Close the Washington Monument

Securing the Washington Monument from terrorism has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. The concrete fence around the building protects it from attacking vehicles, but there’s no visually appealing way to house the airport-level security mechanisms the National Park Service has decided are a must for visitors. It is considering several options, but I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears.

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They’re afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism—or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity—they will be branded as “soft on terror.” And they’re afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they’re right, but what has happened to leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers’ inability to take that kind of stand—and their inability to truly lead.

Some of them call terrorism an “existential threat” against our nation. It’s not. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn’t make an existential dent in our nation. Automobile-related fatalities—at 42,000 per year, more deaths each month, on average, than 9/11—aren’t, either. It’s our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself. The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends.

The day after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to blow up a Northwest jet with a bomb hidden in his underwear, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “The system worked.” I agreed. Plane lands safely, terrorist in custody, nobody injured except the terrorist. Seems like a working system to me. The empty monument would represent the politicians and press who pilloried her for her comment, and Napolitano herself, for backing down.

The empty monument would symbolize our war on the unexpected,—our overreaction to anything different or unusual—our harassment of photographers, and our probing of airline passengers. It would symbolize our “show me your papers” society, rife with ID checks and security cameras. As long as we’re willing to sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety, we should keep the Washington Monument empty.

Terrorism isn’t a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against our minds, using the death of innocents and destruction of property to make us fearful. Terrorists use the media to magnify their actions and further spread fear. And when we react out of fear, when we change our policy to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed—even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail—even if their attacks succeed.

We can reopen the monument when every foiled or failed terrorist plot causes us to praise our security, instead of redoubling it. When the occasional terrorist attack succeeds, as it inevitably will, we accept it, as we accept the murder rate and automobile-related death rate; and redouble our efforts to remain a free and open society.

The grand reopening of the Washington Monument will not occur when we’ve won the war on terror, because that will never happen. It won’t even occur when we’ve defeated al Qaeda. Militant Islamic terrorism has fractured into small, elusive groups. We can reopen the Washington Monument when we’ve defeated our fears, when we’ve come to accept that placing safety above all other virtues cedes too much power to government and that liberty is worth the risks, and that the price of freedom is accepting the possibility of crime.

I would proudly climb to the top of a monument to those ideals.

A version of this essay—there were a lot of changes and edits—originally appeared in the New York Daily News.

I wish I’d come up with the idea of closing the Washington Monument, but I didn’t. It was the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott’s idea, although he didn’t say it with as much fervor.

Posted on December 2, 2010 at 10:41 AM129 Comments


James December 2, 2010 11:09 AM

I have never been to the Washington Monument, nor am I American, but I like the idea. Maybe it could be seen as a retreat however.

Why not turn it into a makeshift homeless veterans shelter instead? Maybe it would be empowering to the homeless? Epic Beard Man?

Mike, Cleveland OH December 2, 2010 11:17 AM

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

.. just make sure they form an orderly line to the left so we can inspect their underwear.

GLK December 2, 2010 11:18 AM

With all the flotsam being spred over terrorism one is lead to the assumption that terrorist acts within our borders is something new, or at least if not new, gaining in precedence. I find that doubtful. My feeling is there have been evil opportunity seekers plotting the destruction of this or that since the inception of this country. But now that we live in the information age John Q. Public hears about things that were previously kept under wraps. Thus for the first time in history we all have a greater psychological stake in the safety of the country. Note I did not say we have an actual stake. The guise of new threats always get exploited, re-wrapped as it were, in a tidy package of influence. Influence that serves as a tool to extract a certain behavior from otherwise sensible people. Behavior that serves those that wish to lord over us for their own gain. The destabilization of the psyche over the many alleged monsters afoot makes us all susceptible to being swayed into agreeing to limits on things that were once held in high esteem and regarded as healthy for the soul. It is illogical to assume that any society can attain a perfect level of public safety without ultimately being monitored like untrustworthy peons. The larger question is, who’s policing those who are policing us?

Steve December 2, 2010 11:27 AM

Wonderfully expressed indictment of state nannying and paranoia gone mad. Also seems apt as construction of the monument was interrupted by the US civil war.

Mailman December 2, 2010 11:35 AM

Why is the Washington Monument considered a terrorist target in the first place? I realize it’s an American symbol, but how many people would die if a bomb exploded there, compared to a bomb in a stadium during the Superbowl, in a busy mall during the Christmas shopping season or at the New York Stock Exchange during trading hours? Not only would more people get killed or injured, but those are all symbols of the American way of life too.

Dean December 2, 2010 11:38 AM

Great editorial.

I’m glad that your ideas are becoming more mainstream (security theatre is starting pop up all over the media). I hope that a political leader will have the guts to bring voice to sanity and truly start to lead.

I’m concerned that there is so much money at stake in the “homeland security” business that we’re stuck on this road. There are too many people interested in maintaining a security state to let it go.

AndrewR December 2, 2010 11:41 AM

You could build a “Monument to the Security Officers” next door and house the security screening there… It could be shaped like a giant rubber glove or maybe a square arch.

Paul December 2, 2010 11:42 AM

I say close it down, the original Washington Monument will still be available for the public to visit in Baltimore.

NobodySpecial December 2, 2010 12:11 PM

The PostOffice tower (in London and owned by Bruce’s employers) was closed in the 80s due to terrorism.

Unless of course it’s actually the secret home of Bruce’s supervillain lair

Ali December 2, 2010 12:12 PM

I think America should be redesigned to have a green channel. A channel is a kind of cylindrical glass tube, the kind kids use to trap ants in and make them walk around in circles – just bigger for humans and cars. The green – or trusted channel can only be entered after a full naked screening, once humiliated and entered into you don’t have to go through the embarrassment again. The green channel should be the only means of entering airports and monuments of importance and of course the presidents office. You can leave the channel anytime but remember the groping and Xray exposure – better stay green. Ofcourse no knives or liquids are allowed in the green. If you happen to be born in the green you will stay attached to you mom – cause no one will be able to cut your umbilical cord. Which makes perfect sense, it is as secure as your mothers womb! Infact why bother coming out into the nasty world at all.

Another Kevin December 2, 2010 12:21 PM

Tear it stone from stone, and use the stone to build a bunker – to which everyone, great and small, is forbidden access, because nobody can be trusted. Respect it as the tomb of the ideals that we once cherished.

Larry Ruane December 2, 2010 12:32 PM

Excellent article as far as it goes, but it would have been worth mentioning that we can reduce terrorism by changing our foreign policy. As Sheldon Richman said, “If they’re going to profile airline passengers, do it right: Regard as suspicious anyone from a country the U.S. is currently occupying, bombing, or otherwise brutalizing.”

Michel Morley December 2, 2010 12:32 PM

This is a great idea! It can be the first step to making Washington DC itself off limits to visitors. Build a wall around it to protect our government. We could even call the new DC the “Forbidden City”.

kashmarek December 2, 2010 12:38 PM

When the Iron Curtain fell, many thought there would be peace time divedends with elimination of the military-industrial complex. Now it is the terrorist-industrial complex (or security-industrial complex or the lose your freedom industrial complex).

About 40 or 50 years ago, someone discovered that the best way to change things in the world was to go to war. Eventually, that turned into the best way to make money was to go to war. Wars are preceded with a desire for a “new world order”. Wars are followed with another desire for a “new world order”, just not the same one as before the war.

Yes, close the Washington Monument, but in its place, erect a symbol to the terror-industrial complex. That would be a coffin indicating the death of freedom.

Larry December 2, 2010 12:44 PM

Well said, it represents the us gov’t as a whole though. What it, and we have become. An empty shell pretending to hold on to beliefs we no longer practice.

Matthew Ishii December 2, 2010 12:46 PM

“It’s our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself.”


Alex R. December 2, 2010 12:48 PM

Forget the auto accidents. More people die every year – about 7000 annually – because they take the wrong over-the-counter pain reliever than die by terror. If you do a ten-year average of terror deaths for the US, you get about 300 deaths by terror every year.

In other words, you’re 23 times more likely to die by taking the wrong form of aspirin than to die by terror.

Another useful comparison is the number of people who die every year due to diseases they got in the hospital, which amounts to 70-90,000 people every year. Maybe we should take the cameras out of the airports and put them into the hospitals. If me arrest nurses and doctors who don’t wash their hands between patients, we might actually save some lives.

HABMan December 2, 2010 1:21 PM

Until people in this country stand up for their rights, and start thinking for themselves rather than hiding behind politicians and marching lock step with the drivel the media pours out, we are doomed.

The terrorists have already won. We are not the home of the free and brave anylonger, we are now a bunch of shivering cowards all for a illusion of safety

kangaroo December 2, 2010 1:22 PM

No no no —

They should initiate full pat-downs on EVERYBODY who enters — or comes within 100 yards.

That’s the fear we’re talking about.

Everyone should be handed a copy of “Red Dawn” as well 😉

bob pretending to be alice December 2, 2010 1:35 PM

I like the idea of closing that monument.

I’m also wondering what would happen if The Terrorists (the same ones that Terrorize and cause all these panicky fears and overreactions) would suddenly find e.g. churches or malls more interesting than airports.

The naked scanner lobby would make so much money installing those scanners in all the churches and malls in US, and as long as the people are scared they would be easy to convince that a naked scan or ‘freedom pat’ or whatever you want to call that gate rape is necessary to enter…

No One December 2, 2010 1:37 PM

Wouldn’t it be “funny” if eighty years into the future our children are being patted down and scanned before entry into and exit from every building and when they ask “why” the response is merely “I dunno — that’s what we do.”

David E. Walker December 2, 2010 1:46 PM

So we’re all in agreement… Tear down the memorial and in its place build a bunker or tomb for “freedom”. Now, for the actual design… Any ideas? I think, on top of this tomb, should be a statue of a buzzard feasting upon the carcass of a bald eagle, and inside the tomb could be where the original Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution, together with the Federalist Papers, are housed. The buzzard could represent the perpetual war for perpetual prosperity for the military industrial elite, and of course, we all know from civics what the bald eagle is (which, ironically, is a sort of buzzard itself).

BF Skinner December 2, 2010 1:48 PM

If they were so valuable the contents of the Constitution and Declaration should be classified otherwise people with bad intent can use them to advance their agendas.

Han Solo December 2, 2010 2:01 PM

I heard they already closed the top years ago because they were afraid of all the christian scripture in the 190 stone insets in the walls that people would be exposed to(the horror!) as they climbed the stairs.

AnnMaria December 2, 2010 2:04 PM

I think the most important point you made was about the impossibility of absolute security. It is like all of the Chicken Littles running around screaming about wikileaks. It WILL happen. People WILL get into your data, folks. You can try to reduce it to .00001% by chaining all the programmers to their desks and only letting their families visit on Thursdays in odd-numbered years, or you can chill out a bit.

Jon December 2, 2010 2:23 PM

@ Larry Ruane : Excellent article as far as it goes, but it would have been worth mentioning that we can reduce terrorism by changing our foreign policy. As Sheldon Richman said, “If they’re going to profile airline passengers, do it right: Regard as suspicious anyone from a country the U.S. is currently occupying, bombing, or otherwise brutalizing.”

A good point, but whither Saudi Arabia? (I was going to say Pakistan, too, but of course you are bombing them)


lazlo December 2, 2010 2:24 PM

@Larry Ruane: “Regard as suspicious anyone from a country the U.S. is currently occupying, bombing, or otherwise brutalizing.”

More difficult when some US hubs are located in places like Atlanta, within the US-occupied CSA.

@Bruce: We can win a war on terror, but first we have to start actually fighting terror. Terror is an emotion, and it can be successfully fought, but few people seem interested in fighting it.

Robert December 2, 2010 2:25 PM

The Terrorists have won. They have our leaders cowering in fear. Their fear however is that they won’t be re-elected if they are not seen to be doing something to supposedly protect us. Hence the humiliating TSA body scans and pat downs for everybody but them. This is freedom?

Civil Libertarian December 2, 2010 2:31 PM

In an effort to frame civil liberties in terms of economic/budgetary waste, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee is launching a crowd-source research project to hopefully leverage the budget debate and anti-tax clamor into reform of privacy & security policy. From their website:

This month’s [November 2010’s] elections and the state of the economy have many Americans calling for cuts to federal spending. Protecting civil liberties and constitutional rights has not been a priority in Washington for some time now, but the clamor for federal spending cuts presents a unique opportunity to bring these issues to the fore once again.

National security spending has dramatically increased in recent years. Surveillance programs have expanded, collecting huge amounts of data on law-abiding Americans. Meanwhile, the intelligence establishment has created new ways of collecting that data—through invasive technology like TSA’s body scanners, policies including the FBI’s 2008 Mukasey Guidelines, and entirely new institutions such as fusion centers (more than 70 of which currently operate around the country).

By researching national security spending programs and recommending specific cuts, we can help Congress—particularly incoming representatives less beholden to the institutional establishment than their colleagues—identify opportunities to scale back programs that infringe on fundamental rights.

We need your help to identify specific programs for budget cuts. This project does not require subject matter expertise, but does require significant web research and some writing. We’ll brief volunteers in early December and invite your research over the holidays for submission in early January. We’ll then distribute those recommendations to members of Congress on Thursday, January 27, 2010.

Sol Young December 2, 2010 2:49 PM

Fantastic post. Idealistically, makes sense. Tactically, it takes another highly visible security checkpoint out of action and repurposes those resources (hopefully not a freakin’ backscatter).

tzs December 2, 2010 2:51 PM

Good post, although I think the comparison to automobile related deaths is kind of bogus. Yes, more people die in automobile related deaths than died in the 9/11 attacks.

On the other hand those automobile deaths are spread pretty around throughout the nation, and spread out over the whole year. Think of them as like rain. The 9/11 attacks where over a short time, in one area. They were more like a flood. More total water might fall as rain, but it is the flood that hurts you.

Whole companies were wiped out in the 9/11 attacks, and many others lost their entire headquarters, and were crippled for quite a while. A lot of these were companies that were very important to the economy.

Yeti December 2, 2010 3:30 PM

«”The system worked.” I agreed. Plane lands safely, terrorist in custody, nobody injured except the terrorist. Seems like a working system to me.»

I would agree with this statement only given the assumption that one of the goals of the system is to incite fear in millions of people. The fact that the flight was saved by the bomber’s ineptitude or sheer luck doesn’t change the fact that it was an effective means of terrorizing the public. I don’t think anyone heard about that and then said “It’s okay to fly now, we’re lucky.”

Steve December 2, 2010 3:32 PM

Well said, although I would recommended closing ALL of the buildings in Washington, especially the Big White Ones. 😉

WM December 2, 2010 3:37 PM

This is just the kind of incredible cogent thinking I expect of Schneier, and would never expect of legislators.

If you did this, it would just sort of stand there as an abandoned middle finger, raised directly at the U.S. Capitol building.

Jeff Rose December 2, 2010 3:40 PM

Here, here! I support your sentiment whole heartedly. The incessant focus on terrorism has come at great cost to our personal freedom, international relations and national debt, while at the same time our political discourse has been stuck on repeat while there are a wide array of other issues we should be debating. The question is, what can we do to push back? How can we stop this cycle of fear mongering and tough talk to get back to important matters like fostering a healthy, creative and well educated society?

No One December 2, 2010 3:46 PM

Re: Autoimmune disease — Wait, it /is/ lupus?

@David: The point is that the goal is not wanton destruction, but fear. The wanton destruction is far less damaging than the induced fear, hence why it’s a crime with a stiffer penalty than, for example, simple vandalism.

@tzs: The flaw in your water analogy is that rain doesn’t kill people, but auto accidents do. A more meaningful analogy would be house fires across the country versus forest fire season in California. Where home fires claim something like 20 lives per state annually, forest fires kill fewer than ten. However, our forest fire defense activity and techonology is a response to a specific, credible threat (that giant blob of plasma making its way over here) and there is direct evidence that our actions actually save lives (for example, when a house burns to cinders but the residents had been evacuated). The same cannot be said for our “airport security”.

Joe December 2, 2010 3:47 PM

Monica: you should get those paranoid delusions checked.

David: Terrorism is not a crime against people or property in the sense that murder or vandalism is – those are specific actions directed at specific targets for reasons connected to the target’s relationship to the person – e.g., a person murdering their spouse for the insurance money.

Terrorism only cares about whether someone else’s emotions can be manipulated by attacking a target. The target itself has no intrinsic value to the terrorist, only whether attacking it can be used for effect.

a nonny moose December 2, 2010 4:06 PM

I nominate Bruce Schneier for a Nobel, a Pulitzer, an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy…oh yeah, and he should run for President in 2012 on the Common Sense Freedom From Fear ticket.

PeopleB4Profit December 2, 2010 4:09 PM

I had a grandfather, 2 uncles and 3 cousins give the ultimate sacrifice to our country so the American People would never live in fear. To think our own government has perpetuated this fear in order to keep power and gain more power over their citizens is sickening. If you are not willing to die on Main St protecting and fighting for the American Way, then you are not an American.
I thought I was lucky not to die in combat, but America and myself died the day our leaders started brainwashing us to believe “we fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here.” Spot on Bruce, when you’re ready to take that tour count me in.

mcb December 2, 2010 4:11 PM

Moderator: The post by “monica” is offensive in the extreme. If you are within your rights under your “terms of use” or simple decency to delete it, please do. Thank you.

Russ Nelson December 2, 2010 4:14 PM

We kill 10X as many Americans EACH MONTH with our cars than air passengers killed on 9/11. I’m not terrorized! Give me my freedom back!

The reason “air passengers” matters is because nobody is going to let themselves be hijacked again. Thus the only risk here is to the passengers on the plane. So count 9/11 correctly: 246 people killed.

Brent W December 2, 2010 4:22 PM

@Yeti “[…]The fact that the flight was saved by the bomber’s ineptitude or sheer luck[…]”

Bruce has written about this before, it’s not ineptitude or pure luck which prevented the attack (mostly). It’s the security measures we’ve had since pre-9/11 which encouraged the attacker to rely on unreliable plastic explosives which are difficult to detonate rather than good old fashioned bombs.

Very Anonymous December 2, 2010 4:24 PM

We could surround the closed Washington Monument with little white flags… perhaps a sculpted wreath or two with a, “We Surrender!” inscription. Blast some patriotic music for the sheer cognitive dissonance it should inspire.

George Washington would be proud.

I can’t imagine many of his generation putting up with having their balls fondled as a condition of traveling. (“Founding Fathers Fondled for DHS CYA Theater, more at 11…”)

We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Dr. T December 2, 2010 4:46 PM

“An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers’ inability to take that kind of stand — and their inability to truly lead.”

The premise is wrong. Lawmakers (Representatives and Senators) are not elected to lead; they are elected to represent the people. The President is elected to lead, and on the issue of national security and antiterrorism his leadership has been worse than worthless. Instead of bolstering our values of freedom, independence, courage, and resistance to threats, Obama schizophrenically downplays radical Islamic terrorism while encouraging our fears, reducing our liberty and privacy, and embracing nannystatism and costly security theater. We need a real president.

tudza December 2, 2010 4:59 PM

My first visits to the Washington Monument I was able to walk down the stairs inside. They no longer allow this for two reasons:

1) People falling over for one reason or another and needing to be rescued after over exerting themselves.

2) Vandalism of the many carvings on the walls that commemorated groups around the country that helped fund the monument construction project.

fred December 2, 2010 6:08 PM

Wow, I sure respect you for “Applied Cryptography”, and your work on Twofish, but you sure got this wrong.

“Terrorism isn’t a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against our minds”
What?? Tell that to the thousands of people that died at the WTC. Tell that to the people that die in Israel by Palestinian terrorists. Tell that to the people killed in the Oklahoma city bombing.

I still dont get this “loosing essential liberty” stuff.. What “essential liberty” is lost when we have protection around the Washington Monument??
You honestly expect us to believe that govt is making up the threat so that they can install more cameras and do more ID checks?

“but what has happened to leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
so, Roosevelt installed no security at Pearl Harbor following the attack, cause that would have meant he was afraid? FDR told people not to be afraid, AND he kicked their butts. If you curious how appeasement works, just ask Neville Chamberline.

Terrorism is a tactic a small group uses when fighting a larger one. Ignoring it, appeasing it, accompdating it doenst make it go away.
If you want to get rid of the fear, get rid of the terrorist. If you want to get rid of the security measure, get rid of the terrorist.

The AIT machines and other added security measures werent around until after the US domestic terrorism threat started escalating.

BF Skinner December 2, 2010 6:20 PM

FredFredFredFredFred…swallow pill…chill
Paper bag…breath…that’s right in, out, in, and out,
Knees, head down….that’s better, see isn’t that nicer?

I’ll take a wild guess and say you’re not a long time reader first time poster.

Bruce, unlike many who post here, has never said that the threat is not real or is an invention of the USG.
Exagerated, yeah. Responded to in a clumsy, unthought out fashion, sure. Controlled for in a robotic authoritarian fashion that intrudes in to citizens liberty, without doubt.

Time to graduate from AC, which you should retire in favor of Cryptography Engineering, and go on and read Freedom From Fear.

Dr. T December 2, 2010 6:36 PM

@fred: Are you a troll or do you just not understand?

“Terrorism is a crime against our minds” is a true statement. An equal number of deaths and an equal amount of property damage caused by independent criminals would not be terrorism.

You fail to understand the differences between security actions that minimally infringe upon our liberties and our privacy versus knee-jerk overreactions that remove liberties, destroy privacy, and ensure that the fear of terrorism remains at the forefront of our thoughts. You are a perfect stooge for Homeland Security bureaucrats.

Ignoring terrorism is an excellent tactic. If a population refuses to be terrorized, then the terrorists gain nothing by repeated attacks. It is impossible to “get rid of the terrorists” without becoming a world-dominating police state.

What escalation of domestic terrorism? The only escalation has been in the minds of the Homeland Security and FBI administrators. Blaming airport nudie scanners and sexual molestation “pat downs” on domestic terrorism is absurd when TSA officials repeatedly insist that the increasingly intrusive security procedures are responses to international terrorists.

ghoti December 2, 2010 6:53 PM

I’ve been up the Washington Monument, and they can close it, as far as I’m concerned. You go all the way up there to peek out of a tiny little window. Whoopee.

There was a little-known terrorist incident in the early 80’s when a guy drove up to the base of the Monument with a truck, claiming to have explosives in it. It didn’t turn out well for him.

fred December 2, 2010 7:07 PM

yes, first time poster. Have read AC moret than 4x, astounding book for it’s clarity and ease of reading.

The fundamental mistake you guys are making, is in understanding why the terrorism is occuring.
Terrorists arent playground bullies that will go away if you ignore them. They are people absolutely committed to the destruction of the people they are attacking.
The reason they are choosing terrorists tactics (as opposed to full scale war), is because they are a smaller force, and that is the most effective way of attacking a larger force.

Because your understanding of their motives and ultimate end is flawed, your approach to dealing with them in flawed..

joe December 2, 2010 7:47 PM

Bruce – awesome post. Keep up the good work.

@fred – its people with your attitude who are doing the terrorists work for them. The more people react like you the more successful the terrorists will be.

Edward Bernays December 2, 2010 8:01 PM

You are asleep America. When count to 1 you will wake up. 3, 2, 1. Now you are awake.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

RH December 2, 2010 8:13 PM

@godel: I visited Australia recently. They are what we are becoming. They outlaw anything which ever hurts anyone. Its actually kind of sad. It doesn’t matter that a bomb over parliament is unlikely… one legislator thought of one case where one bomber MIGHT be able to hurt one other person, so its banned.

George Orwell December 2, 2010 8:26 PM

The “underwear bomber” story is a lie, a false flag event, I believe, simply to justify the use of the naked cancer scanners. The State Dept wasn’t going to let him on that flight but were overruled by U.S. intelligence agencies.
They wanted him on that flight.

On Jan 27, 2010, there was a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing titled “Flight 253: Learning Lessons from an Averted Tragedy.”

During the hearing, Patrick F. Kennedy, Secretary Management of the Department of State, stated that “They had the individual under investigation and our revocation action would have disclosed the U.S. Governments interest in the individual and ended our colleagues’ ability to quietly pursue the case and identify terrorists’ plans and co-conspirators.”

According to a recent article, “The revelation that U.S. intelligence agencies made a deliberate decision to allow Abdulmutallab to board the commercial flight, without any special airport screening, has been buried in the media. ‘Revocation action would have disclosed what they were doing,’ Kennedy said in the testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security. Allowing Adbulmutallab to keep his visa increased the chances that federal investigators would be able to get closer to apprehending the terror network he was accused of working with, ‘rather than simply knocking out one solider in that effort.'”

Additionally, there were eye witness reports from passengers on Flight 253 that the suspect was escorted onto the aircraft by a “sharp dressed man.” Why wasn’t this information breaking news like the original story was? The politicians and the media didn’t want it to be, because they wanted to use this event to justify the enforcement of the new body scanners.…

S December 2, 2010 8:37 PM

I had similar thoughts visiting the White House a few years ago. You now have to navigate checkpoints, unsightly concrete barriers, and be mindful that you don’t stray to the wrong side of the street should you receive a barked command from the Park Police. The experience is no longer pleasant or uplifting, but instead you feel like an outsider looking into an impenetrable compound.

Richard December 2, 2010 8:53 PM

I agree with some of your points, but I must disagree with your assertion that the system worked. The kid was an idiot and almost burned himself up because he didn’t know how to handle and mix the bomb making chemicals properly. The passengers saw him and the plane on fire and decided they better do something or they were all going to die. How exactly does that qualify as the ‘system working’? They didn’t catch him before he boarded, and he was an inept terrorist…the system did nothing.

Ashamed December 2, 2010 8:55 PM

Bruce has it right. I am a US citizen, disgusted by much of my country’s response to acts of terrorism during the past decade.

“A humiliating surrender will not save you from destruction” — but let us at least be honest about the abject surrender to fear by the US government, and so many of the sheeple.

I recently passed a US embassy in a country where (in my judgment) the risk to American institutions is fairly low. The embassy building was surrounded by huge concrete obstacles, putting one in mind of the Siegfried Line. My first thought was, “this is shockingly ugly.”

And my next thought was, “what a shameful display of American cowardice.”

I am old enough to remember when my countrymen took pride in their courage to face risk. A great part of the US is apparently so frightened of a miscropic risk of dying on their feet, that they are willing to live on their knees.

fred December 2, 2010 9:23 PM

@Ashamed, dont you remember the Beirut barracks bombing in ’83? Doesnt it make sense to take precautions that something like that doesnt happen again?
Seems common sense.. havent quite figured out how you feel that is “surrender”.

Sharon Cousins December 2, 2010 9:37 PM

Thank you Mr. Schneier for another excellent piece.

The character in Repo Man is right, “There are no safety zones.” The world has never been a safe place, and it still isn’t. This overriding obsession with “safety” strikes me as absurd. The best thing people can do to be as safe as possible has historically been to pay close attention to what is happening around them when they are out in the world so they can respond in a sensible and timely fashion. It still is. No one can make you safe if you are not ready to take some responsibility for your own safety. If people put more energy into paying attention, they wouldn’t have as much left for being afraid.

Until people learn to take more attentive responsibility for the space around them so they can stop being so scared, by all means let’s close any monuments requiring draconian and expensive “safety” measures, and I certainly agree with your symbolism with regards to this particular monument.

Huh? December 2, 2010 10:00 PM

I tell you what, you can have your “acceptable risk” on your flights, not mine. Current airport security measures are certainly better than nothing. If walking through a scanner that creates an Avatar of my body or (gasp) being patted down the way I am when going to a stadium concert is letting the terrorists win, so be it. I would be willing to bet that had these procedures been in place in 2001, the World Trade Center would probably still be standing and hundreds of families would still have their loved ones…

rox0r December 2, 2010 10:50 PM

@huh?: “I tell you what, you can have your “acceptable risk” on your flights, not mine.”

What do you mean by scare quoting acceptable risk? Are you saying that now there is no risk? Or the current risk is not acceptable?

“I would be willing to bet that had these procedures been in place in 2001”

Even if that was true, that could be said about grounding every flight, too. What? You don’t want to ground all flights even though it will stop 9/11 from every happening again? Think about the kids.

“is letting the terrorists win, so be it.”

Why do you hate america? Why are you aiding the terrorists?

drox December 2, 2010 11:44 PM

No One wrote: ‘Wouldn’t it be “funny” if eighty years into the future our children are being patted down and scanned before entry into and exit from every building and when they ask “why” the response is merely “I dunno — that’s what we do.”‘

The response would not be “I dunno”. The response would be to detain whoever asks “why” on suspicion of being a terrorist sympathizer.

When I was young, this would be a cautionary tale of an authoritarian dystopia. Today, it’s business as usual, and an alarming number of people seem to like it that way!

Very Anonymous December 3, 2010 12:02 AM


The current airport security measures are probably no better than they were then.

Even if it were better, how helpful is it to trade a few second of terror as your plane falls from the sky for a chance to bleed out from a bomb in the security line? (Perhaps there should be a pre-security checkpoint to protect the security checkpoint line?)

But really, what could be hidden in one’s underwear that couldn’t be concealed in a handy bodily orifice? People do manage to sneak things into prisons.

This new stuff is just more expensive in terms of money and human dignity. It makes people feel better that something is being done; the more unpleasant and expensive that something is, the more security it must provide, right? People do all sorts of irrational things to make themselves feel better and there are probably more people afraid of flying than of standing in line. If Rapiscan can make a buck off that fear, then I guess that’s money in the bank for them. (Perhaps one could cook up a plot about shock-triggered explosives in people’s sinuses, and then sell diamond encrusted gold knuckles so that the screeners could give everyone a good preventative punch in the face before letting them through? That is both unpleasant and expensive. I can see the news coverage now: A smiling couple with their small child, all with bruised and bleeding faces, telling the camera how happy they are that they are being so well protected and how it really wasn’t all that bad and what’s all the fuss about anyway…)

Quite apart from the bureaucratic CYA, what I don’t understand is how one person’s need for a lucky rabbit’s foot to deal with their fear of flying should outweigh a child or even a sexual assault victim’s right to not be violated by strangers. Why not try a Valium instead?

If one really wants to reduce risk, stop smoking, eat better, and exercise more. That stuff is boring, but not doing so is far more likely to kill you.

If one wants to focus on increasing real security, then look up those folks working at law enforcement and intel offices (and military bases) far from the security checkpoint lines. Give them your thanks for protecting you.

Simply doing “everything possible” at the security checkpoint doesn’t maximize security. Every dollar wasted there is a dollar that could be doing something more constructive elsewhere (depending on one’s political slant: be that gathering intel, funding more shooters, or building schools).

To get a better feel for airport security, fly through some international destinations that take that stuff more seriously than the US (I mean the security, not the show). In comparison, the US security checkpoints feel more like being sent to the principal’s office for being in the hallway after the bell, than anything that would deter anyone serious.

In fairness to the TSA folks I’ve dealt with, I should mention that all have been professional and polite. At issue are the policies and procedures that organization employs.

Andrew December 3, 2010 12:18 AM

“when we react out of fear, when we change our policy to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed — even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail — even if their attacks succeed.” — Bruce Schneier, Dec 2010

Eric December 3, 2010 12:18 AM

It's our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself.

Which is, of course, exactly what the terrorists were counting on. There’s no way they could bring down the US by terrorist means, but they did a fine job of making Americans do it for them.

Keven December 3, 2010 12:19 AM

(msnbc) “Terrorists detonate explosives at Washington Monument launching the 555 feet 5⅛ inches tall marble, granite, and sandstone phallus like a missile, as it barreled directly through the Oval Office with precision penetration”

tim December 3, 2010 2:12 AM

In other words let’s roll over and pee on ourselves. Whether we die in a car accident or a terrorist bombing is all the same to you. What a sick mind.

Whoopdie December 3, 2010 2:39 AM

Is it me or is the USA importing more sheep? They’re everywhere now. Get back in line, slave….bah! Throw that water away, slave…bah. Ooohhh hot female sheep…step into this box and raise your hands, slave…bah. I have No Agenda here…just saying my peace In The Morning.

dustydog December 3, 2010 7:37 AM

Written by somebody who doesn’t live in, or visit, Washington DC. Always easy to throw other people under the bus; to dismiss or propose destroying what isn’t important to you.

Arguing from spite is the opposite of principled argument.

jbrookins December 3, 2010 8:07 AM

It’s a sad state we are in right now. Quality leadership reduces fear. Unfortunately we are lacking in that department right now. But then I don’t think our leaders really want that anyway.

KB December 3, 2010 8:10 AM

Wow. I can’t believe some of the poor reasoning here. You behave as if the threats from terrorism reached some kind of equilibrium in 1901 and we are now overacting. Quick thought experiment: what if nothing had been done after 9/11 and New York has continued to lose skyscrapers at the rate of 4 per day? You think Americans would just go about their business as normal? After all, only 0.001% of Americans died, and more die of old age every day.

I know Bruce never locks his car. I wonder what would happen if everybody did the same? That equilibrium would change pretty quickly, is my guess.

This, of course, is not even to start considering the legal aspect. If lives cost $2.5 million a pop then you better make sure you at least break even with security, whether you’re designing fuel tanks, cargo bay doors or running tourist attractions.

AppSec December 3, 2010 8:22 AM

If NYC lost 4 skyscrapers a day due to aircraft flying in them, I hope the US Government would force plans down — oh wait, that is what they did on 9/11.

The simple fact is — with the door to the cockpit now locked and passengers believing (as those that crashed in PA on 9/11 did) they will not survive and have no choice but to fight there is no need for all the increased security measures (note: I said increased, not removal).

Want to wand me with a metal detector, fine. Want to search my bags with x-ray, fine. Do this with everyone that gets on and near a plan.

You want to pat me down in a manner that might be classified as having an affair on a spouse? no thanks.

I just want to know what is going to happen a terrorist group grooms pilots that fly commercial jets and crashes them into buildings without any hoopla from the cabin?

It’s hard to know who to blame. Politicians are doing what they feel the majority wants — otherwise they woulnd’t be re-elected (or maybe that’s even naive).

Jim December 3, 2010 8:23 AM

I just love people who drone on and on about how terrorism isn’t such a big deal in the USA, because it hasn’t happened since 9/11, and also complain on and on about the measures we’ve taken to fight terrorism… since 9/11.

It’s exactly like the famous NYT piece complaining that we shouldn’t be locking up so many prisoners — because crime is down.

You are a monument to cluelessness.

texaninsouthfl December 3, 2010 8:29 AM

@ Larry Ruane : Excellent article as far as it goes, but it would have been worth mentioning that we can reduce terrorism by changing our foreign policy. As Sheldon Richman said, “If they’re going to profile airline passengers, do it right: Regard as suspicious anyone from a country the U.S. is currently occupying, bombing, or otherwise brutalizing.”

Yes, of course…it’s our own fault… surely all the people who want to kill us only want to do so because of all the horrors we’ve perpetrated.

It couldn’t possibly be that the radical Muslim jihadists follow a religion of which a central tenant is the subjugation or murder of non-Muslims.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see yet another idiot with this ludicrous notion… after all, it’s no different than the mindset of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Oh yeah… his enlightened idea of foreign policy is working out just GREAT isn’t it? Isn’t it?

AppSec December 3, 2010 8:56 AM

Nobody is saying that they shouldn’t have done something.. but what they are doing is extremely invasive.

How about building out a k-9 force and more visibly and better trained security force which is more mobile and more adept at handling — and better paid.

Cory December 3, 2010 9:19 AM

Here’s how I would handle airport security:
1. Have the TSA focus only on luggage. They would make sure no bombs got in the luggage compartment or on the plane in carry on.

  1. Have a few seats (similar to the exit row seats) designated as the PABUHA* seats. If you sit there, a stewardess would approach you before take off and ask if you were willing to use deadly force on any wannabe terrorists. If you answer no, you have to move. If yes, you take on responsibility for defending the plane against terrorists.

The passengers are the only ones who have stopped any terrorist attacks anyway, so we should concentrate on helping them continue to get the job done.

*PABUHA – Put A Boot Up His A$$

mcb December 3, 2010 9:24 AM

@ ghoti and BF Skinner

“There was a little-known terrorist incident in the early 80’s when a guy drove up to the base of the Monument with a truck, claiming to have explosives in it. It didn’t turn out well for him.”

“They did for him a Bonnie and Clyde special.”

But not because he threatened to destroy the monument or was a risk to persons there. When he attempted to drive the truck away from the stand off they used deadly force to contain the threat he claimed to present to the residents of the District.

Since then simple and aesthetically pleasing barriers prevent trucks from getting close enough to the monument to threaten its destruction. In the absence of a specific and time constrained threat against visitors to the obelisk there is no reason, and no justification, to do a better job detecting man-portable threats at this monument, or others, than at other public gathering spaces in the District.

mcb December 3, 2010 9:29 AM

@ cory

“The passengers are the only ones who have stopped any terrorist attacks anyway, so we should concentrate on helping them continue to get the job done.”

Almost perfectly true. There was the fly attendant who put an axe to the head of a person attempting to enter the flight deck by force (don’t recall the details but it was in the 2001-2006 timeframe). Met him once; seemed a pretty average Joe.

BF Skinner December 3, 2010 10:27 AM

@fred @jim @Huh?
“‎The people who committed these acts are clearly determined to try to force the United States of America and our values to withdraw from the world. Or to respond by curtailing our freedoms. If we do that, the terrorists will have won. And we have no intention of doing so.” SECDEF Donald Rumsfeld September 2001

tsj017 December 3, 2010 10:31 AM

The underwear bomber: The system worked? No, it didn’t. He was on the plane and tried to blow it up. He failed not because the system worked but because the bomb didn’t.

Hard to take your argument seriously when you make a statement like that.

I suspect your feelings might change if the terrorist struck close to home.

Osama December 3, 2010 10:41 AM

Great article man, as always really appreciate your help.

Listen, we’re trying to pull together a Christmas bombing of the White House, so any thing you can do to reduce security around there would really help the cause.

Talk to you later
– Osama

aikimark December 3, 2010 11:04 AM

Time to repeat the Litany Against Fear:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

jbell December 3, 2010 11:08 AM

Here’s a suggestion for an objective test of airport security: lets say Southwest Airlines has 10 daily flights from St. Louis to Chicago. Southwest is allowed to designate every other flight as follows: “Pro” flight (using Israeli-style profiling and nothing else), or “TSA” flight (using full-blown TSA extravaganza and nothing else). Then we throw open the ticket windows and test for two things: 1. Which flights fill up quicker; 2. which type of flight is the first to have a terrorist incident. No one can complain about being profiled if they voluntarily chose the “Pro” flight. Any bets on the test results?

John December 3, 2010 11:20 AM

Problem is this essay offers nothing but a false sense of security, as if no one/nation/organization is actually out to get us. Was the events surrounding the underwear bomber only a positive outcome because he failed to get the device to go off? I agree that there are far more people dying from car accidents, health problems that we can address as a nation like obesity, and other “issues”. But, saying terrorism will just go away is not accurate. The terrorists don’t just want to make us fearful, they want to destroy our daily way of life, our economy, our transportation systems, etc. They’ve publicly stated this. You state, “When the occasional terrorist attack succeeds, as it inevitably will, we accept it, …”. But do we act as a result against those who have committed that attack? Or, sit by passively hoping they will just somehow see the light and will like us. There are schools all over the world actually teaching young children to hate Americans. And they are teaching them violent ways to “get us”. You can’t deny this. Is it as a much of a threat as driving on American roads? No. But the systems are already in place to put a dent in car related deaths (safer cars, seat belts, speed limits, driving rules, etc.). We’ve never really had the systems in place to “prevent” terrorist attacks. We are 10 years into this development; some good changes and some poor decisions. You can’t not both defend against these attacks and stay on the offensive as well. Part of me really just wants this nation to go back to pre 9/11 security levels (no cameras, lax airport/transportation security, no homeland security, decreased military buildups, confused intell gathering, etc.) just so we can all see where 10 years of no responses and reactions have gotten us.

John December 3, 2010 11:28 AM

@tsj017: well stated
@Osama: classic comment
@AppSec: I’ve been saying a K9 force for years now. 2 dogs on either side of the metal detectors and one guard who asks, “Are you sure you have no explosives or other objects you are not supposed to have? I’ll have to let the dogs lose if they sniff something.” One video of that on YouTube and they’ve been attacking trains and greyhound buses instead. The dogs can pick up the scent better than any technological devices can “see it”.

Alex December 3, 2010 12:16 PM


Really man? You think people are being taught all over the world of violent ways to “get us”? two problems here:
1) Narcissist !! We are not that important that everyone out there is just focusing on our “way of life” and how to end it… what is that “way” by the way?
2) No, they don’t. (Can you please list the countries in which you went to school other than America?)

Mark December 3, 2010 1:03 PM

I think you are a fool and I disagree with you entirely. Lets get the security up to snuff and keep the monument open. We have lost enough to terrorism.

BF Skinner December 3, 2010 1:09 PM

Let’s just stop the vagueness of ANTHING needed, ‘up to snuff’, destroy you,

and remember what Bin Laden’s goals are (killing people isn’t a goal it’s a means, creating terror and lack of trust in government isn’t a goal it’s a means)

Let’s look at what Bin laden’s goals are and they are very SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) from his point of view.

  1. The end of U.S. aid to, and the ultimate destruction of, Israel.
  2. The removal of U.S. and all Western forces from the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim countries.
  3. The end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India.
  4. The end of U.S. protection for the repressive and apostate regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Jordan.
  5. The conservation of the Muslim world’s energy resources and their sale at higher prices.

Unless he is frustrated in attaining these goals he’ll never believe he was defeated.

Eric December 3, 2010 1:44 PM

My extended family descended upon my house here in the DC area for Thanksgiving. On Friday, we got up early, drove a couple of people to the little hut where you can get tickets to go up the Washington Monument (max 6 per person at the ticket window), and got enough for our group. Our tickets were for 2PM, but when we got there early there was no line so we were allowed to enter, 8 at a time, into the vestibule of the shack put up with an x-ray machine and a metal detector. The park rangers who were doing this security were obviously happy in their work – wait, sarcasm doesn’t really come out in these sort of messages… in fact they were obviously upset to have to work the day after Thanksgiving and took it out on us “tourists”. At least TSA agents smile and apologize before they molest you.

It is correct that you can no longer walk up or down and have to take the elevator, and so miss out on most of the memorial stones used on the inside of the monument (they do pause the elevator twice on the way down to give you a quick view of some of them). Yes, the windows are small and generally scratched up so that the view isn’t that great. But every one of us was truly thrilled to have made the trip up and down the monument, even those of us that had done it several times before.

Yes, Bruce, you’re right: closing the Washington Monument would make it an amazing monument to our fears. And I understand that the purpose of the article is to point that out. But the time for being clever is past, the time for demanding the return of our freedoms is here. So we must be clear in our message, and not cute.

Give me back my freedom.


Rash December 3, 2010 2:21 PM

The monument (steps) were closed a long time ago, due to vandalism of all the interesting gifts and art objects set into the interior walls. My brother and his buddies used to run up and down these steps for kicks and exercise, and once I was lucky enough to tag along. Why anyone would bother riding the elevator up to ‘look’ through those clouded windows at the top is beyond me (but I’m a jaded DC native who escaped to California twenty years ago).

knute December 3, 2010 3:51 PM

“The monument (steps) were closed a long time ago, due to vandalism of all the interesting gifts and art objects set into the interior walls”

Interesting.. so, to restore my “freedom” to access the steps, the govt needs to re-open the steps, and just repeat the Litany Against Fear everytime someone steals something?


Montjoie December 3, 2010 6:42 PM

“A monument to our fears?” What kind of a girl are you? We should require every visitor to take a firearms training course and carry a loaded pistol during their visit. If any terrorist makes trouble, blam blam.

SB December 3, 2010 7:13 PM

How many times have you successfully caught a football with the fear of a tackle on your mind? How many homeruns have you hit when you were seriously afraid to be hit by the baseball?

If terrorism wins when the opponent is terrorized, they win. That’s what they do: terror-ism.

Today, as of 2010, the US of A are terrorized. I am afraid you have lost that much to the enemy.

Wanting to achieve a zero-incident record as they have tried since 9/11 is unrealistic, impossible. And every year it gets tougher and tougher, and it shall continue to do so. With your current mindset, how could it be otherwise? Think about it: you are told about terrorism every where you go public, somewhere you must imagine an explosion. And an explosion, if we are in it, cannot be pleasant. If you think about that, seriously think about such an event happening to you, the feeling of your flesh tearing away from your bones, you just have to admit it scares you.

And the government is simply not accepting the fact that a single incident, how regrettable it is, will never mean the end of democracy. A few wouldn’t either – unless a dictatorship spawns out of ever-increasing fear.

Do you not see, in 2010, that the means to detect ALL explosive devices keep getting more and more intrusive?

Do you not see that full-body scanning does not prevent, but rather encourages, an organization to invent a different vector of attack?

You are playing out of fear. You are convinced attacks are never good, must always be avoided. What if the next attack revealed the technology they have been preparing for so many years?

What if by seeing one in 2010 allowed you to prevent their mass production, which they are also preparing but do not know about? You do not know about the mass production, because so many resources are allocated to detect the attacks you do know, in airports for example.

Intelligence is important, more than personal intrusions on your own citizens. Play like a team, and do not play out of fear. Stop being afraid more year after year, it is affecting your judgement and makes it impossible to perform.

Be less afraid of attacks, affirm your rights, but do not sit by the terrorists pace to victory. Attack THEM violently.

America is what it is today because of its past, their assertive leaders and a people playing as a team with the government. In 2010, I have never seen the American government and the American people so far apart. But you should be on the same team against terrorism.

Wouldn’t the people accept an occasional terrorist act if it meant to return to walk-through gates, without mandatory and thorough inspections, or without our thinking that our raped daughter’s head is making her dizzy from horrible feelings as a security agent touches her intimately?

Play smart. You don’t win games if you keep getting more and more scared as they go along.

Act thoughtfully. Do not be afraid of terrorism, affirm the way of life you truly desire.

Stay calm, clear your head and think strategy America.

I am rooting for you, but you are losing.

Now batter, up!

Dedicated_Dad December 3, 2010 9:06 PM

What we have is security THEATER – not security.
It’s meant to make us FEEL safe – not BE safe.
Governments have killed many hundreds of thousands of times as many people as terrorists – yet we’re submitting to an ever more despotic government.
Panty-bomber was a false-flag, or at least a PERMITTED, operation. Likewise the Oregon kid who was nothing but mouth until the FBI hooked him up.
We’re being PLAYED, people – and it’s time we stop.
Security is simple – bombs are the only real threat today, so it’s only explosives we need fear. This is easily handled:
“Sniffer” detection machines.

With explosives out of the mix, now we only need be prepared to handle the occasional lunatic with a knife or perhaps a gun. How best to do this? By allowing anyone with a concealed-carry permit (meaning they’ve passed a full-on NCIC/FBI background check) to exercise the right, WHEREVER they are.

Ask yourself why this isn’t happening? Because our .gov fears armed citizens MORE than it fears terrorism.

Ask yourself why THAT would be! Figure THAT one out and you’ll be ready for more unpleasant reality.

Ronnie tried to tell us – government is the PROBLEM – not the solution!


demoralized cynic December 3, 2010 10:46 PM

Just rename the monument the

“Reagan Washington National Monument”

just like they did to the airport.

Then the terrorists won’t care and it will be completely safe.

John D December 4, 2010 1:30 AM

I think that England throughout the IRA bombing years is actually a good model. Not that all the measures they took or didn’t take were perfect but that for the most part they did not let the threat get to them. They didn’t fall apart or get hysterical. Good lord, Maggie Thatcher narrowly missed being blowed up in a hotel in Brighton and barely flinched.

Marshall December 4, 2010 11:40 AM

It is not the people who are afraid, it is the wealthy and the elite. I am not entirely sure why that is, but they are very risk averse.

L December 4, 2010 1:09 PM

Modern terrorism is much a media event as it is about killing innocent people. Everything al qaeda does is about getting air time – whether making a promotional video or destroying something that will get a lot of coverage. We need to stop being played by these guys.

Here are some thoughts:

1/ Focus our efforts on protecting critical national infrastructure and forget the rest. If someone wants to blow up a monument, let them – we can rebuild it at a lower cost than protecting it.

2/ Stop playing terrorist produced footage on TV. If someone blows something up, just say it don’t broadcast the al qaeda video that came with it. News organizations can report on events & content without playing footage.

3/ The US should buy air time in the muslim world & broadcast content on the innocent victims. Even in war, the Koran specifies protected classes – non-combatants, the elderly, religious people, children. Let muslims hear in their own language & laws about the crimes being committed.

Kent December 4, 2010 4:43 PM

This is an excellent essay. We are losing the War on Terror because it isn’t won with anything but will power. If we have the will to endure and shrug off small-scale attempts to upset us, terrorism will fade. One of the main goals of the terrorists is to drain us economically. They are doing this, and draining away our liberties. It’s astonishing that our leaders are so feckless and small that they cannot see how to slip this simple trap. Thank you for an excellent essay.

Throckmorton December 4, 2010 5:07 PM

“It’s our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself.”
True, dat.
“The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends.”
Maybe you can put your money where your mouth is by drawing a Mohammed cartoon and posting it on your blog.
But you won’t, because you are a fraud.

Danny Adams December 5, 2010 6:59 PM

I was a federal (military) contractor working near D.C. on 9/11…and yet, also being a child of the Cold War, I remember a time when we were told that the Soviet Union could wipe us out at any moment with thousands of nukes. So it’s always been quite impossible for me to work myself up into a blind panic over the thought of terrorists, particularly when it meant sacrificing liberty in the process.

Robert December 6, 2010 5:53 PM

So right!!! Prime example, the increase of invasion of privacy on the American people traveling throught OUR country. TSA is becoming like the mall security, to big for it’s britches!

David Conrad December 7, 2010 5:05 AM

“You behave as if the threats from terrorism reached some kind of equilibrium in 1901 and we are now overacting.”

I wouldn’t discount the terrorism threat in 1901. After all, Leon Czolgosz did assassinate the President.

Welcome, New York Daily News readers. Your angry, fearful comments certainly added heat, if not light, to the discussion.

moo December 7, 2010 5:22 PM

Some of the trolls and drivel being posted in this thread (and other recent threads) are really depressing.

The US response to 9/11 has done far, FAR more damage to a great nation over the last ten years than all terrorists everywhere combined, could ever hope to. You should abolish the TSA, abolish the DHS, and give their budgets to more useful pursuits, like investigation and intelligence (FBI, CIA, NSA and most especially, local police departments). They could also do a great deal of good if they simply allocated half of the current “anti-terror” budget to fixing the broken U.S. education and health-care systems.

But no. Your elected representatives are not necessarily the cowards that some posters here make them out to be, but they are definitely self-serving pragmatists and they see where their bread is buttered. The U.S. populace should refuse to accept such self-serving and reprehensible behaviour from their government, but sadly, most people don’t care (or even applaud while the liberties that generations of their forefathers fought and died to secure for them, are stripped away with hardly any protest).

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” –Walt Kelly, 1970

Derek P. Moore January 3, 2011 11:34 AM

I don’t think people are smart enough to get the nuanced insult that is intended by your thought experiment, Bruce.

More than likely, closing the Monument would be seen as legitimizing fears rather than making fun of them.

Henry James March 1, 2013 7:08 PM

Doesn’t anyone realize that the Washington Monument has already been closed for more than 2 years? This is due to earthquake damage. So the entire question is meaningless. “Nature and nature’s God” has done the job for us.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.