Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Aircraft Box Cutters

There has been a spate of stories concerning boxcutters found or placed on commercial aircraft: here and here, for example.

But how much does this matter? Yes, the 9-11 terrorists used boxcutters. But a main reason those terrorists were successful was that the passengers and crew of the aircraft seized by the terrorists were trained and told not to resist terrorists. That is no longer the case.

Boxcutters obviously should not be allowed on commercial aircraft. But, almost as obviously, a boxcutter - unlike a gun or an explosive - is a relatively ineffective weapon where the proposed victim and others seriously resist.

So it seems wrong that these recent stories present - at least implicitly - the smuggling of boxcutters onto commercial aircraft as a major breach of security.

Undesirable? Of course.

Dangerous? Somewhat.

But the much larger threat to aircraft passengers may come from the shift of policy towards resisting terrorists. The old policy of non-resistance produced disastrous results on 9-11 because the terrorists were suicidal. Many recent terrorist acts - in Iraq and elsewhere - have involved such suicidal perpetrators, so the shift to the new policy seems well founded.

However, in the case of an old-fashioned terrorist seizure of an aircraft by terrorists who do not wish to die (once the presumption), the new policy could well result in the destruction of an aircraft that would not otherwise have perished.

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