One of my favorite television shows growing up was “M*A*S*H,” starring Alan Alda as army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce. One of the recurrent story lines revolved around Hawkeye pulling practical jokes on his colleagues. In one of my favorite episodes, the rest of the camp is finally fed up. They tell Hawkeye that they have planned for him the greatest practical joke ever. He won’t know how, where or when it will strike, but it will beat every practical joke that he has ever played on them.
Hawkeye at first dismisses the thought that anyone could outprank the master. But a few days pass, and nothing happens. He begins to worry and starts staying up all night keeping watch. Eventually he becomes paranoid to the point that he digs a moat around his tent and sits guard holding a golf club and frying pan as protection.
Several more days pass, and still no prank. At this point, the prank is revealed. The prank to beat all pranks is that there is no prank — apart from how Hawkeye became completely unglued because he thought a prank was coming.
This is how we have responded to the terrorist threat. The attacks on 9/11 and other more recent terrorist attacks were horrible, to be sure. But our response to the terror threat has been even more damaging to our country.
We allow the government to monitor our phone, e-mail and credit card info without a second thought. We submit to useless strip searches at airports. We mindlessly take off our shoes and turn in bottles of shampoo before we can board a plane. We don’t care that our Internet and social-media use can be monitored by the government in the name of stopping terrorism — while that information can be used to suppress political ideas using other government departments such as the IRS.
Our attorney general tells Congress that he has no knowledge of unlawful searches of reporters’ records when in fact he personally signed off on the warrants. Our president refuses to acknowledge terror attacks for what they are and covers up our failures to prevent them. The Constitution and Bill of Rights become more irrelevant every day, and no one cares.
The terrorists don’t need to plan any new dramatic attacks when they can just sit back and watch us disregard the principles on which this great country was founded and laugh as we destroy ourselves. We are becoming Hawkeye Pierce, sitting sleepless and unshaven in our moat with kitchen utensils and golf clubs, waiting for an attack that doesn’t need to come.
The damage we are doing to ourselves is much more dangerous than any terrorist with a trunk full of explosives. We must stop this before it is too late.
David G. Lang is a physician in Savage.