One realization we must all come to grips with is:
There is no perfect security.
This best any of can hope for any security system is time -- sufficient time for dissuade intrusion and for law enforcement to bring the criminals to justice or eliminate them.
One of the primary objectives of terrorism is to disrupt and demoralize their adversary. They seek to force their adversary to become defensive and internalized, to withdraw from their sphere of influence, and to fractionalize their adversary by creating doubt in the performance of the government charged with the security of the people.
The last substantive attack on the citizens and homeland of the United States was the British invasion during the War of 1812. The last attack on the United States was balloon bombing carried out late in 1945 in their desperate attempt to stave off the looming invasion of their homeland. While the cold war and specter of nuclear Armageddon hung like Damocles Sword for four decades, many generations of Americans have never known foreign attack. We might gain some guidance and perhaps strength for the battle ahead from one specific event in history -- the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.
From July to October 1940, the British stood alone, weak and vulnerable, as the undefeated, triumphant Luftwaffe began the methodical and comprehensive bombing of Royal Air Force facilities. Then, on 7 September 1940, the Battle of Britain took a ugly turn when London was bomb with only one purpose -- terrorize the British people into submission. This became known as The Blitz. The bombing continued virtually every night until May 1941 and involved nearly every major city in Great Britain. The British people drew strength, resolve and commitment from the direct assault on their homeland and their freedoms.
There is talk and discussion about stronger cockpit doors, armed pilots and air marshals along with Draconian measures to secure our airports and passenger airlines. Then, we hear of serious efforts to gain crop-dusting aircraft ostensibly for aerial application of chemical and/or biological agents. Now, the cargo carrier pilots tell us their areas are even less protected than the passenger terminals. This dialogue is wrong! It is the wrong direction, the wrong path, and the wrong objective?
To be more precise, the security path is one of the primary objectives of these barbarians. They seek to constrain our freedoms, to significantly increase security measures on all our citizens, and to preoccupy ourselves with our internal worries. As difficult as it is to hear, the reality is, there is virtually nothing a determined, patient, committed adversary cannot do including a repeat of the 11 September tragedy. He can breach any security system, outwit any intelligence agency and defeat any armed force, if given enough time and resources. At their very best, security systems can offer only time for a guard who is prepared for the threat and ready to act when alerted. Most importantly, internal security measures are purely defensive. We must wait and hope that our systems will catch the next attacker.
Many millennia ago, the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said, the best defense is a good offense. The principle of warfare was true then, is true today, and will forever be true.
This is a fight that can only be won by taking the fight to the enemy. We must put the barbarians on the defensive from every possible direction. We must also be very precise. This is not about grand armadas and millions of soldiers. This war is about financial investigators, inter-government cooperation, clandestine intelligence and special operations of the most passive as well as the most violent kind, and, I must add, good citizenship. Knowing that the barbarians have upped the ante by these obscene acts of cruelty toward innocent, law-abiding people, I truly doubt the first three of the four flights would have happened and at worst would have ended as the fourth. This is an engagement of wills. Free people who cherish their freedoms will go to any length, expended all resources, and commit to the long possible conflict to ensure those freedoms they cherish are maintain. There is nothing that unites free peoples more than a threat to their freedoms. That is the power of freedom.
Usama bin Ladin believes to the core of his soulless body that Americans are inherently weak, unable to sustain a commitment and otherwise incapable of defeating an adversary such as himself and his fellow barbarians.
I know I am not the American he sees. And, I have many friends who are not the Americans he thinks of in the dark of the night. No sir-ee boy thunder, we are not the Americans he thinks we are.
The United States has for most of its long life taken great pride in the openness of our society, our willingness to accept all peoples, all religions, all ethnic groups. Oh sure, we have our radicals who oppose such openness but they are a fringe minority. For us to submit to bin Ladin's will by arming our pilots, making our airline cockpits into fortresses or deploying the military to protect along every inch of our borders, we will have lost the battle if not the war. No matter what we do internally, as long as we wish to be an open and free society, we will not win. To maintain our freedoms, we must take this fight to the enemy at all levels in all arenae and for as long as it takes until they return to the rat holes from which they came. This is a time when we find those among who have the skills to be cold and calm with no qualms about pulling the trigger on his Remington 700 rifle with 20 power scope sending a single bullet, 1,500 meters at a single, identified target.
The enemy must know he is being hunted and always worrying about when that bullet will reach his face before his fellow barbarians hear the crack of the rifle's report. If you are concerned about how ugly this might be, close your eyes and pretend it is not happening. All I ask of you is, pray each night for those violent men who stand at the gates of freedom, for it is upon their shoulders we sleep safely at night.
The same ruthlessness will be demanded of the bankers and lawyers, so that when the barbarians go to pay cash for a crop-dusting airplane they are met with more, armed, calm men with drawn weapons and badges that say -- Federal Bureau of Investigation.
So, you want know what we should do now? We watch. We listen. We pay attention to our neighbors. We care about the people who live in our communities. We pay our taxes gladly. We vote our free choices in every election. We take very opportunity we can find to thank those men who wait patiently for the shot they seek, and the men and women in suits who carry out the arduous, daunting task of unraveling the matted threads of their financial network from which they derive the resources so vital to their operation, and all levels of law enforcement, fire, emergency, rescue and health services. We should support those in any way possible those who will carry the fight to the enemy. Frankly, I do not give a damn whether Usama bin Ladin rots in some cave in Afghanistan, or is shocked when Allah condemns him to immortal hell for his evil deeds, or whatever. I just want the freedoms I grew up with and have enjoyed all my life and intend to protect for my grandchildren. So, that is what we do now!
So my journey begins. This is my first trip since 11.September.2001.
This trip did not start off very well. As I was holding my oldest granddaughter -- Aspen Shae, 41/2 years old -- who was practically molded to my chest at that moment, she asked me in the most innocent, calm and undemanding voice, "Poppi, is your airplane going to crash into a building?" I wanted to cry. But, I mustered up all my strength and answered, "No, sweetie. Poppi's airplane will be just fine." The global and personal impact of last week's tragedy could not have been more dramatic for me. There is no justification on Earth for taking the innocence of a child.
Mid-Continent Airport, Wichita, Kansas: My stomach has been in knots since last night. This is the most apprehension I have ever experienced for any flight, or at least that I can remember, even including my deployment to WestPac in 1972 with the Vietnam War still going on and several high-risk experimental flights. As I try to understand the apprehension, a combination of uncertainty, impending or implied alone-ness, and perhaps even a smidgen of fear helped to brew up these feelings. I cannot perceive fear for myself but rather my family -- those remaining behind. Jeanne and Aspen dropped me off at the curb. Jeanne and I have agreed to think of this trip in dimensions of one week; "You will be back in a week." This is our mechanism for dealing with the separation. Security at the airport was about as close to normal as I could possibly detect. I am certain, or rather I hope, the security procedures are behind the scenes. If so, that is the way it should be.
Dallas-Fort Worth Airport: The flight down [EMB-120] from Wichita was about 1/3 full, which is not particularly unusual for a Saturday. I should have been prepared for what I saw at DFW. There are no people. I have passed through this airport for 25 years at all times of day and night, and on virtually every day of the week. I have never seen this airport so empty. The trams between terminal were empty; I was the only passenger. The only substantial group of people was waiting to check in at the Lufthansa counter; I don't know where they were going. Even the British Airways counter was not that long; and, all the counter agents were in a staff meeting. The security checkpoint used the same clearance procedures; there were no new procedures. There were more people including one, armed, airport police officer and two customs agents; they are a bit unusual but not extraordinary. I am in the British Airways Executive Lounge at the moment; finally, a couple of other people came in. The lack of people in this airport makes you wonder what they know that you do not, and adds apprehension to conditions. The reality is, this will probably be the safest trip I have taken in a long time. Security was perhaps a little more detailed but not beyond a normal range of security procedures. The most noticeable change is the prohibition of non-ticketed individuals past the security checkpoints, which has been common practice in Europe for many years and used in some US airports for years. I can only hope that things return to some sort of normalcy by the time we arrive in London tomorrow morning. The knock-on, ripple-outward, effects of what these bastards have rent upon the world is graphically reflected in the scarcity of passengers. It is now 1410 CDT and out the window I can see people getting out of their cars. It actually is beginning to look like normal. I can only hope it is a real indication of progress. I had a short chat with the receptionist who happened to be reading a copy of the Daily Mail with our favorite terrorist on the cover page. She held the same views as many of us; sorrow for the tragic loss of life, quiet resentment for the changes these nefarious acts have brought to all our lives, and solid determination to prevent them from having the desired effects. While the lounge was thinly populated, the flight actually appears to be roughly normal.
British Airways Flight 2192: Above the Atlantic Ocean: Business and First Class areas are quite sparsely populated, but there is a normal complement in Tourist Class. The refreshing part is the mix of passengers -- old and young, many nationalities, male and female, and families. The most notable change is the use of plastic utensils in a sealed plastic bag. The days of metal utensils are apparently gone forever for obvious reasons, although I cannot imagine four fanatics with steak knives in a closed space being able to subdue a determined adversary using the advantage of a confined space. The aircraft is a new B777. The ride is smooth and comfortable. I did sleep for several hours but eventually gave up. I read a little, and then decided to write a little. The apprehension of the earlier portion of the flight is gone. This is just another trans-Atlantic flight now. We are 21/2 hours from landing. There are no detectable mood or attitude changes. The flight attendants are as cordial, courteous and helpful as always. There is no apparent tension, concern or apprehension in any of the passengers. This is a subtle demonstration that the terrorists shall never prevail. Life goes on with virtually no identifiable, or perhaps more appropriately no substantive changes; a proverbial spit in their face.
London-Gatwick Aerodrome: We arrived ahead of schedule. It was nearly dawn when we landed. A thin, low overcast, so typical of autumn in England covers the aerodrome. It is cool and humid. I am in the executive lounge at 0700 local time Sunday, and there are perhaps 20 or so fellow travelers of many nationalities. I had to pass through the same security checkpoint I have on every other transfer occasion. And, there are no identifiable changes in layout, structure, procedure or mood. Yet another good sign. I suspect there will not be much more to discuss. It is now 0815 on Sunday morning, and the lounge is nearly full -- very impressive -- a rather dramatic contrast with the paucity of passengers in DFW.
Aeroporto di Genova: The flight down was uneventful, smooth and ahead of schedule. The aircraft (B737) was essentially full with people from infants to the elderly, some even appeared to going a short holiday. I slept during most of the flight and missed the meal. During my short awake time, I did notice one of the passengers reading what appeared to be a British broadsheet newspaper interior page with a large photograph of what appeared to be some student holding a large banner:
Why does everyone in the World hate you?
Good question although overstated since there are quite a few people who do not hate us. But, it is the Ugly American syndrome that does it in my opinion. Characteristic of the whole trip, I arrived in Genova, safe, tired and ahead of schedule. The journey is behind me. I start work tomorrow.
Bravo Usama bin Ladin.
[I will not give you the benefit of some gentlemanly title of courtesy like Mister . . . maybe a derogatory label like your unholiness or perhaps rat-face.]
Yes, you were quite successful in this operation. Yes, the planning was extraordinary. Yes, the execution was nearly flawless. And, the results I am sure are beyond even your calculations. Yes, you surprised us. Yes, you graphically if only temporarily altered the most famous skyline in the world. Yes, you managed to disrupt the business of the world. Yes, you paralyzed the most obvious transportation component of the United States. Yes, you staggered the United States. Yes, your work froze the attention of the world. You picked your targets very well, intended to do the maximum amount of damage to the most people. Yes, you have inflicted billions of dollars of direct casualty costs to the United States, and many more billions if not trillions of dollars, when it is all counted, of collateral financial damage to the world economy. And YES INDEED, you are probably quite proud of your work; you have produced the worst act of terrorism in the history of mankind and the worst attack on the United States of America in its history. However, I must add, you unholy bastard, you made one very grave and fatal mistake.
Did you bother to have one of your lackeys examine the tenant list in the World Trade Center? I think not. Well, I have. The tenant list is a who's who of . . . what . . . commerce - no . . . business - yes a little . . . oh yes, I know, THE WORLD. People from all over this precious planet of ours - China, Germany, Pakistan, Russia, Great Britain, Egypt, France, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Canada, Korea, and on and on - were in those buildings; 67 countries by last count. There are not many people on this Earth who were or will not be touched in one way or another by what you have done. You may have intended to attack the heart of the United States, but instead, you have attacked the entire free world.
You also apparently failed your basic history lessons during your education. The United States of America is precisely that united states, united citizens and united by an ideal. The United States of America is not buildings, or money, or symbols, or locations. This country was born in the blood and carnage of wars between brothers who fought to define a nation "of the people, by the people and for the people." This country is about freedom, in all its glory as well as its ugliness. Freedom brings much good as well as bad, but it is freedom. This little operation of yours will be recorded as the worst assault on freedom in many years.
German generals during World War II, some of the most successful warriors in history, were frustrated, confused and angry about the lack of order to some of the U.S. operations. As a warrior, I can appreciate their confusion. Often times we appear disorganized and random. But, you should have studied your history. There is nothing that unites free people more coherently, more solidly, than a threat to the freedoms upon which they thrive. And, you probably are not aware of a very famous quote by the late Senator Barry Goldwater, so let me refresh you. He said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Now, what that means is, there is no limit to the tools, weapons, tactics and strategies we shall use to ensure our freedom and liberties are protected - those very freedoms our forefathers fought so hard for, against mind-numbing odds. Americans have enjoyed these freedoms longer than any other society on Earth . . . since 4 July 1776. As just a simple citizen of this great country, I can guarantee you without reservation, condition or doubt that we will never - yes, I said NEVER - let those freedoms pass from our grasp.
Just a couple of other, little, historical tidbits for your benefit. The naval air forces of Imperial Japan were able to attack the United States by surprise on 7 December 1941. Like yours, their attack was an exquisitely planned and executed assault. We swore we would never let that happen again. So, we are disappointed in ourselves that your operatives were able to perpetrate an even worse attack on Americans. There is one enormous difference. Pearl Harbor was an attack by the nation of Japan executed by noble warriors carrying out the orders of their country; and, they struck American military targets, perhaps some could argue 'legitimate' targets. Your attack was against innocent American citizens, and as indicated above, against citizens of other peaceful nations throughout the world. Your executioners were not noble warriors, but cowards - the lowest vermin hiding in the dark recesses of an open society. Tragically, the loss of innocent lives in your attack will significantly exceed our loss of warriors at Pearl Harbor. We can only hope when all the victims are counted they do not exceed the single most deadly day in the history of the United States - the heroic battle of Bloody Bridge at Antietam - since I would not expect you to know American history that well, the Battle of Antietam occurred during our Civil War in 1862.
reject your motives at a very basic level, in some small way, I can appreciate
your perverted need to strike at our military forces. They are physical
representations of our projection of power. They also know they go in harm's
way, and they have the ability to defend themselves. I resent the loss of any
life including soldiers and sailors, but the risk is the very reason they do
what they do. Your tally is impressive.
23 August 1983 - US Marine barracks car bombing in Beirut [241 Marines & sailors].
25 June 1996 - Khobar Towers bombing in Dahran [19 airmen].
12 October 2000 - USS Cole (DDG-67) attacked in Aden [17 sailors].
While I will not accuse you in all of these attacks, you are mostly certainly responsible for the last two. We demand you stand accountable for these attacks. Your recent turn to non-military targets is beyond any ugly descriptive words.
26 February 1993 - World Trade Center car bombing [6 innocent lives lost].
7 August 1998 - U S. Embassies bombings in Kenya and Tanzania [224 innocent lives, mostly local citizens].
11 September 2001 - [in excess of 6,700 innocent lives lost]
American Flight 11 - World Trade Center Tower One.
United Flight 175 - World Trade Center Tower Two.
American Flight 77 - Pentagon.
United Flight 93 - crashed Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
These are beyond any measure, standard, rationale or justification. What on God's little green Earth could you possibly be thinking might justify such behavior? The international standard of civilized societies centers on what people do, not why they do it. In essence, your reasons for this dastardly act are totally and absolutely irrelevant. You and your coven of evil criminals of the worst order - mass murders on a global scale - shall remain beyond the embrace of civilized society and when you pass, as you most assuredly will and probably very soon, you shall forevermore suffer the damnation of the nether world.
Some have used the word 'kamikaze' in describing the actions of your unholy followers. I submit that the use of the term relative to your monstrous attack is an insult of the gravest and most obscene kind to noble warriors who gave their lives in the defense of their homeland. Not only are your mindless lackeys not warriors, they are not defending any homeland, and they are not fighting an honorable fight. As much as I find the actions of the Japanese pilots at the end of the war repulsive, I can respect them for the bushido code that buttressed them to take that drastic action. You and your followers have no code, no honor, and deserve no respect from anyone; and, you shall have none.
Many of your rabid kind see Americans as self-indulgent, materialistic, arrogant, brash, soft and immoral because we do not believe in what you believe in. There is no question we are occasionally all those things. We are sometimes raucous, disjointed, argumentative and cantankerous. Well, those are all true as well. What you do not understand is, that is precisely what freedom means. We are free to be individuals. We are free to believe in what we wish to believe in. We are free to be as beautiful or ugly as we wish to be within society's laws. You want us all to be the same, to believe in what you believe in. To your detriment, you have no clue what freedom means to those who have enjoyed freedom.
You really should read the Holy Koran in its entirety, rather than the selective editing and grossly narrow interpretation of snippets you use to rationalize such a heinous, immoral attack that is so obviously contrary to the teachings within the Holy Koran. There is no religion in the history of mankind that supports or recognizes such a grotesque, demented bastardization of the peaceful words of encouragement common to modern religions including Islam. You will not be allowed to hide behind your distorted interpretation of the Holy Koran.
You accuse us of not understanding or respecting Islam or Islamic people. Perhaps we do not understand as much as we should, but we obviously understand far more about you than you will ever know about us. While we have our flaws and foibles, our weaknesses, as well as our own radicals who take innocent lives, we remain the most open, tolerant, accepting society in the history of mankind.
As Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto so prophetically stated in late 1941, "I fear we have awaken the sleeping tiger." And perhaps a more appropriate and contemporary interpretation of Yamamoto's prophecy, Dennis Miller [I know you do not know him] said, "you just woke up the wrong most powerful nation in the world, you [expletive deleted]." But, three more immediate quotes shall sustain us in the war ahead. Orin Hatch: "We will find them and eradicate them." John McCain: "You can ask for mercy from Allah, but you shall receive none from us." President George W. Bush: "This is not just an act of terrorism; this is an act of war." The words portend the consequences you and your henchmen shall soon suffer. You will learn all too soon the meaning of those words.
Oh yeah, you want to know what your fatal mistake was? You grossly underestimated the United States of America. Furthermore, you will soon find out you have seriously underestimated the commitment of all freedom-loving people throughout the world. But, you chose to unleash the beast; now you shall enjoy his bite.
You shall soon find instant darkness when the hot blade of a terrible swift sword of righteous indignation sweeps through your neck. You claim some religious mandate to do what you have done when the true believers of Islam and the teaching of the Holy Koran are quick and precise to instruct us that the taking of innocent life is abhorrent and against all that is good. The bill is now long overdue. We care coming to collect.
Lastly, I try to answer the barrage of questions from my adult children, whom I love dearly. I see the bright, sparkling, innocent enthusiasm in the eyes and faces of my precious granddaughters. As a former Marine, I was prepared, and indeed I am still prepared, to give my life to protect the freedom and liberties I have enjoyed, so that my children, and their children, and their children, will forever be able to enjoy the same freedoms. And - you idiot - there are 250 million others just like me in this country alone.
"Whether we bring our enemies to justice or
bring justice to our enemies,
justice will be done."
A COMPANION MESSAGE TO THE CITIZENS OF THE WORLD
Barbaric individuals and groups far beyond civilized behavior and the rule of law committed these heinous crimes. All good citizens must recognize this reality. These atrocities were NOT committed by any religion, any race, any ethnic group; they were committed by criminals. This has absolutely nothing to do with religion or ethnicity.
One purpose of these criminals is to instigate us to lash out, to strike back in some wild and imprudent manner. Such revenge attacks would most like claim more innocent lives. Let there be no doubt, if we fall victims to such projection of our anger, he will most assuredly proclaim to the world, "See. They just want to kill Muslims." We will become the "Great Satan" they accuse us of being.
The religion of Islam is a grand and great religion worthy of our respect and protection. The teachings of the Koran are peaceful, righteous and honorable. People of Middle Eastern heritage are just that - nothing more, nothing less.
I have traveled all over the world, met people from many countries, and tried to learn the local language and customs. I have also learned to appreciate all the major religions. One clear observation from my experience is, all people are the same. We all want the same things, to live a peaceful, rewarding and productive life, and to help our children to grow up in a better world than we enjoyed. It is our children that have the most profound drive in all of us. Our governments might have problems between themselves, but the people everywhere share common desires. Even the human genomic code shows that what differences we have are barely detectable in our genetic material. Those who lived across the last several dozen millennia all stem from just one woman. We are the same. We are one.
Thus, anyone . . . anyone on Earth . . . who directs their anger or rage at Moslems or Middle Eastern ethnic groups is committing a crime, perhaps one step short of what the barbarians did in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. To go one step farther, anyone witnessing such blatantly discriminatory behavior is failing the most basic test of good citizenship. All peace-loving, honorable, law-abiding citizens must intercede to protect anyone who is or might be the target of racial, ethnic or religion hatred . . . even in the guise of our anger over the events of 11 September 2001. Let us all commit ourselves to make this world more peaceful place where we can respect and cherish each other for our diversity - the rich, full colors of life itself.
Notes regarding the motives of bin Ladin
Kevin E. Ready, Cap's co-author on TWA 800 - Accident or
Incident?, wrote the following message to a friend and copied Cap. Kevin offers
some informed insights into the motives of bin Ladin and his henchmen.
Subject: RE: Whhaa??; Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2001 13:02:41 -0700; From: "Kevin Ready" firstname.lastname@example.org; To: __________; CC: email@example.com:
"The sad part about this war is that nobody in Washington seems to understand that it isn't about America, Usama bin Ladin doesn't care about America, or democracy or any of the things Bush spoke of. Usama simply considers us unworthy of concern and a good scapegoat to foment unrest in the Moslem world to achive his vision of the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate, which is his dream. In his speech the other night Usama talked about what has happened in the last eighty years to Islam. Everybody commentign on TV, to a man, thought he was talking about the partition of Palestine and the creation of the Jewish Homeland with the Balfour Declaration in the early 1920's. What Usama was really talking about was the end of the Turkish Caliphate (head of Islamic world) with the reorganization of Ottoman Empire into modern secular Turkey by the westernizing Young Turks under Attaturk. Usama envisions himself as the next Caliph who will restore the Faith and conquer the world in the name of Islam. The scary thing is that there are millions of little boys in the gutters of Pakestine, Egypt and Indonesia that would like nothing better than to be Usama's new crop of "Hitler-jungen." It weas really scary to see the interview of boys in the church school in Pakestine where one little boy had a clipping about the Sears Tower and he said that "this one will be mine to blow up." He was maybe ten years old.
"Unfortunately, I believe we see the 21st century unfolding before us. Even if we get Usama this time, there are still a dozen repressive regimes in the Arab world we call our "friends" (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.) and a dozen more who hate us (Iran, Iraq, Libya, etc.) that will lead to more discord and possibly war before things get worked out. The Middle East is going to explode in coming decades - witness the PLO police battling demonstrators in the streets of Gaza and the President of Egypt being afraid to really support the anti-terrorism campaign for fear of fomenting revolt in Egypt. The Arab world is going through the process that Europe did in the Hundred Years War, the Renaissance, the French and American revolutions and the two World wars - that is, finding the route from the old religious and feudal systems to new national structures that allow freedom and interaction free of the restrictions of dogma and more primitive almost tribal alliances. The establishment of the EU and the end of the Cold War was Western civilization's graduation ceremony from this process. Unfortunately, the third World and, importantly, China are not at the same stage of development as the west.
"I sit here thinking that we are in a day much like June 1789 or August 1914 or July 1939, seeing the insanity start to boil around us, understanding only some of its roots, but knowing that it is likely to get worse before it gets better.
"Also, the worse that the Proleteriat had in 1789 was a musket and guillotine and the Kaiser only had biplanes, machine guns and chlorine gas in 1914 - now we worry about man-pack nukes, smallpox and seeding of plutonium dust as terrorist tactics. The end of civilization as we know it?. Probably not, but certainly the change in civilization as we know it."
Throughout recorded history, humans have sought answers to the questions around them. The journey has taken us to the most elemental blocks of all matter, to the most enormous structures in our perceptible universe, and to the very beginnings of time. Through this tortuous journey, we have faced, at the time, insurmountable obstacles - fire, the wheel, universal time, human flight, atomic fission and fusion, breaking the sound barrier, curing fatal illnesses, human space flight and the journey to the Moon and beyond. The list can go on ad infinitum.
This quest for understanding compelled us to take on one of the most daunting biological tasks -mapping of the human genome - and the genetics of other biological creatures from the common housefly and bacterium to our closest relatives in the biological world. Knowledge of the intricacies of the most basic genetic blueprint for all life will yield unimaginable benefits to the betterment of everyone.
As with most predecessor obstacles, the current state of human stem cell research is the cusp of yet another monumental change for mankind. While the calculated direction of stem cell differentiation will never be the cure-all for our illnesses and frailties, this breakthrough biological advancement will probably have a far more dramatic, positive impact on our lives and certainly the lives of our successors than any other biological progression in history.
According to Concepts of Human Anatomy & Physiology by Kent M. Van De Graaff [Wm. C. Brown Publishers], conception is the moment a specific spermatozoa penetrates the membrane of an ovum, the two genetic strings combine, and a single zygote progenitor cell is formed. Cellular division progresses through the blastocyst stage when cellular differentiation begins. The embryonic period lasts from the beginning of the third week to the end of the eighth week of gestation and is characterized by the formation of specific cellular structures. It is within the embryonic stage that concentration stem cell research rests in order to learn the detailed biological processes that cause stem cells to differentiate into tissue stem cells and ultimately mature tissue. The objective of stem cell research is to isolate universal and specific stem cells and direct differentiation to produce fresh, healthy mature, tissue cells to replace damaged or defective cells in living humans.
The fertilized human zygote is the ultimate stem cell - the single cell that is the combination of the ovum and spermatozoa - that contains all the genetic material for development, and the stimulation of reproduction and differentiation. Every cell that defines each of us as unique living beings comes from that single cell. There is no other progenitor cell comparable to a zygote.
Adult stem cells, as successor cells, are different and inferior in several major ways. Adult cells are down the road of differentiation. Adult stem cells have undergone the inherent mutations of the life process. Adult stem cells do not have the same versatility, utility and adaptability as embryonic stem cells. Whether adult stem cells are adequate or not has yet to be determined and can only be established through extensive, comparative research.
The long and short of it is, there is no more basic stem cell than the zygote and its successor cells at least to the blastocyst stage. Despite the potential inferiority, adult stem cells may prove to be sufficient to achieve the medical gains we seek. Then, perhaps embryonic stem cells will not be required. Based on our knowledge to date, it would appear that is not likely to be the case. Thus, it is in the reality of this biology that establishes the fertile environment for the moral, ethical and intellectual debate.
portion of this debate is probably best illuminated by the words of Pope John
Paul II spoken to President George W. Bush during his visit to Castel Gandolfo
"A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception to natural death."
The words are elegant, poignant, noble and descriptive. Upon these words, we can engage the debate.
The key word is conception. The frontlines of the abortion rights debate centers upon this moment. As a result, any cellular division whether in the womb or a Petrie dish is enveloped in this perhaps most controversial and divisive public debate. One side has attempted to stake out the moral high ground based on this moment and condemn all others not of like belief. From this uncompromising position springs the intensely charged moral rationalization for illegal activities - any action is justified.
The argument can be taken in another logical course of debate. Does our energy focus on improving life for the living or truncate such benefit in deference for what might or could be life? Many would argue for the living. Some will say there is no compromise.
This is not an abortion rights question or issue!
I find it truly unfortunate that we are allowing the public debate over abortion rights to cloud this landmark biological research. The intellectual debating point of when we define life is inappropriate and wrong as applied to this discussion. No one is even remotely suggesting the use of viable fetal entities. Further, stem cell research requires cellular differentiation, i.e., single cells must divide to a sufficient point that unique foundation tissue cells can be identified. In my humble opinion, those who resist stem cell research on the basis of when life begins will seriously impede human progress in our inevitable journey to understand the world around us.
This is a classic case demanding Federal funding and the concomitant controls to ensure rogue entrepreneurs cannot take this critical research along inappropriate and unsafe directions. I want this research in the public domain. I want to see the successes and failures. I want Federal oversight where results can be debated in an appropriate public forum like the National Institutes of Health and Congress. If I could designate where my tax dollars were applied, it would be to stem cell research including embryonic stem cells. Without Federal funding, stem cell research will progress in private, largely beyond public view, and place the results in the entrepreneurial domain. It is just too important to be derailed or stopped.
Let us get passed this distraction quickly and further the advancement of mankind. I strongly encourage Federal funding for stem cell research including embryonic stem cell research. Let us not allow this current public debate swirling around embryonic stem cell research to be viewed in the cold light of historical examination by our ancestors as we view the moral condemnation of Galileo Galilei today.
The potential for stem cell applications to solve some of our most daunting medical problems is the penicillin, the Yuri Gagarin, the Trinity Site, the "one giant leap for mankind" for this instant on the timeline of human progress. We must not cower or fail at this incredible juncture. We must proceed with stem cell research including that portion associated with embryonic stem cells. The potential benefit to all mankind is truly beyond our imagination. We must move forward, now.
NOTE: This essay is an open reply to a series of eMail messages regarding "A Noble Farewell For An American Soldier" by Ms. Joan Caraganis Jakobson [Newsweek, July 9, 2001:p.14]. Ms. Jakobson is a self-avowed antiwar protester who only found an appreciation of her veteran father upon his death and military funeral with honors ". . . on behalf of a grateful nation." Her article stirred a simmering pot.
These are like so many discussions I've had with my children and many others regarding the Vietnam War and war in general. Two of my boys served their country as Marines. My middle son asks in many different ways, why do we need a military? He has seriously considered such questions. I share your view: "But until we humans Somehow figure out how to get along despite huge differences, if we Ever do, war is a fact of life on this earth." And, I might add, we must be prepared.
What the Jane Fonda's of the world failed to recognize or refused to even acknowledge was the aggression of Communism in those days. North Korea executed an unprovoked invasion of the South Korea in June 1950. North Vietnam organized, supplied, led and executed a masterful armed aggression to subjugate South Vietnam that began in 1956. Ms. Jacobson uses the terms ". . . the armed forces were an instrument for senseless destruction and imperialism." To whom is she referring? Is she spouting dumb rhetoric or does she have evidence to make such statements? Did she believe those things in the 60's & 70's out of some blind dogma or from rigorous contemplation? While I'm not about to defend the decisions, orders, rules of engagement, or even perhaps motives of some of our leaders during that time, the cause was noble and just. Were we to stand idly by and simply allow North Korea to subsume South Korea, or North Vietnam to dominate South Vietnam? If the principles espoused in the Declaration of Independence have any meaning at all to any of us, we had no choice but to do our best to defend those countries that were under attack by forces that sought to subjugate them. I do not hold the draft dodgers and Jane Fonda's of the world with anything other than disgust and disdain; and yet, I was prepared to go in harm's way to defend their right to protest. I do not despise their words, but I am revolted by their actions. I share Jim Webb's profound disappointment in Jimmy Carter's unilateral and universal pardon of those who did not have the commitment and courage to do what Mohammed Ali did . . . he did his time. The biggest single mistake in the whole Vietnam era, in my humble opinion, was the fact that Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon assumed the political support of the People and did very little to garner that mandatory support; we were taken for granted. It was like they were ashamed and tried to sneak one by us. We have been ashamed of our power for far too long. We must not be, if government ". . . of the People, for the People and by the People shall not perish from the earth" has any meaning.
While I am glad Ms. Jacobson finally began to see just a sliver of what it means to serve one's country under arms, she is far from appreciating the genuine sacrifice such service demands and is the sole sustenance of the very freedom & liberty we thrive upon.
One day the grievous wounds of Vietnam will heal. But, I humbly submit, that day will come only when those who are called upon involuntarily to go in harm's way see liberty as a higher calling than self-aggrandizement.
Pardon my diatribe, but my arguments have not softened with age. We simply must not forget what our brothers have done for all of us. I strive everyday to ensure my children are among the number of those who remember and cherish freedom. On every Independence Day, my family reads the Declaration of Independence word for every precious word, and sometimes when the mood is right, we also read Lincoln's immortal Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Those words represent our only salvation in the face of those who would bring violence to our doorstep. Let freedom ring . . . God Almighty, let freedom ring.
Sorry for rolling on far too long. Hope all is well.
Yet one more! Construction began on this essay just after the Columbine High School event in Littleton, Colorado, and extended beyond the most recent abuses in Santee and El Cajon, California.
Since this is yet another controversial topic guaranteed to touch sensitive nerves, I feel compelled to offer an initial disclaimer. You will find in my writing as well as my political thought that I do not fit well into defined ideological communities. I am neither liberal nor conservative, Republican or Democrat, neither socialist nor capitalist. I regularly cross lines of dogma depending on the subject. So, please do not apply labels to my arguments in this debate. I simply want a proper public exchange to ensure we do not react emotionally to yet one more societal abuse at the hands of our children. With that enjoinder, let me share my thoughts on children and guns.
First and foremost, there is no perfect safety. Any determined individual can overcome any security as the old adage says: where there is a will, there is a way. Trying to achieve perfect safety is a ludicrous waste of valuable resources that will only lead to frustration just as we have seen with the failure of US Drug Enforcement Policy. Nonetheless, examination of the school security provisions is an appropriate, perennial, if not continuous, endeavor for all of us. The key word, as in most life topics, is balance. There must be a balance between security and freedom. What physical security measures are deemed proper should be as non-intrusive as possible and tailored to local needs and conditions. Making schools into fortified bunkers will not help our children become responsible citizens.
Whether you accept the argument or not, guns are inanimate tools like a computer, a hammer or an automobile. Guns are not the problem. To focus the school violence debate on the availability of guns is wrong. Guns are not the issue. Likewise, children come into this world as virtually a blank page. They are taught behavior by their parents, peers and others like teachers. In my humble and admittedly lay opinion, the clinical propensity to violence for a child is far more rare than those who are taught violence by exposure, neglect or abuse. The issue is solely and emphatically parental responsibility - to their children - to their community. From this responsibility, parents should be involved in the education of their children intellectually and socially. They should be able to recognize problems long before they become volatile. While school employees can provide some assistance, the observation and education of children belongs with the parents.
Each of the young people who turned to gun violence in school or elsewhere have a few common points. They felt alienated or disenfranchised by their classmates, and they felt they had few if any options for remediation, other than violence. Each of them broadcast their intentions to others. They had signs of depression to various degrees. Some had previous episodes of violence. There are other similarities as well as uniqueness. I will respectfully submit there is another common element - their parents either failed to recognize or ignored the signs of disturbance in their children. Sure, there maybe many reasons like our hectic lifestyle, other family problems, and parents driven by other priorities - ad infinitum ad nauseum. The counter argument is, the vast majority of parents get it right under those same pressures. The parental distraction argument falls on deaf ears and is otherwise trivial and itself distracting.
A host of stimulants, and amplifying or contributing factors can be cited. Yes, the availability of guns has to be on the table. There is a valid argument that these violent acts would not have happened if these children had not been able to get their hands on the weapons and ammunition. However, just as we struggle with the boundaries on all our freedoms, the right to bear arms is no different. Can we as a society accept the abridgment of our right to bears arms when the availability of weapons is only a symptom, not a causal factor? Further, is it acceptable to restrict the entire society when we have problems with a few aberrant children or more accurately negligent parents? The argument ends when we find it inappropriate to limit pornography under the banner of freedom of speech; selective restriction or enforcement is inappropriate. Further, we must place our energy in treating the root causal factors rather than dealing with the symptoms.
The media's influence on children is yet another aspect of this debate. Is it wrong for adolescent children to watch movies with explicit sex or violence? Yes! Is it wrong for children to listen to lyrics of popular songs that advocate anarchy, abuse, violence or counter-societal behavior? Yes! Are those movies and songs the reason some small fraction of children turn to violence? No! This whole segment of the debate turns directly and completely back to the parents. Parents must recognize their sole responsibility for their children. Through parental education, children can be taught appropriate behavior as a good citizen and member of the community. It is unreasonable and unacceptable to restrict the rest of society when a few parents refuse to be involved with their children or define the limits for their children. We can use the safety and welfare of children as an excuse for just about anything. While a laudable and nearly unassailable rationale, using the children is still an excuse not justification.
Peer pressure remains one of the most powerful forces affecting the lives of children. The need to belong, to conform, to be popular, is perhaps the most powerful stimulant on the lives of immature people. In some idyllic place, parental efficacy would remain the singular most powerful influence until their children reach the age of majority. Idealistic but not realistic, our collective goal should, nay must, be to reach for that idyllic place. Until that time, we must constantly strive to control the influences in the lives of our children. If each of us did our best to be the most important positive influence in the development of our children, I truly doubt there would be any violence in our schools regardless of whether guns were available or not.
Increasing security at schools is a reactionary endeavor pointed at the tail end of the chain of factors affecting school violence. While some precautions are probably warranted, serious security measures will be a significant intrusion into what should be an open enterprise. These actions are probably the easiest to take and also probably the least effective. Likewise, restrictive gun control beyond the contentiousness of such action in our society is not going to have any appreciable impact. Just as we already have significant gun laws related to the commission of crimes involving guns as well as for felons possessing guns, firearms are still used in crime, and, it could be argued, has not affected the criminal use of guns. So, if gun laws have not reduced the use of guns by criminals, why do we think even more gun laws will affect the use of guns by children in schools?
In a related occurrence, an adolescent male killed a younger female while playing WWF moves. The ultimate tragedy here is the little girl lost her life before she enjoy the fruits of life. Next and far beneath, another young life was consigned to the destructive penal system. While the male perpetrator must atone for his crime, I concentrate my anger on the parents of that young male. How on God's little green earth did they allow him to watch that WWF absurdity without at least adequate educational recognition of the dangers? The parents of that young criminal should be the ones condemned to prison for an appropriately long time. They failed him. They failed all of us. They - the parents of the boy - must be ultimately accountable for the death of that little girl.
Everything seems to be focus on the accused youthful criminal since s/he is living, and we routinely fail to comprehend the consequences of taking a life or irreparably affecting a life. Our hearts go out to the living, wanting to find good in anyone, and yet that very process fails to recognize the enormous damage. When it comes to childhood violence, the primary culprit remains the parents, followed by some distance the accountability of the youthful criminal.
Further and more to the point, parental responsibility and accountability should, and I will say must, be universal and for the duration, i.e., until each children reaches the age of legal majority. More to the point, parental responsibility transcends all other conditions, e.g., good or bad marriage, divorce, separation, abuse, lack of legal sanction or any other combinations and permutations. If people realize they will held legal liable to the fullest extent of the law regardless of a one-night stand to some other fractious condition, they might be far more careful and deliberate in procreation and nurturing their children. Our society and justice system seems so quickly to allow for a lessening of that obligation . . . not me! So, when a child murders someone at school or anywhere, we should send the children to treatment to undo all the parents have done or failed to do, and send the parents to prison for a long time - as if they committed the murder, which in a frame they have. It will only take a few cases and immature parental behavior will change.
The root cause and the focus of society's efforts to eliminate childhood violence must be the parents of our children. Everything boils down to the parents, and yet we continue to avoid that recognition. Until children reach the age of majority, parents, whether divorced, in loco or whatever, must be held legally accountable to the actions of their children. The message will be, if you have children, you are responsible and must be involved, nurture and care for your children. If not, you will suffer the punishment of society for your failure. The persistent laissez faire attitude toward parental accountability is wrong and must be change. When it comes to the debate swirling around children and guns, we must bring the parents of these violent children to the bar, not the guns they use to commit their crimes. This is not and never will be a gun control issue. I say let's go after the parents not the guns, movies and music. Let's get it right!