Keep Calm and Carry On

I was in London for the two terrorist attacks on public transportation systems in July of 2007. The darting eyes of passengers on the underground in the weeks afterward, the staring at any bag or parcel on a bus that seemed to have no obvious owner, attested to the great and enduring fear the attacks generated.

Yet, riding the tube last week, I made the following observation about how passenger behavior and security procedures have changed relative to the time before the attacks: Zed. Likewise, while I expect to have bags peered into or even a mechanical scan of my person at a museum in Washington, D.C., I walked in and out of the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery with complete freedom.

Of course President Obama isn’t going to walk through museums or ride on a bus during his London visit, but I hope someone on his staff takes the time to do so and asks him or herself: Why have we given up so much freedom so unhesitatingly in America when a nation so much closer to our enemies resolutely refused to compromise?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

13 thoughts on “Keep Calm and Carry On”

  1. Refused to compromise? I seem to recall a bunch of Big Brother type posters in Britain trying to get everyone paranoid & spying on their neighbors, and an epidemic of security cameras everywhere. I’m willing to bet it goes deeper than posters. Maybe Brits handle their paranoia differently than Americans, but they still have their own overburdening police state going on too.

  2. There are those yet alive who can recall a large scale bombing campaign carried out in the UK. Americans have long forgotten what it means to jeopardize the populace when asking of our soldiers.

  3. When I visited London last year, there was a 50% chance that any tube ride I took would be delayed because of an “unidentified” bag.

    And the number of cameras, especially with the anti-pigeon spikes on them, was truly disturbing.

  4. Not to be confused with John Dillinger’s famous “Lie down and stay calm.”

  5. I lived in W Germany when the Red Army Faction was running around (and during Chernobyl), and remember our reactions after the Vienna and Rome attacks and the increased police presence as a result. We had a regular watering hole that saw an arrest there one evening of a purported Red Army Faction member (we never heard a single detail, only speculation). Further, the Frankfurt-Rhein Main bombing would have hit me with shrapnel had I attended class that week instead of completing the previous week. Anyway, maybe because of a different, much longer history, few wet their pants and were paralyzed by fear for years, and certainly our freedoms weren’t lessened to the degree Americans’ are now. To me it is the reaction of an adult society vs that of a comparative teenage society. And no one told us to go shopping to make us feel better, either. Just different societies in different stages of development and maturity.

  6. Dan Staley—Damn! I was in Germany in 1972 at the time of the Baader-Meinhof Gang activity, serving with the US Army. Shortly after a lieutenant colonel was killed in a bomb blast, the procedures for guard duty were changed so that the M-16s had live ammunition at all times. Unfortunately, one night at a unit a few hundred yards from my own, an accident took place at the changing of the guard when the guy coming off duty tossed the weapon to the guy coming on; it hit the ground, discharged, and fired a live round directly into the oncoming guard’s groin. He died pretty fast in spite of being taken immediately to the dispensary. Eventually the live rounds were discontinued. Considering that we were only guarding a bunch of jeeps and trucks, the likelihood of an attack was not very great. But the pattern of overreaction was there.

  7. When the terrible tyrant George III was on the throne it was axiomatic that “no man has to give the road to the king.” His stiff-necked subjects jockeyed and jostled for space right up to the king’s carriage and woe to anyone who told them ‘out of the road.’ But when the Underflunky of Whatever goes up Constitution Avenue (to fellate the Republicans on the Hill) these days he or she is preceeded by a flying squad of motorcycles, and travels in a phalanx of armored vehicles packed with a regiment of machine-gunners. The whole road is closed for eons and woe to the pedestrian who steps into the street even ten minutes before the convoy comes by. The self-important thugs making way for Whoever will come down like the Angels at Altamont. You would certainly be arrested, probably beaten and/or tased and possibly shot for crossing against (or even questioning) orders, even if the convoy were clear across town.

    And this is considered normal, necessary, even dignified.

  8. Ed Whitney: what I remember most was most people saying they weren’t going to have their life put on hold because of a few angry young men. It – and many other things – was a good lesson on how to live your life. Big culture shock coming back to a country where everyone worked worked worked and took little or no time for enjoyment.

  9. While many — by no means all — U.S. government buildings are trussed up tight these days, retail stores and private office buildings, including shopping malls, are mostly wide open. I would say the private sector is doing a better job of cost-benefit analysis here. In any case, parties bent on homicidal vandalism and willing to be flexible about the precise identity of the victims will always have a surfeit of possible targets. Fortunately, 9/11 notwithstanding, that remains extremely rare in the U.S. as compared to many of life’s other dangers. Osama bin Laden’s most malign achievement may have been inducing freedom-destroying paranoia.

  10. would say the private sector is doing a better job of cost-benefit analysis here.

    I don’t think that is necessarily true. We bailed out the investment banks, surely we will do the same if a LPG or chemical plant gets hit and their insurance company files “bankruptcy”. Maybe that is what we need to keep the sheep quiet and docile.

  11. A Londoner writes:

    1. Because we’re used to people trying to blow us up – Nazis, the Irish, now Islamists
    2. Because we know we will survive
    3. Because if we do compromise or overreact we will hand them the victory (which, looking from the UK, is what the US appears to be doing).

    There’s a fourth point which Ken D. alludes to but our rulers have unfortunately forgotten. The basic idea of terrorism is to provoke liberal democracies into doing things which make them look less liberal and less democratic.

  12. “We” aren’t over-reacting, our government is. Why?

    Because if they overreact they win, by getting more power.

    Because they figure we’re idiots. (To be fair, we did elect them, so the belief isn’t totally baseless.)

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