The Lesson: Passengers Are Not Helpless

Canada Free Pressby Editor

Since 2001, airline passengers — regular people without weapons or training — have helped thwart terrorist attacks aboard at least five different commercial airplanes. It happened again on Christmas Day. And as we do each and every time, we miss the point.

Consider the record: First, passengers on United Flight 93 prevented a further attack on Washington on 9/11. Then, three months later, American Airlines passengers wrestled a belligerent, biting Richard Reid to the ground, using their headset cords to restrain him. In 2007, almost a dozen passengers jumped on a gun-wielding hijacker aboard a plane in the Canary Islands. And this past November, passengers rose up against armed hijackers over Somalia. Together, then, a few dozen folks have helped save some 595 lives.

And yet our collective response to this legacy of #####-kicking is puzzling. Each time, we build a slapdash pedestal for the heroes. Then we go back to blaming the government for failing to keep us safe, and the government goes back to treating us like children. This now familiar ritual distracts us from the real lesson, which is that we are not helpless.