This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: January 13, 2010): A7.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:We have a curious way of singling out heroes to honor. One year ago, on January 15, 2009, when Captain Chesley Sullenberger saved 155 air passengers’ lives by guiding a stalled U.S. Air flight to land in the Hudson River, everyone cheered him as a hero. The miraculous landing was played over and over on our news and talk shows. Named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009, “Sully” was invited to attend Pres. Obama’s inauguration and met our national leader. The accolades extended for nearly a year: “Sully” was tapped to flip the coin at the Rose Bowl Game and was Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA on January 1, 2010. Readers snapped up copies of a hastily penned book by Sully, and the royalties rolled in.
On Christmas Day 2009, Northwest Airlines’ Amsterdam-to-Detroit passenger Jasper Schuringa dove atop a flaming Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, ripped explosives away from him, dragged the 23 year old terrorist to the front of the plane, and handcuffed the man as crew members disrobed the would-be terrorist. Schuringa was paid $18,000 by CNN for cell phone pictures taken of the incident, and a five minute interview with him appeared on that U.S. television network. Beyond this, Schuringa’s act of bravery –one that saved the lives of 278 fellow travelers (and 11 crew members)– has not merited much attention. Few news accounts have even mentioned his name.
Sully was feted widely for doing the job he trained for and had contracted to do. No one trained Schuringa to save his peers, nor asked him to do it. Even more so than Sully’s, it is Schuringa’s voluntary heroism that should inspire us, for it merits additional, special commendation. But Schuringa has not been easily embraced. If this is because he is not an American, that is a shame. He is a citizen of the Netherlands, and it was from that allied nation’s main city, Amsterdam, that Northwest Flight 253 originated.
In our laser focus on “what went wrong” with the screening of passengers on that flight, with the coordinating of “watch lists” with intelligence information, and all the rest that consumes the blame game in Washington, it is easy to ignore what went right. Chiefly, what went right was that a brave Dutchman knew that lives hung in the balance if he did not assume responsibility to save them. Instead of casting about for whom to call to deal with the problem, Schuringa took the initiative and acted.
In the wake of 9/11, a great deal of commemorating of firefighters and police who perished in the Twin Towers that day made sense, so much so that it took some days before the heroism of specific individuals aboard Flight 93, the fourth hijacked aircraft , the one that crashed in Pennsylvania, received its due recognition. But a telephone operator recorded words from Todd Beamer, a passenger on that plane, words that became an inspiration to us all: “Are you guys ready? Okay. Let’s roll.” Beamer thus led a revolt against the Al Qaeda hijackers, a revolt that quite likely saved the U.S. Capitol building, or the White House, from destruction. It took 4 to 5 years, but eventually three films were made to commemorate their acts of selfless heroism, and their model guides new generations through those productions.
Schuringa is no less of a hero than was Todd Beamer, and he deserves our praise now and our emulation in the future. In Washington, of course, we can expect months of chatter, finger pointing, and new regulations in the wake of the attempted Christmas aircraft bombing. Catchy phrases such as “layers of security” are sure to engage us. But the most important, needed layer of security in counter-terrorism preparedness is an alert citizenry. Since the bad guys keep coming at us, when flying across the continent this January I have found reassuring the sense that more of my follow travelers still stay alert, and take flight “ready to roll.” Thank you, Jasper Schuringa.
Written on January 8, 2010
Gordon L. Bowen
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