Last night a little after 9pm, my husband and I received a text message from the older of our grown children, who had attended a friend’s wedding in Oregon with the future spouse, to say that they were safe because they left LAX for the parking lot just before the chaos at the airport ensued. The chaos was caused by a report of active shooter. I was happy to know that they were safe, but nevertheless I was slightly shaken by this event: could this be another terror attack? When I turned on CNN no “breaking news” was reported. I only found a short note on the internet that somebody tweeted about the active shooter at the airport and terminals were locked down. However, it soon became apparent that the panic was caused by a false alarm or probably a hoax: somebody called 911 to say that there was an active shooter at the airport. It was not only just average travelers but also the security and police at the airport behaved in an unnerved manner. The major news sources such as Reuters reported today that “during the scare, 27 incoming flights were diverted to other airports” and “281 flights – 120 arrivals and 161 departures – were delayed.” This panic also transpired only 2 weeks after the security and police evacuated a terminal at JFK International Airport after a mistaken report of gunfire.
These panicky incidents in New York City and Los Angeles caused by false gun shots rumors made me ponder on the extent to which people had been affected by the terror attacks in Turkey and Belgium few months ago. People became flighty. They forgot how to stay patient and calm enough to figure out the fact so that they could act in a more rational manner. Yet, I recognize the possibility that I might have behaved in a manner that is similar to the people at LAX and JFK International Airports. After all how else could average people who do not have access to the accurate security information act in the absence of the authority’s competent guidance? Are terrorists winning?
In a way, they are if one thinks about how much our politics and behaviors have been were affected by a number of terror attacks in Europe as well as in USA. It’s almost as if we are now living in an unprecedented Age of Terror. But, is it really the case? So I did some internet search to see if our feeling that we are “now living in an unprecedented Age of Terror” is based on facts. And – as I suspected, I came away with this answer: our feeling is misleading our reasons. There has always been terrorism scattered throughout the history. For instance, according to Dan Byman, a professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, in the 1970s “there were between 60 and 70 terrorist incidents in the United States every year on average… there were airplane hijackings in the ’70s that were happening sometimes, again, more than one a week. In Europe in the ’80s, we saw massive terrorism – Provisional IRA, left-wing groups. We also saw massive attacks on airplanes – Air India going from Canada to the U.K. – Lockerbie. So terrorism is nothing new. Lots of terrorist attacks are nothing new, but we pay a lot more attention to them today” (Byman in his interview with Steve Inskeep, on July 1, 2016). At the end of this short interview, Inskeep asked Byman, voicing our honest feelings about the current state of our world: “well, whether it’s getting worse or better, people are being killed. Terrible things are happening. Terrible groups are operating. How should we measure the risk in a proper way?” And Byman’s answer was this: “Terrible things are happening, and people are being killed. But we need to keep this in perspective. We need to recognize that although terrorism is real, there are many other dangers out there. And terrorism should not be the only driver or necessarily the leading driver of our foreign policy and especially of our domestic politics.” Indeed, we should try to keep our heads on our shoulders as much as we can. Stay calm; stay rational; stay cool.