[With apologies, of course, to Dean Jonathan Swift.]
The Transportation Safety Administration (T.S.A.) is now finding out what it is like to be caught as the bad guy in a viral video. Corporations now take this sort of thing seriously, ever since an airline smashed a flier's guitar and got lambasted for it in an online video (which turned out to be wildly popular). But the T.S.A. is a government agency, meaning that the normal corporate defenses (a vast P.R. campaign, for starters) are not likely to do much good. The People (well, some of them...) are absolutely fed up, and they're demanding change, after all. However, the fickle nature of public opinion means that if security is loosened and a plane blows up as a direct result, The People will then be screaming "Why didn't you keep us safe?!?" It seems an unsolvable problem, which is why I write today in the hopes of offering a constructive new idea to the debate.
A quick review of the problem is necessary to understand all the complexities involved. In the early days of aviation, Americans who flew commercial flights did not have to surrender their Fourth Amendment rights in order to do so. They were not searched in any way. This all changed in the 1970s, with a wave of hijackings. Some people, knowing they wouldn't be searched, carried weapons onto planes and then threatened to use these weapons in order to hold the plane hostage. These people hijacked planes for various reasons -- some political, some merely monetary (collecting a ransom to let everyone go, for the most part).
The American government reacted by forcing everyone getting on board a plane to walk through a metal detector before doing so. Although blatantly unconstitutional on the face of it, this was grudgingly accepted by the flying public so they wouldn't have to endure their plane being hijacked by other travelers.
But these early hijackings now seem almost quaint, in our post-9/11 world. When terrorists took over four planes to use as weapons, armed with nothing more than boxcutters, something obviously had to change. Since this point in time, security at airports has waxed and waned. Announcements of what will no longer be allowed on airplanes were followed by minor outrages, and in some cases, security was dialed back a bit. But since then, several other attempts have been made to blow up planes in midair. With each attempt (so far, thankfully, unsuccessful), the flying public has had to accept new rules designed to prevent (for instance) shoe bombs.
But last Christmas, a terrorist tried to explode a bomb hidden in his underwear. Eleven months later, new machinery has been introduced to, essentially, digitally strip-search passengers at the security checkpoint. If people refuse to use these new machines, then they are given a seriously aggressive pat down, which (in just about any other circumstance) would constitute sexual assault.
This was captured on a cell phone, and the media breathlessly picked it up and has not stopped talking about it since. "Don't touch my junk!" is the new rallying cry. One wonders if this is due to the fact that it allows the media to show faux pornography on screen at every possible opportunity; but for whatever reason, it is the hot issue of the day among the chattering classes.
But the feds -- from Obama on down -- are in a serious pickle. They know that the easy thing to do would be to just back down, and stop touching people's junk. But, unfortunately for them, this would leave everyone (and their junk) just as vulnerable to underwear bombs as we all were last Christmas. And if a disaster happened, the T.S.A. (and everyone on up to Obama) would be blamed for not providing security to the public. The public is damning them for the junk-touching, but the public would be just as quick to damn them for not providing the best security possible if a tragedy happened.
Which is why I'd like to offer a modest proposal. Actually, to be strictly correct and technically accurate, I should say an immodest proposal -- that everyone should have to fly naked. Immediately ban all clothing of any kind from all flights, in order to reach a one-hundred percent rate of security against clothing bombs. This would be the ultimate in security for the flying public, and therefore should be our new policy for every commercial flight.
Now, some will complain that this violates privacy. Well, yes, it does. But how important is privacy when you are being sucked out of a hole blown in the side of an airliner at 30,000 feet? The public will grumble, but will eventually see the infallible logic behind such a plan. Planes cannot be blown up by clothing bombs if there is no clothing. Q.E.D.
To be completely effective, there will be no exceptions made. Well, OK, except for the pilots -- we'll give them a break, since as has already been pointed out in this debate, a pilot doesn't need any external device to cause a plane to crash. But everyone else in the section of the airport beyond the security gates will be barred from wearing a stitch of clothing.
Some might argue for a somewhat-less-drastic rule, such as forcing people to strip down just to their underwear. But this would not guarantee safety, since some feminine underclothing contains wires (which could be used as a weapon) and since the entire reason for the heightened security was a bomb concealed in underwear. Forcing passengers to remove their underwear but keep their outer clothing on (the "commando" option) would also be ineffective, since bombs can be hidden in many different articles of clothing, both under- and outer-wear.
No, the only possible answer is to ban it all. Total safety can only be achieved with a total ban, after all.
The airlines themselves will resist this plan, undoubtedly. They will make the case that their businesses will go broke because much of the public will refuse to fly if they are forced to disrobe. This, however, does not take into account the fact that they will be attracting an entirely new class of customer -- the exhibitionists and voyeurs. By my hasty back-of-the-envelope calculation, the airlines' lost revenue from the timid and the shy will be more than made up by the increased revenues from fraternity houses alone. There may be some collateral economic damage, as the Girls Gone Wild company goes out of business due to all its "actresses" now catching a quick flight whenever they feel the urge to expose themselves, but the airlines themselves should easily survive the economic change.
In fact, new pricing structures may be necessary, in order for each airline to distance itself from the competition. Since the flight attendants will all be nude from now on, a premium will be placed on hiring the most attractive. Enticing attractive customers (in order to entice the unattractive with some pleasant onboard scenery, so to speak) will also spur airlines to offer new discounts or upgrades (perhaps "free drinks for hunks and hotties" or some such...).
Nudism, or "naturism" as it is today more properly called, has a long and distinguished history. This subculture will become more widely accepted, as the skies become a clothing-free zone. Naturist resorts and nude beaches have always been around, and they will have an opportunity to become better known to the mainstream public. Wholesome family-oriented naturism may even become the next fad to go viral, who knows?
Of course, initially, there will be much ribald commentary and embarrassed giggling, but this phase will soon pass. Upon entering the security section of the airport (discreetly blocked from view, of course, from the public area), passengers will be able to disrobe with dignity, pack their clothing into checked baggage (which will also be screened, of course), and head to their gate to catch their flight. Security will become easier, since a quick walk through a metal detector will identify any hidden weapons. No pat downs will even be necessary, just a quick glance will do.
As for the embarrassment, ask anyone who has been to a nude beach -- when everyone is walking around naked, the thrill of seeing a nude body quickly evaporates. When everybody's naked, it's the person wearing clothes who actually gets uncomfortable, because they are the ones who do not "fit in" with the norm. And when every single person is walking around unclothed, the novelty factor wears off almost immediately.
This plan will also have a hidden benefit -- the terrorists will hate it. They'll hate it for our licentiousness, but mostly they'll hate it because it will be very effective at keeping their bombs off our planes. And not just the clothing bombs which will become impossible in the naked skies, either. The next logical step for terrorist suicide bombers will be internal bombs. Either body-cavity bombs or even surgically-implanted bombs, which have already be utilized in a recent case in Saudi Arabia.
But because of their culture -- which is strict in its interpretation of modesty, to say the least -- terrorists will be deterred from attempting to bomb a plane. Psychologically, this weakness (terrorists' modesty) has already been exploited by the United States during interrogations of suspected-terrorist prisoners, at Abu Graib and elsewhere. Since this is known to be an effective tool against terrorists, it should be deployed against them. Use the fact that most terrorists would rather die than be seen naked in public as a serious deterrent to them ever flying in a commercial airline again.
This angle can be useful in presenting the idea to the American public, as well. A well-orchestrated campaign should roll out the slogan: "Fly naked -- or the terrorists win!" and be used to convince everyone that it is their patriotic duty to disrobe. Ancillary slogans can also be developed to strengthen this in the public's mind -- "Naked... and safe!" for instance.
This modest (and immodest) proposal seems to me to be the only completely effective answer to the problem of airport security and clothing bombs. Since the American public's willingness to listen to reason and logic is known throughout the world as being second to none, it should be quite easy to convince everyone of the superiority of this small change in airport security policy. It will answer the public plea to stop the T.S.A. from invasively groping (or even sexually assaulting) people at checkpoints. No groping will be necessary ever again -- because clothing-based bombs will become a thing of the past.
Of course the cynical will denounce this plan as being some sort of satirical suggestion not meant to be taken seriously, but they're the types of people who point out that so far, all the clothing bomb attempts that have happened have boarded their flights overseas -- meaning that U.S. airport security has less to do with our safety than how security is handled in European or African airports. They're likely also to be the type of people who point out the intense lobbying effort the manufacturers of the full-body scanners unleashed on Congress to convince everyone that they were the best answer to the problem, and not (say) chemical explosive residue testing, which hasn't gotten nearly the same amount of funding.
But to such critics I say: "let no man talk to me of other expedients." Quite obviously, clothing bombs are a clear and present danger to the flying public. Lesser schemes for thwarting such nefarious plans will always, at their core, contain a serious flaw -- the clothing itself. If the clothes are allowed to remain on the passenger, then the danger also remains. Instead, by removing the clothing from the flying public, the problem itself is removed as well. You cannot hide a bomb in what is not allowed to exist. Any other security method proposed fall short of this hundred-percent certainty rate. One T.S.A. agent, in the future, could -- with a mere look around a room -- be assured that everyone was safe from clothing bombs. Anyone wearing clothing (other than the pilots, of course) would stick out like a sore thumb in a corridor full of naked people, and be absurdedly easy to spot.
So I sincerely hope that in the very near future (say, next week) we will all be flying the naked skies, blissfully unencumbered of anything which could hide a bomb. In no time at all, the public will embrace the new practice, and accept it fully as the next logical step towards utter safety for everyone. Naked flying will become as familiar as walking through a metal detector did when they were first introduced. Flying naked will absolutely guarantee everyone safety, from the time they disrobe before boarding their flight to the time they reclaim their baggage at their destination (safely!) and, with dignity, don clothing to re-enter the non-flying part of society. Everyone's safety will be completely assured, and any embarrassment will quickly start to be seen as being unpatriotic. We all want to be safe while flying. The best way to assure this is to ban clothing entirely. To quote the learnéd philosopher Ellen Ripley, "It's the only way to be sure."
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
-- Chris Weigant