The scourge of terrorism isn't likely to loosen its global grip anytime soon. In fact it may intensify as tactics morph toward softer, more vulnerable targets that by their nature are nearly impossible for official security forces alone to completely protect. So it was particularly encouraging that six brave travelers on a Paris-bound train performed so heroically last week in thwarting a potential terrorist attack.
Among them were three childhood friends from America: Airman First Class Spencer Stone, 23; Alek Skarlatos, 22, who is a specialist in the Oregon National Guard; and Anthony Sadler, 23, a student at California State University, Sacramento. Their fast-action in tackling and subduing Ayoub El Khazzani, an alleged terrorist of Moroccan descent who had 300 rounds of ammunition and several weapons, was aided by three others: British citizen Chris Norman, 62; Mark Moogalian, 51, who holds dual French and American citizenship; and an unidentified Frenchman.
The individuals in this instantaneous international alliance (made up of people who just happen to come from countries that are NATO's pillars) deserve a title used too loosely: hero. And all deserve the Legion of Honor, France's highest award, which was given to Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler and Norman on Monday. (Moogalian, who is recovering from injuries, and the unidentified man will receive their awards at a later date.)
"You have shown that in the face of terror, you can resist," French President Francois Hollande said before officially pinning the medals. "So you have given us a lesson of courage, of determination and therefore of hope."
Let's hope the lesson isn't lost on would-be terrorists, who should know that vigilant citizens will fight back when threatened. Minnesotans still talk with pride about Tom Burnett Jr. of Bloomington, who died when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., on 9/11. Burnett and other passengers had rushed the cockpit to try to regain control of the plane.
Tragically, we're likely to need more heroes in the years ahead, especially as some of those radicalized in Syria and other Mideast battlegrounds blend back into Western society. And yet, as Hollande added: "Faced with terrorism, our societies are not weak." In fact, as exemplified by these "ordinary" citizens, they are quite strong.