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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Wischful Thinking
Freedom or Slavery?

by Jay Wischkaemper

There are times when nothing makes sense. September 11 was one of those times. I was sitting in a hotel room in Salt Lake City preparing to attend a convention when a special news report came over the television. An airplane had hit the World Trade Center. A video feed was quickly established, and as we all watched the towering inferno in tower one–wondering what could have happened–the unthinkable happened. As I watched in horror, the second plane hit tower two. Then, we all knew what was happening. Things went from bad to worse as the Pentagon was hit, and a fourth aircraft hit the ground. People jumped to their death, preferring the swift death of hitting the ground to the horror of incineration. Phone calls were made to loved ones by people knowing they were about to die. Buildings crumbled to the ground. Thousands were killed. The world had changed in the course of an hour, and it was not for the better.

The questions are many. What did they hope to accomplish? What were their objectives? Who was ultimately behind it? How many more of them are there? What else did they, or do they have planned?

For those of us involved in general aviation, the sword is two sided. On the one hand, we, like all people of the world, are appalled that a group would be insane enough to do this, and are even more appalled that an airplane would be used as the weapon of destruction. We are accustomed to the threat of a bomb aboard an aircraft, and those are always taken seriously with good reason. But the idea that the airplane itself would be used as a flying bomb was unthinkable. On the other hand, the fact that it is now very thinkable puts a different perspective on the safety of those “little airplanes” that have been so maligned. I have a little more control over who sits in my seats than do the airlines, and if I want to badly enough, I can even carry a weapon to keep them under control. Hopefully the safety measures that have been put in place by the FAA will be sufficient to prevent anything like this from ever happening again, but in the back of the minds of the flying public will always be the possibility that it could happen again, and the horror of the graphic scenes that we all watched are undoubtedly going to keep many out of the seats of the airlines. In my own case, I’ve ridden the airlines many times when it was cheaper than flying myself, simply because of the cost. These terrorists may have attached a new paradigm to the cost of flying.

But the bigger issue that I think faces our nation is our freedom versus our safety. It will especially be an issue with aviation. Things may never return to the way they were. I was reading a letter regarding security precautions being taken by Signature at their FBO’s, and it sounded similar to those rules being placed on the airlines. The only difference is that these are voluntary rather than mandatory. One has to wonder what threat the powers that be feel General Aviation poses. Other than the present hijackers being trained at GA facilities, it would not appear that General Aviation has ever posed a threat from a terrorist point of view to anyone other than the occasional idiotic pilot who might deliberately or inadvertently terrorize his passengers through his incompetence.

The object of all of this is one militant arm of the religion of Islam. These are not religious people. No religion in the world promotes the murder of innocent people, certainly not Islam. Nothing could ever justify an act like this. It isn’t a particular nationality. The hijackers came from various countries. They were all of Arabic origin and all were Islamic, but many wonderful people in this world are of Arabic origin and of the Islamic faith. As much as we might want to lay blame at the feet of one particular segment of society, or one religion, or one nationality, it cannot be done. In seeking to stop those responsible for this and possible future acts, we are seeking those among us and elsewhere who fester with hatred enough and who believe in their cause enough that they are willing to die for it. Since the next door neighbors of the current crop of candidates had no inkling of their tendencies, the search for those among us will not be easy. These people don’t wear t-shirts saying, “I am a terrorist” or become members of the “National Association of Terrorists.” Because of that, steps must be taken, assuming that we will not always know who they are, to prevent them from having the opportunity to do the evil they desire to do. That may mean limiting the freedom that I have always enjoyed and taken for granted as an American. It may mean that the FAA will restrict where and how I can fly my airplane, as if a rule would stop someone who was really bent on flying their plane into a building. Suicide hijackers don’t seem to be too concerned about FAA violations. In fact, these hijackers didn’t have type ratings for the airplanes they flew into the buildings, but it’s doubtful that any of them will be cited. But whatever rules evolve from this current situation, if in fact they have a meaningful impact on safety, and that’s a big if, we should embrace them wholeheartedly, even if they mean that some of the freedoms we have enjoyed are lost. Slavery to fear is no less onerous than slavery to totalitarianism.
We are, and must remain, a free society. How we address the safety of our citizens within the framework of insuring the rights of all is going to be a challenge. At this stage, it appears that a significant effort is going to be made to neutralize those who would commit these acts, and while those efforts are to be applauded and hopefully will enjoy a measure of success, we would be naïve to think that there will not still be those in the world and among us capable and willing to commit atrocities in the future. Timothy McVeigh was not a Muslim. He was a Marine.

It would be nice if the world weren’t this kind of a place. It wasn’t meant to be this kind of place. It’s nice to speculate about what it would be like if the world were different, but the world isn’t different. What is is. We must all play the hand that fate has dealt us. The world has changed, and we must, and can adapt. The one thing we can be grateful for is that we individually have escaped the hatred that has been ingrained into the hearts of those who have committed these atrocities, and that we have the decency to treat our fellow man with the respect and tolerance that should be the right of every individual in a free land.

Texas native Jay Wischkaemper is a successful Mass Mutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock, Texas, where he lives with his wife Dianna and children Jeff and Lisa. He is a long time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for both business and pleasure.

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