September 23, 2019

In Search of Backbone

The “> buckled to vague, unverified distant threats. In the process they have empowered every misguided individual with a talent for computers, an ability to hide his/her ID, and a desire to wreak havoc to envision the impact that he/she might have in the future by forcing a nation to do its bidding. (For the record, the Department of Homeland Security views the threats as not credible and the FBI has concluded the threat emanates from Pyongyang).

With all the security cameras, guards and seemingly omnipresent metal detectors that exist, it defies imagination that this country is incapable of protecting our citizens in movie theaters across the land for a few hours a day over the next few weeks from harm by a crazy thirty-one year old.

Predictably, there are already voices that are offering justifications for this craven capitulation to blackmail (one headline reads “Theater Owners Showing ‘The Interview’ Put Themselves at Potential Legal Risk”). The studio’s and theaters’ legal counsels must have won the day—-someone might sue if something happens—close it down.

But it was not always so. In the not too distant past citizens refused to buckle to threats or horrific violence because of a sense of what is right and appropriate when bullies try to coerce.

During World War II, to note an often cited and dramatically portrayed (by Hollywood) example, Londoners went about their lives as the Blitz of 1940-41 and the “Baby” Blitz of 1944 dropped bombs all around them. They didn’t acquiesce to the threats of a dictator only 600 (not 6,000) miles from their shores. Rather than allow a tyrant to determine what they did and how they lived their lives, they pursed their stiff upper lips and pursued their lives as normally as they could.

More recently, in Israel during the various Intifadas, when no one knew if the person next to them on a bus might have a bomb in their bag; the populace continued to take buses, waited at stops, shopped at open-air markets in Jerusalem and elsewhere because pa larger principle was at stake—terror can’t be allowed to alter your life, your course of conduct or force you to compromise your principles.

Neither in England nor in Israel were the threats or their sources unknown or merely digital—they were real, dangerous and long-term. Nevertheless, people knew what was right, what the implications of acquiescence were and risked their lives to act as citizens in a democracy ought to act.

We, on the other hand, seem all too willing to accommodate “anonymous,” incoherent, emailed threats that could impact what millions of Americans watch and enjoy—our rights are being compromised by cowardice.

It is a sad day when the voices of principle have been muted by fear of inchoate harm, fear of financial loss, and obliviousness to the implications of rank spinelessness.