I was recently on a panel on CNN discussing the latest al Qaeda threat to aviation. In their online publication, Inspire magazine al Qaeda outlined a strategy for how to make a bomb that would get past a screening checkpoint at an airport. In that same week, I fielded about another half dozen media calls on related topics, including the recent arrest of a Delta Airlines employee for smuggling guns on commercial flights out of Atlanta Hartsfield.
One of the questions I was asked as: do I feel we are winning the war on terror.
A question I WISH I would have been asked was, what can we personally do about the latest terrorist threats, but that went to another panelist and time ran out before I could address it.
Let’s answer both of them now.
First, the war on terror is a terrible phrase. When I was asked the question whether we are winning the war on terror my answer was simply, the war on terror will never be won. Attempting to win the war on terror is like attempting to win the war on influenza. Terrorism is very much like the flu. Every year there will be a different strain but you can guarantee that every year there will still be the flu.
What we can do about the so-called war on terror, is the same thing we do about influenza. We attempt to project what strain will be next, and when it hits we do everything within our power to fight it. Because I am now one of those old guys, as evidenced by looking at myself on high definition on CNN the other night, I can say I remember the time when the word terrorism conjured images of young men in Northern Ireland setting off car bombs. And I was born during the time when the word terrorism meant certain organizations such as the Black Panthers or the Weather Underground.
If you study the history of terrorism you’ll find that there is pretty much always been terrorism. Declaring war on it does not make it go away. But we need to do is continue to use intelligence, security and common sense along with direct military and police action was necessary to reduce the deadly impact of terrorism. But the bad news is it will never be won. Some would argue that it can be, but in order to do the things in our society it would take to eradicate terrorism we would also be eradicating all of our civil liberties.
Now for the second question: what can we personally do about terrorist threats. The panelist that caught this question said it was a difficult one to answer. I don’t think so. There are a few simple strategies we can do about terrorism to protect ourselves and our loved ones, without becoming paranoid or becoming a doomsday prepper. Since people seem to like list these days, like the top 10 things that you can do to lose weight or whatever, here’s the simple list.
1. Keep a casual awareness of your surroundings. Most criminal activity occurs to people who are completely unsuspecting. Criminals and terrorists do not like people spotting them or their intentions. They don’t want to attack the person who looks like they are prepared and paying attention to what’s going on. Keeping a casual awareness about your surroundings will also give your mind better information about when you need to step up your level of attention and possibly be prepared for a bad situation. It also lets you know when you can lower your guard a bit and relax. That way you’re not amped up all the time.
2. Be friendly and helpful. Being friendly tends to disarm others. If I spot somebody whose tense, that a smile or friendly nod does not disarm, that’s the one I keep an eye on. While they may have no criminal intent whatsoever, clearly their behavior is not the norm. We are naturally predisposed to return a smile or a friendly nod. It’s a survival mechanism. It is a nonverbal signal that neither individual intends to harm the other. Even people who are having trouble in the lives and their minds are somewhere else, will usually return at least a slight smile. Those that are intent on criminal behavior, generally see a smile as a threat and react differently.
3. When your internal threat radar goes up, pay attention to it and start making some contingencies. Note where the exits are if you need to get out; know what you can use as a weapon if you need to and do a little bit of planning ahead of time about what you will do if the situation turns bad.
4. Run through some basic contingencies that you should always have in your pocket. For example, if there is a building fire do you remember what we were taught as kids? Get down low where there’s air and move towards an exit. Get a wet washcloth and put it over your mouth if possible. The other day my daughter was going to a movie with some friends. We ran through some basics about what to do in the case of a fire, a suspicious person, or even an active shooter. While that might sound extreme, it’s just part of basic preparation. That gives you confidence and gives you the ability to relax and enjoy your experience.
5. Learn a little first aid and keep something aid handy in case of emergency. I always keep a fire extinguisher in my car along with a first aid kit and a trauma kit. I’ve actually lost count of how many car fires I’ve put out while everyone else sat there and watched a car torch itself. It doesn’t take much to figure out how to use these things but I encourage you to take a class which will take all of a few hours of your day. You can also find some decent clips on YouTube but there is nothing like hands-on training.
So those are five quick methods anybody can do. You can also carry a gun or knife in some circumstances, but if you’re uncomfortable with that, consider a small tactical flashlight. A tactical flashlight can be used to temporarily blind an opponent allowing you to escape or get the upper hand during the attack, and the flashlight also makes a handy little hard object to punch with. You can also use it in an emergency, such as a fire – by the way only in Hollywood can you see when you’re in a room full of smoke. In the real world you can barely see your hand in front of your face.
Lastly, consider some self-defense training. Anyone can get a little bit of free self-defense training usually from the local police department or drop a few bucks and take a course. This can be the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones.
This doesn’t mean you have to go all Rambo on somebody if someone tries to stick you up. If you’ve decided that giving someone your wallet is the better path to saving your life in a certain situation, you should make that decision. Because you have a little self-defense training doesn’t mean you have to attack. But having that training might just save your life if the attacker decides your wallet is not enough.
Finally, what you can really do about the war on terror is realize that, like the flu, it will always be there, but there are preventative measures you can take. I remember last year when we were so worried about the Ebola virus, which tragically killed a few people here in the United States. . . and our irrationality at the fact that in the same year, influenza killed thousands. Don’t be so worried about the “big one,” of which you have no control, and avoid the fact that it’s the little threats, that we do have some control over, that are more likely to injure or kill us.