bench outside of the drugstore as we're walking by. My first thought was "hmm... that's unexpected," then I the decorations sank in, and I realized that someone'd had an airhead moment, and forgotten the thing. On the off chance that the owner was in, or an employee of, the drugstore, I went in, and told the first checker I encountered about the box.

She came outside with me, and it was pretty clear that her first impression was: "Suspicious Box™." So, to see whether or not it was a bomb, she picked it up, and put her ear to it, as if she was listening for a timer. I would have laughed, but was too immediately surprised by so odd an action. (I am reminded of the time in college, when I was standing, dumbfounded, watching one of my classmates earnestly get within moments of shooting herself. In PE class. With a bow and arrow.) First off, the girly decorations aside, I was fairly convinced that there wasn't a bomb in the lockbox. After all, like I said, this was the sort of box that's designed to withstand a house fire, and it wasn't very large. You could injure someone fairly seriously by packing the thing with explosives, but anyone who could get their hands on enough C4 to make the thing really dangerous is going to have enough brains to pick something that won't itself dampen the blast. Secondly, you'd be hard pressed to get me to put something that I thought had a realistic chance of detonating up to my ear. Although I suppose that if I really didn't want to risk simply being maimed for life, it's a reasonable way to go. Lastly (of my immediate thoughts, anyway) was "Who still uses alarm clocks for bomb timers anymore?" The idea of some nutcase searching Value Village for a castoff 60's vintage clock to wire into his detonator crept into my head. Or maybe this woman just didn't realize that digital timers only make "tick-tock" noises as sound effects.

In the end, she decided that she'd take it back into the store with her, and call 911. (I had a twinge of sympathy for the poor dispatcher who was going to wind up taking this call, if this woman insisted on having the Bomb Squad called out.)

But the idea here isn't to have everyone laugh at the reactions of the drugstore clerk (even though I nearly did). I'm going to assume, and I'd guess that you have too, that if this were still the spring of 2001, the idea that the box could have possibly contained a bomb would have seemed like sheer lunacy to everyone involved. But now that we're engaged in a conflict between cultures that has seen some of the worst atrocities that most Americans will ever witness, we're all supposed to be on our guard. Fair enough. But shouldn't there have been some high-profile public education as to what you do if you DO think that you may have found something? If that box DID turn out to have had a bomb in it (although I'd have been less surprised to have been suddenly struck by a meteorite at just that moment), and it had been set to go off then the box was disturbed, the clerk, and likely my friend and me along with her would have been killed or seriously injured by the ensuing blast.

While I'm not old enough to have been around for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other highlights of the Cold War, I've seen enough old-school (literally in some cases) film footage to realize that back in the day, they went crazy with telling the public things they could do to protect themselves. Now, we all know that all that Duck and Cover would really have done is left behind charcoal briquettes in some odd fetal position, but it was an attempt. When was the last time you saw a television spot from the Feds concerning public safety in the War on Terror? "In case of a possible bomb, call 911 from a safe distance; preferably another Area Code. -- This public service announcement brought to you by the Department of Homeland Security."

I don't doubt that there are legitimate fears of sparking a panic and, of course, such a message would have undermines successive administrations' characterization of Iraq as a sort of jihadist Roach Motel. But telling people simply to be on their guard just doesn't seem like it's going to do much good, if they don't have any idea of what they can do after that.

No comments: