Malacandra.me

“The Homeland is the Battlefield”  (Also too, why have become such basket-cases?)

"The Homeland is the Battlefield" 

by digby

Rick Perlstein has a great post up about how we respond to fear that you should definitely read in its entirety. But this part really got me:

As ghastly, evil, overwhelming, tragic, as the events this week in Boston, Texas, the Capitol mail rooms, have been, it's easy to forget, in our oh-so-American narcissism, enveloped in the wall-to-wall coverage that makes our present catastrophe feel like the most important events in the universe, how safe and secure Americans truly are by any rational standard. Terror shatters us here precisely because ours is not a terrifying place compared to so much of the rest of the world. 
And also not really an objectively terrifying time, compared other periods in the American past: for instance, Christmastime, 1975, when an explosion equivalent to twenty-five sticks of dynamite exploded in a baggage claim area, leaving severed heads and other body parts scattered among some two dozen corpses; no one ever claimed responsibility; no one ever was caught; but pretty much, the event was forgotten, life went on, and no one anywhere said "everything changed."
Does anyone remember that awful attack? I doubt very many people do. In fact, I don't think it resulted in even the smallest "change" in how we do anything.

Here's the story and it's every bit as horrific as what happened in Boston this week:

The New York-bound shuttle bounced lightly onto a runway at LaGuardia Airport after a short, uneventful flight from Boston. Businessman Mike Schimmel got off the airplane and headed toward ground transportation, eager to board an airport shuttle to his mother's home on Long Island.

It was four days after Christmas in 1975, and LaGuardia was teeming with holiday travelers like Schimmel who were looking forward to ringing in the New Year with loved ones.

Americans had a lot to toast as the year drew to a close. The Vietnam War, which severely divided the country, finally ended. President Gerald Ford had escaped two assassination attempts. Watergate was becoming water under the bridge and democracy, American-style, would celebrate its 200th birthday soon.

But none of that was on Schimmel's mind as he ducked into a crowded limo in front of the Eastern Shuttle Terminal at about 6:30 p.m. on that chilly Monday night on December 29.

"We were full and ended up stopping in front of the TWA terminal," recalled Schimmel, then 27. "A second, larger limo pulled up next to us and double-parked. We were told to get into the bigger car."

Schimmel got inside the second car and had just slammed the door shut when it happened.

A bright blue flash. A blast of air. Deafening noise. Broken glass rained down.

Momentarily dazed, Schimmel looked around him and saw that no one inside the limo was hurt. The driver, however, had been on a pay phone outside the car. He now lay on the ground, bleeding from the neck.

The occupants of the larger shuttle got out and surveyed the smaller limo. It was destroyed, but its curbside location had provided a buffer that saved the lives of everyone in the larger, double-parked vehicle.

A plane must have crashed, Schimmel thought as he entered the darkened terminal.

Inside, water spewed from broken pipes. Electrical wire and broken sections of the ceiling that weren't already on the floor hung precariously. The odor of gun powder filled the air.

"I walked into the terminal maybe 15 feet. It was black and full of smoke," said Schimmel, who now lives in New Jersey. "A girl, a young lady in her 20s, popped out of the smoke. I said something like, 'You'll be all right' and carried her out. Her coat was smoking and she was blackened."

A severed foot was visible on a ledge and Schimmel immediately surmised that many people lay dead or injured somewhere beyond the smoke that filled his eyes.

He was right about that. But it was a bomb -- not a plane crash -- that caused the carnage in Queens, New York, that night 27 years ago.


Queens Chief of Detectives Edwin T. Dreher was investigating a drug-related murder in the neighborhood of Astoria, less than two miles from LaGuardia, when his radio crackled with a report of the explosion.

Dreher, 48, immediately directed his driver to rush to the airport. On the way, the seasoned, 24-year department veteran launched what at the time was the largest NYPD investigation in history, using his radio to summon all available detectives from New York's five boroughs.

Ambulances were just arriving when Dreher's car screeched to a stop at the TWA terminal.

"There was the residue of the bomb. You could smell whatever it was in the air and see the huge explosive force that had blown the floor and ceiling out," Dreher, now 73, retired and living in South Florida, told Courttv.com. "All the windows were blown out."

A police lieutenant had set up a makeshift morgue and triage center. Dreher ripped down some of TWA's drapes to shield the victims from the gathering horde of television cameras. Nowadays, the dead would have been left where they were until photographs were taken and measurements made to aid in reconstructing the scene. But forensic investigations were not as sophisticated in 1975.

Dreher and his senior commanders quickly settled on a plan of action. One group of detectives was sent out to write down the plate numbers of every vehicle parked at the airport. Another group was dispatched to area hospitals to interview survivors and gather information about the dead.

Eleven dead, 74 injured was the final toll.

It was terrorism and they knew it. They suspected it was Puerto Rican nationalists who had been doing such things for quite some time. Later they thought it was a Croatian nationalist who hijacked a plane a year later. It turns out that there are many motivations for terrorism. They never found out who did it.

And yet ... we didn't completely fall apart, did we? We didn't declare the entire planet a war zone and start agitating to suspend the constitution. We went on with life.

Granted, 9/11 was a spectacular terrorist attack and it's natural that it would inspire terrible fear. It may not have "changed everything" but it did scare people in a very primitive way. But in reality, it was no more an existential threat than that airport bombing was in 75 or this Boston Bombing was this week. These attacks are designed to make us lose our heads. We didn't used to do that. Now we do.

Perlstein concludes:

A less narcissistic time, perhaps. Not now. Now, we let trauma consume us. Now, our desperate longing to know—to find easy, immediate answers—confines us, makes us frantic, reduces us to our basest cognitive instincts. And ultimately that's all I really have to say today, and all I really have to write: to record a testament that people can reflect on fifty years from now, if they want to know it felt like to live in America the week of April 15, 2013.

This is what we're doing to ourselves:
That man is not a fringe-dwelling hysteric. He is a US Senator who takes an oath to protect the constitution. And the suspect is a US citizen.

More from the King of the basket cases:

I spoke with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) by phone just a few minutes ago. He said of the Boston bombers: “They were radicalized somewhere, somehow.” Regardless of whether they are international or “homegrown,” he said, “This is Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield.” Recalling Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster, Graham noted that he took to the Senate floor specifically to object to Rand’s notion that “America is not the battlefield.” Graham said to me, “It’s a battlefield because the terrorists think it is.” Referring to Boston, he observed, “Here is what we’re up against,” and added, “It sure would be nice to have a drone up there [to track the suspect.]” He also slammed the president’s policy of “leading from behind and criminalizing war.”

Again, this isn't some talk radio gasbag. This is a US Senator talking.

I think I hear a Toby Keith song in our future called "The Homeland is the Battlefield." (Personally, I prefer it in the original German.)


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