In the years after 9/11, Americans faced a domino effect of diminishing rights, beginning at the nation's airports. In the early days, restaurants near boarding gates offered forks and spoons but no knives. Those brave enough to order meat or bagels had to be inventive in their cutting or schmearing techniques. No longer could your loved ones meet you as you exited the airplane for tearful reunions, and random passengers were pulled out of boarding lines and searched as though they were entering federal prison. We didn't complain, though, because suddenly our world seemed incredibly fragile and fraught with danger.
As a resident of Northern Virginia, I still recall flying from Boston to Washington DC with my then-9-year-old daughter. For a period of about a year, all flights to and from DC had a rule that you couldn't leave your seat for the first and last half hour. For any reason. Big beefy men packing heat were seated throughout the plane so I, for one, took the rule to heart. But 9-year-olds sometimes have to go to the bathroom, no matter what the rules are. No amount of ringing the call button or cajoling the tight-lipped flight attendant worked and my child was in tears by the time we landed. Just one more of the cascade of rights we had taken for granted that disappeared.
Over time, we have meekly acquiesced to a series of regulations, some that make sense and some that don't. We've grown used to seeing cement barriers around our nation's landmarks such as the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol. We meekly remove our shoes and belts at airports, stand in front of monitors that allow TSA agents to experience a parade of peep shows, and allow total strangers in uniform to touch us in intimate places.
We know there are cameras dotting our cities and towns that track our movements. Our cell phone records are scrutinized, our spending habits are noted, our library books catalogued. Much of this is done without our consent but with the understanding that somehow this will make our nation -- and our lives -- safer.
Our children, who have grown up with the Big Brother mentality, seem all too eager to give up all sense of privacy. They tweet, message, post on Facebook and tattoo their own bodies to share every little detail of their lives with anyone who is paying attention. They are the Tinder generation who are willing to meet people merely on the basis of proximity. Perhaps because they are not aware of what they are giving up there is no sense of loss.
But for those of us who recoil when asked for our zip codes by a gun-popping retail clerk or who are uneasy shouting out our birth dates to a pharmacist, each little indignity cuts deeper and deeper. How much of our private lives are we willing to give up for an elusive idea called "safe?" And has removing our shoes in airports, refraining from wearing underwire bras when going through screening systems, and allowing cameras to track our every move really made us safer?
As U.S. fighter jets streak across the sky in Syria and "boots on the ground" becomes a part of our vocabulary, do any of us truly feel safer? Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Khorasan Group, ISIL... the names and faces of our enemies are growing as our freedoms are shrinking.
These days if you feel the need to empty your bladder as your airplane nears Baltimore, you can freely head to the hellishly small restroom at the back of the plane. If you fly in Europe, you can leave your shoes on your feet and your belt snugly holding up your pants. Those "safety" measures were discarded over time as they proved to be of little value. How often do any of us -- including those who make the rules -- evaluate the efficacy of regulations to see if they are, indeed, necessary?
And then there is the most pressing question: Why is it that I don't feel any safer than I did the day after the Twin Towers fell?