March 17th, 204
So this plane went up in the air, flew around for a while, said “goodnight” to Malaysian air traffic control, then disappeared. Sorta. Seems it made a couple of unscheduled turns, pinged a satellite a few times, then disappeared.
In a nutshell, that’s about all we really know about Malaysia flight 370. So far, anyway.
What I knew about Malaysia 370 was scary enough for me. I put one of my travelers on the MH red-eye to Beijing…and could not remember which day. The flight took off after midnight which, when I’m advising travelers, I am always very careful to say something like…”the flight takes off at 12:05 a.m…..that’s the middle of the night between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, so you have to be at the airport late Tuesday night to make that flight. Now, let’s double check…is your last meeting Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning?” I cannot tell you the number of times there’s been a big “uh oh! Wednesday morning!” followed by a date adjustment. So I spent part of the first weekend banging my head against the wall wondering what night I booked that fight. Thankfully, I did not; my traveler flew in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
It’s not the first time I’ve waited for the passenger manifest to be published. A friend from my college days was on the American Airlines flight 11 out of Boston on 9/11. I had two clients originally booked on Air France 447 from Rio to Paris on June 1, 2009, only to change them a few days prior to return to the States instead. All of us in the industry have moments when we rack our brains to remember if we put someone on a particular flight. It comes with the job.
We live in a dangerous world. People hijack planes and fly them into buildings. People lob missiles at schoolyards. People set off car bombs in market places. People gun down people exiting houses of worship. People drive their cars into crowds on the sidewalk. And kids shoot up schools. The places that should be safe are not. And that is reality.
How scared are we supposed to be? Do we not go out into pubic places? Do we not travel on mass transit? Do we stop flying? Do we home school our kids rather than risk sending them into a place with lots of other kids thereby making it a target for a crazy person?
Should we make each tragedy our own? Local tv stations look for anyone with a connection to whatever happened…the cousin of the hairdresser who was a friend of the brother-in-law of the woman who was a victim. Anything that will make whatever happened seem more personal. But does that do us any favors? Or does that just make us roll our eyes and think, “if it bleeds it leads so who cares?”
Once upon a time, I might have laughed at those questions, but not so much now. I think about what is safe and what is not every time I book a trans-oceanic flight. I have close friends in Israel….that’s a worry on its own plane. What if that boatload of arms had reached Gaza? Another dear friend works in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia….and I worry about his safety all the time. I worry about the senior son playing at festivals and in some pretty tough neighborhoods.
What is safe now may not be safe tomorrow.
The US cannot police the world any more than it can police the country. If we were to curtail our foreign misadventures, would that make us more safe….or would it put countless others at risk? And is it our job to ride off to save the world? What if the world doesn’t want to be saved according to our vision of how the word should be? Is there a moral imperative, a moral obligation, or does that kind of talk just mask the banality of our own colonial ambitions?
In the last week, we’ve listened to John McCain rattle his saber at Vlad the Invader while the President is putting economic sanctions onto the table. What outcome does Senator McCain envision if we put so much as a single boot on the ground in Ukraine? Surely he does not believe the US would be greeted with open arms. We have millions of our own citizens living in almost 3rd world conditions and he wants to open another front? Give me break.
I have no answers, only more and more questions. Some of them are not pretty. Others are probably naïve. But I cannot believe for one New York minute that I’m the only person asking them. Hillel is said to have asked the best questions of all…as it appears in Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers):
1:14. He would also say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
These are not abstract questions any more. In fact, they cut to the heart of our national dilemma: do we have a responsibility to We, the People first, to make sure we clean our own house? Mired in greed and corruption, we are hardy a beacon to the word. Is the obligation to the rest of the world military or humanitarian? And if we are to act, is there a moment for which we wait….or do we, as a nation, act as quickly as possible?
And in the end, the final question must be….what makes us safer…safest?
As for MH370….I think it landed someplace….but that’s just me. There are so many islands out there where a runway could’ve been smoothed without anyone being any the wise. Somehow, ditching in the ocean just doesn’t make sense. Right now, there is nothing to do but wait.