Heroic acts often have cowardly echoes. That is, selfless conduct is celebrated in the moment, held high as an example of the human ideal, only to be followed by mass timidity.
We have witnessed this throughout the interminable and ubiquitous “War on Terror.”
9/11 had many heroes. Todd “Let’s Roll” Beamer, for example, famously rallied his fellow passengers on Flight 93 to prevent their plane from being used as a missile. Emergency workers in New York ran into burning buildings to save civilians, many of whom sacrificed themselves to help one another.
In the days and weeks that followed, stirring speeches were given, American flags were hung from millions of homes, bellicose country-western songs were written and recorded. The message of all of these was robust, virile and explicit: Those who harmed us will be punished, we will not be intimidated, and we will continue to live in freedom.
Thirteen years on, we see what nonsense that was. As Americans shuffle through the dystopia of the modern security state – their communications monitored, their bodies groped and scanned, their enemies undeterred – the bravado of those early days is revealed as just so much chin music.
The recent terrorist attacks in Canada are, thus far, following a similar pattern. Shortly after two uniformed military personnel in Quebec were deliberately struck by a car driven by a disaffected Muslim, Martin Couture-Rouleau, another Islamic radical, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, opened fire at the War Memorial in Ottawa. Zehaf-Bibeau murdered Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, then raced into the Parliament buildings, where he was shot and killed by the normally ceremonial Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers.
Cpl. Cirillo has been mourned by the nation, and Vickers has been lauded for his quick-thinking and bravery. Both reactions are suitable and just.
But, like Beamer and the firefighters at Ground Zero who personified heroism, Vickers will be praised but not emulated by his countrymen.
If anything, Canada’s reversion to cringing pusillanimity has been even swifter than that of the United States. Immediately after the attack, much of downtown Ottawa was “locked down,” as was the Canadian Embassy in Washington and, for reasons that obtain only in this age of hyper-security, police appeared at street corners, transit stations and public events in Toronto and elsewhere.
Shortly thereafter, General Tom Lawson, Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, ordered members of the military to avoid wearing their uniforms in public.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to the airwaves to insist, “Canada will never be intimidated.” Politicians love to tough-talk our enemies in this way, assuming they have the temerity to identify our foes and the ideology they all seem to share.
But as cowering citizens are ordered about by police and security officers, submitting to searches and seemingly endless indignities in the name of “safety,” and the nation’s top soldier tells troops to shed their once-proud uniforms, one wonders – what, exactly, do they think intimidation looks like?
In his speech to the House of Commons, Harper called for an increase in the government’s surveillance powers. But if you can’t get a handle on maniacs like Messrs. Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau, whose criminality and radicalization were evident through existing means like police records, how does it help to access the recipe-exchanging emails of grannies in Owen Sound?
Incidentally, how disquieting that the term “in lockdown” has passed so seamlessly into modern usage, as though to be sequestered by government agents were as natural and commonplace as to be “in the shower” or “out to lunch.” Compare, say, the denizens of Churchill’s Britain thumbing their noses at the Blitz to the duck-and-cover reflex of today’s coddled masses.
This is both a matter of politics and of culture. Culturally speaking, modern citizens are content to surrender personal sovereignty in the shallow hope that the authorities will protect them. As to politics, Canadians have no saviour on the horizon.
Misbegotten as Harper’s reaction may be, Canada’s Prime Minister in Waiting, Justin Trudeau, is the most ridiculous major party candidate in North American history. The Derek Zoolander of Canadian politics, Trudeau is of the hippy-dippy, drum-circle school of thought that contends a radical Muslim is no more likely to commit terrorism than, say, a devout Methodist. The result, again, is blanket surveillance and proctological investigation of innocent people as we pretend we haven’t the foggiest clue what quarters may give rise to the next attack.
Columnist Mark Steyn is fond of saying that government always goes for the soft target, and that target is always you. This is why each terrorist incident is an excuse for more oversight of your life and person, even as the identities and motives of actual terrorists are obscured and denied.
Before noon on September 11, 2001, America had already inoculated itself against hijackings of that kind. As Beamer and his cohort demonstrated, anyone attempting to seize an airliner in that way would be stopped. When cockpit doors were reinforced, this completed the precautions necessary to prevent another such attack.
And yet, not only do the grotesque absurdities of transportation security continue at America’s airports, they have expanded to train stations, subways, and sporting events across the so-called home of the brave.
Vickers, like Beamer, showed that there is no substitute for personal courage and willingness to act when faced with extreme circumstances. If the intervening days since the Ottawa attack are any indication, however, Canadians recognize heroism, but will accept yet more supervision of their daily lives.
Make no mistake (to borrow a phrase), this is not our enemies’ doing; it is our own. It is we who have prioritized safety over liberty, who have countenanced the expansion of police powers and security measures and, when there is no freedom left to defend, it is we who will be to blame.
Theo Caldwell is a broadcaster and investor in the United States and Canada. Contact him at email@example.com