On September 11, the world stopped. There’s nothing to say about it now that hasn’t become a cliché.
Everything -- beyond a few acres of New York, Arlington, Virginia, and Pennsylvania -- looks normal. But nothing is normal. We’re suspended somewhere between a reign of terror and World War III, with no idea where we’re going.
Rod Serling would have understood this moment.
There are only two certainties: that there will be more violence (pray that it’s aimed only at the guilty) and that our own government, in the name of “safety” and “security,” will launch an all-out assault on American freedoms.
In the meantime, we’re pulling together. And God blessing America. And readying to make our individual sacrifices. We don’t know where or against whom the U.S. military will strike or how long or extensive a war we might be plunging into. We don’t know whether -- or when -- or how -- our unknown enemies may strike again against us. Could we be hit with a biowar attack, a backpack nuke, a bomb aimed at a major dam? Could the power grid go down? Communications go out? Food shortages hit, locally or nationally? We don’t know. So in this moment of patriotism and paralysis, what’s a freedom lover to do?
Whatever else we do, let’s be as reasonably prepared as we can be -- both to protect our lives and to protect our rights.
First the personal:
Check your gear
Remember all that stuff you stored up for Y2K? All those dried lentils, tanks of gasoline, generators, medicines, and cans of bulk ammo you’ve been sort of embarrassed about ever since?
If you didn't stock up for Y2K -- or if you're rusty on emergency preparations -- get BHM's new book "Emergency Preparedness and Survival Guide." It will tell you everything you need to do. What the heck, get it anyway and stow it with your emergency goods as a reference.
If you've already been there, done that, and have a storeroom stocked to the rafters, it's time to take another very good look at what you've got. Go -- today -- into your garage or basement and check the condition of everything.
Foods. On the really long-term storage foods, like bulk wheat, corn, or honey, make sure the containers are still intact and that they haven’t been gotten at by gnawing critters, flood waters, mold, or anything else.
On mid-term foods like those year’s supplies of #10 cans you ordered from Utah, examine their integrity, too. Check for rusty bottoms, serious gouges, or swelling (not usually a problem with dried goods, but could happen if the integrity of the can has been breached). Replace damaged items or items that don’t lend themselves to more than a couple of years’ storage. Powdered milk, for instance. Although it may last five years or more, anything over two years old is suspect. Certain other fragile foods should be opened and used or tossed; any banana chips, butter powder, or sour cream powder you bought in 1998, for instance, are probably putrid by now, despite the world’s best packing.
On store-bought canned or boxed goods, check for integrity and swelling, then toss and replace anything that doesn’t look perfect. Theoretically, these off-the-shelf canned goods last only for a year, maybe two. If they’ve been stored in a cool, dark place they can be used much longer -- but I wouldn’t vouch for their nutritional value. Get more. This is the time of year when lots of stores have case-load canned-food sales.
Fuels. If you stored gasoline -- presumably adding Sta-Bil to keep it from turning to jelly -- check it. If it’s still good, use it (but cautiously; try it in your lawn mower before you risk your car). Then re-fill your storage containers with new, freshly treated gasoline.
Check kerosene, diesel fuel, white gas, butane, or whatever else you’ve got on hand to power your emergency heaters, stoves, or vehicles. Renew your supplies as needed.
Power and light equipment. Test generators, Coleman stoves, lanterns, flashlights. (Renew your stock of batteries!) Don’t just test them for a moment then store them away again. If it’s been a couple of years since you practiced, conduct a drill in which you live for a couple of days (at least) without outside utilities. Note how all your equipment and procedures work -- then change anything that doesn’t.
Medicines and other health protection. You already know to make sure you have a fresh, current year’s supply of any medications your family members require for life and health.
Some of the more dedicated Y2K preparers not only stocked their regular medicines, but laid in preventatives and antidotes against biowar attacks. It might be good timing to renew those, given the enemy we seem to be dealing with. IF you didn’t buy them before, you might do it now. Here are a couple of places to learn about bio-war protection: Tempest Publishing’s Chem-Bio.com (http://www.chem-bio.com/), which sells first-responder supplies to police and other emergency agencies; and Bacteriological Warfare: A Major Threat to North America: What You and Your Family Can Do Defensively Before and After by Larry Wayne Harris.
Guns and ammo. Since Backwoods Home is blessed with one of the nation’s foremost defensive firearms trainers, Massad Ayoob, as a columnist, I’ll leave the hardcore stuff to him. But if you haven’t checked your emergency weapons and ammo in a long time, definitely do. Make sure firearms are in clean, useable condition. Check to see that they have no obstructions in their barrels. If they’ve been dismantled and stored in Cosmoline or otherwise stashed for long-term storage, get them out, reassemble them, check for rust or bad parts, and test-fire them.
Before test-firing any stored ammunition, also check it very carefully. Most well-made ammo that has been stored in a dry place at consistent, cool temperatures should be okay. But if you bought cheap, bulk, corrosive ammo (like a lot of the SKS cartridges (7.62 x 39mm) sold in the 1990s), you MUST check it very carefully before even thinking about using it. Over time or with poor storage, the bullets and cases of this ammo can become fused to each other. Try to fire it, and instead of expelling the bullet from the case, it may explode. Get a bullet puller from your local gun store if you don’t already have one and pull bullets from multiple, randomly selected cartridges. If they come out easily, great. If they won’t detach from the case, don’t use anything in that box.
There’s only a limited amount of info available on safe use of old ammo, but you can find plenty of knowledgeable people to ask at Shooters.com (http://talk.shooters.com/) and rec.guns.com (http://recguns.com/). Another good source is any maker of smokeless powder or primers (as these things are more tricky to store than cartridges and therefore more time and ink is given to their safe storage).
You, friends and family
I was talking with my best friend about a week after 9-11 and she was lamenting something that’s become common for a lot of us: The people we love the most are often far away, where we can‘t rush to each other‘s sides in moments of need.
This has always been somewhat true in our mobile society -- but never more so than now. Similarly, my employers are all hundreds or thousands of miles away. My contact with them is by fiber-optics, copper, satellite, aircraft (mail and courier), and road vehicle. We already saw how much of that “infrastructure” could be damaged in a few horrific moments. In the near future, we could see attacks against it -- including “e-bombs” to disrupt electronic equipment. Or in the longer term our own government or economic circumstances could put curbs on our use of anything from highways to the Internet.
Even close proximity doesn’t guarantee you can track each other in an emergency -- as we saw in the agonizing days of people trying to locate their loved ones after the hijackings, or the agonizing hours when parents were trying to reach and reassure their children who were in schools.
How will we find each other and make sure we’re okay if the Saddam or the Osama hits the fan? Maybe you also made a plan for emergency communications when prepping for the late, less-than-great Y2K. But almost certainly it’s more out of date than your three-year-old sour cream powder, thanks to changing life circumstances and technology. Make a new one. And a backup. And a backup of the backup.
Have at least two e-mail addresses, and make sure one of them is a Web-based service like Hotmail that you can access from any Net-connected computer. If you still have a personal Internet connection in the wake of disaster, you can use that and the primary e-mail address you got from your ISP. But your first fallback plans can then be to go to a public library, school, or office as soon as possible after crisis strikes, access your Web-based mail and send a message to your friend‘s Web-based mail. That way, even if personal phone or ISP connections are out, you’ll still have a useable Net connection with loved ones.
If your favored contact method (or your first fallback) is the telephone, but you get “all circuits busy” messages or dead lines -- as you commonly would in a widespread emergency, your plan might say, “If I can’t reach you in Montana, I’ll call Betty in Texas, who’ll call Gina in Kansas, who’ll call Darrell in South Dakota, who’ll see if he can reach Montana.” (And along the way, each of your friends can get reports on the well-being of the others.)
Know who’s got cellphones and who doesn‘t. After September 11, nobody has to be reminded of their importance. They may work when landlines don’t.
In a long-term catastrophe -- which let’s pray we don’t ever have to face -- all manner of communication fallbacks will develop, from ever-faithful amateur radio networks to informal postal services. (Read David Brin’s moving science fiction novel The Postman, and don’t be offput if you only saw the boring movie.)
Even the best plans may fail in a catastrophe. But having a plan and a backup and a backup of the backup is better than fumbling at cross-purposes in a panic.
You and your freedoms
It was predictable. Within hours of the Black Tuesday horror, legislators, military and police officials, and pro-government columnists were rushing to decree that Americans would have to give up freedom to become more “safe.” Some went as far as to blame freedom for causing the attacks -- as if the ability to travel and communicate easily were at fault, rather than a host of international animosities, men with evil intentions, and failures of inept governmental surveillance and detection schemes from the FAA to the FBI and CIA.
In offices throughout Washington, D.C., social managers and bureaucratic empire builders used incomprehensible tragedy to further a well-established political agenda -- reviving demands for national ID with fingerprints, mandatory smart cards for everyone (“so, as they go into an airport or anywhere, we know exactly who they are“), expanded wiretap authority, greater surveillance and tracking of our spending, bans on cryptography (which, of course, every international terrorist would politely obey, right?), facial-recognition cameras in public places -- ad infinitum.
"When you're at war, civil liberties are treated differently," said Republican Sen. Trent Lott.
Anybody who isn‘t willing to give up civil liberties “can go elsewhere," decreed Rep. John Cooksey of Louisiana.
“Whatever it takes,” said Hillary Clinton, the woman who once created a plan to socialize 14 percent of the U.S. economy.
Most ominously of all, on September 20, George W. Bush announced creation of the cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security. This isn’t a new idea. This warm, fuzzy named agency was conceived during Clinton’s term and quickly dropped from discussion. (Even the government Web site created to hold the report disappeared after just a couple of months.) There’s nothing protective about the Homeland Security office, as you can read at http://www.rense.com/general10/roadmap.htm). It’s quite simply the well-planned structure for imposing the American police state.
Meanwhile Americans -- as power mongers know they will do in any crisis -- hastily demanded their right to give up any and all freedom in exchange for “protection.”
“I don’t care if they know when I go to the bathroom,” declared a man at a town meeting in the Carolinas. “I don’t care if they know what color underwear I wear” as long as they make us safe. Never mind that, as Daniel Pipes of the Wall Street Journal pointed out, lazy reliance on mass, random surveillance (as opposed to the hard work of targeted intelligence operations) helped contribute to the Black Tuesday catastrophe.
In an AOL poll, 71 percent said they favored increased anti-terrorism laws, even if it cost them their own freedom. And the Pew Reseach Center for the People and the Press found that 29 percent of Americans were already willing to put other law-abiding people in internment camps, strictly as a preventative measure.
If you’re one of those who‘d trade freedom for false promises of security, I have nothing to say to you. You’ll be neither safe nor free, and thanks to your acceptance of police-state policies, neither will the scant 12 percent who told AOL they weren’t going to lose freedom. Neither will I.
So what can a tiny minority of freedom lovers do? Many things both personal and political -- but with, alas, no guarantees that they’ll keep us free. It’s possible that nothing we do will keep us free in the terrible months and years ahead, but we can‘t surrender liberty without a fight. Here are some thoughts.
Find a balance. We need to support the U.S. government in any real attempt to bring terrorists and warmakers to justice, while absolutely never letting the government indiscriminately target US. Keep reminding the media, legislators, bureaucrats, and enforcers that we are not the terrorists and therefore we should not be the targets of new tracking and restrictions. Remind them of how tragically ineffective such mass surveillance has proven itself to be, and how it actually deflected from real investigation of parties who were covertly planning the utmost evil.
Make them prove their case. When your friends and neighbors nod their willingness to submit to various invasive, but ineffective “security measures,” try the Socratic method. Don’t tell them they’re idiots (even if they are). Ask them, patiently but persistently, to describe to you exactly how the measures they advocate would work and how, specifically, they would improve safety. Let them discover through their own reasoning that what they advocate isn’t effective. Do the same, to whatever extent you can, in town meetings, letters to the editor, or any communications you think it’s necessary to have with legislators.
Don’t fly. Don’t help finance the destruction of the Bill of Rights by paying the airlines to disarm you and subject you to useless, Stalinist searches. And inform the airlines you’ll get back on planes when they respect your rights.
Don’t submit passively to any violation of the Bill of Rights. If you are forced to stop at a checkpoint, arbitrarily show ID, submit to warrantless searches of your property or possessions, answer questions about your peaceful activities, or anything else that smacks of Nazi Germany or pre-Revolutionary War America, think. Be calm and evaluate the situation. In the depth of a real emergency, you may decide to cooperate. But otherwise, calmly and lucidly state your legal and philosophical objections -- and firmly but peacefully resist if you are able.
Don’t submit to any further disarmament. Just think what those passengers could have done on September 11 if they’d had the weapons and the will to protect themselves and their country. More helplessness is NOT the answer.
Study and discuss how the Israelis handle attacks. Israel isn’t a haven of freedom, but it has shown some wisdom in defending against terror attacks -- like having armed civilians guard school children, and like making effective surgical strikes against terrorists. Study and educate others.