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Something that may have helped keep the Cold War non-violent was the arrival of the Moscow Circus in America in 1973. A good dog act brings Americans to stormy applause. Those Russians did it even better, with bears!
They won America’s heart with performances so spectacular that even today I can’t describe them without stuttering. And the American enthusiasm was only one American short of unanimous. I’m pretty sure the only holdout nationwide was my then-10-year-old daughter, Bibi, who left the arena with a frown. When asked why, she replied, “The bears should have practiced more!”
That lonely nay-vote came to mind with the arrest of Faisal Shahzad only 53 hours and 20 minutes after his attempt to kill everybody on Times Square by redesigning an SUV as a bomb. Joy, relief, stormy applause for the New York City police and the FBI. And a whole lot of it. But there are plenty people frowning, and they aren’t all 10-year-olds with inflated expectations.
Does a football coach ever like to see one of his ball-carriers drop the football? “Never” is not the correct answer. “Almost never” is more like it. If the ball squirts out of the ball-carrier’s grip and takes a good bounce in the right direction and is then recovered by a teammate, the coach will feel a gratitude for the fumble he’ll never confess. New York and America may have benefited from one of those forward-fumbles during those wild 53 hours.
Money doesn’t change hands at casinos until the wheel quits spinning, and this “wheel” is still very much in motion. Here, however, are the questions already gobbling a lot of ink and air with red-meat fury. The FBI apparently was “sitting on” Shahzad at his house. How, then, did he get away to a supermarket? Why didn’t they nab him at his house where there were fewer people than at an airport? Why was there no All-Points Bulletin put out for this most promising of all perps, especially at area airports? And is it true Shahzad was actually paged to get off the airplane?
It gets better, unless, like me, you’re so paralytically grateful for the capture that your body physically rejects criticizing law enforcement the way White House spokesman Bob Gibbs’ body rejects questions about birth certificates. Are the defenders of the FBI’s performance going to claim it was a smart move not to take Shahzad until he had already cleared airport security, thereby ensuring he wouldn’t be armed? (I know, I know! Such a process, alas, does not ensure he would be unarmed. We’ve read far too many times that federal agents probing the system for weaknesses have succeeded in boarding planes at New York area airports with loaded weapons, something like 22 out of 24 times!) Anyhow, let’s pretend airport security works. How smart is it to let a known-but-pre-proven terrorist get that close to the goal line just to avoid his drawing a weapon? How often does law enforcement enjoy even the hope that such a suspect might be unarmed?
In boxing you expect to get hit. In football you expect to get tackled. In basketball you expect to get fouled. And in America today you expect to get terrorized. A few columns ago, I lamented the utter absence of any visible attempt to train the American public to increase chances of survival in the terror era. Since then I stumbled upon a similar column I wrote decades ago extolling the training we on the “Home Front” underwent during World War II. I’d almost forgotten. I’m right-handed. As a Boy Scout messenger-assistant to an adult air-raid warden, I actually practiced writing with my left hand in case my right hand were ever pinned down under rubble after a Nazi bombing raid and I had to write an urgent note to headquarters. And that was in Greensboro, N.C., where the only targets that might have interested Hitler were some cotton warehouses and a Reform synagogue. While our chances of being hit have zoomed skyward, our inclination to protect ourselves has quietly settled on the bottom.
I admit I never fully appreciated Attorney General Eric Holder until his post-capture comment about Faisal Shahzad, namely: “I was never in any fear that we were in danger of losing him.” Remember, Shahzad was nabbed aboard the plane after the door was closed and “push-back” was split-seconds away!
Holder reminds me of the golf showoff who urged one of the group with a very expensive wristwatch please to remove it and place it on the ground, whereupon the showoff balanced a golf ball on the watch’s face, took a five-iron, took his stance and prepared to swat. The watch owner was fearful of a nick or even a small scratch on the face of that precious watch. The showoff swung and utterly shattered the watch’s crystal.
Unfazed, however, he turned to the stunned crowd and said, “You see? That’s the object; to break the crystal without actually damaging the watch itself!”