Do you want to be the chief of a public school system who orders the entire system shut down as a result of a threat and later discovers there was no bomb, or the guy who orders city schools to remain open despite a warning thus risking the lives of children?
These are the times in which we live and the decisions that must be made. In Los Angeles, the schools were closed, disrupting the lives of thousands of people and creating national news. In New York, apparently confronted by the same e-mail threat, the schools remained open.
As I write this Tuesday afternoon, it appears New York, which determined the threat was a hoax, made the right call. But if it didn't, imagine the public outcry, the outrage, the statements Republican presidential candidates would make?
U.S. Rep. Adam Scott, D-Calif., told the news media that a preliminary investigation indicated the threats were design to disrupt the school districts in large cities. If that turns out to be the case, it certainly worked in Los Angeles.
According to an FBI official, the threats appeared to be identical, "a cut and paste job," sent from an IP address in Germany, although it may have been routed through there from another country.
There's little doubt the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. was fresh on the minds of school officials in L.A. and had an impact on the decision-making process.
I'm not going to second-guess the decisions made in either city, but I recognize there's a far greater risk to treating such warnings as a hoax than there is in reacting as if they were real.
No one wants to be the guy standing in front of TV cameras explaining why he did nothing and there are now dead children in the morgue and injured youngsters in hospital beds. There would be days, weeks, months of follow-up stories, interviews with the parents, survivors, intelligence industry officials and politicians, who would all most likely condemn the decision to leave schools open in the current climate of terrorist activity.
The decision-maker who made the wrong call in that case would be forced to resign, if he wasn't fired immediately, but that wouldn't be the worst of it. He would have to live with the knowledge he was responsible in a way for the loss of life, along with the shame and disgrace that would follow him for the rest of his days.
The public doesn't like bad outcomes. And Americans like to assign blame.
In this column, I have repeatedly urged readers to contemplate the impact of terrorism on this country. Since the 9/11 attacks, this nation has done many things that would have been unthinkable before the attack that killed 2,996 people. We wait in long lines to board airplanes as security checks for weapons and bombs in our shoes. We have seen passengers forcefully removed because someone saw them searching a strange website, or heard them speaking a foreign language. Prisoners have been tortured and held for years without a trial.
In recent days, there have been calls to limit the immigration of Muslims into this country from other lands, and Donald Trump has suggested spying on mosques in the United States to keep tabs on what people are saying there.
I have stated that the goal of terrorism is not to kill, but to create a climate of fear, generate chaos and cause dissension among the population under attack.
Some people have quickly replied that these terrorists are out to kill Americans, or anyone else they see as their enemy, and that is their goal. There is certainly some truth to that as well.
But the deaths of innocent civilians achieves nothing in the long term unless there is a greater impact, namely the spread of terror within the ranks of the perceived enemy.
The reaction to each of the attacks spawned by Muslim extremists has been to treat them as a threat to Western civilization that exposes us to security threats never before encountered by humanity. That is simply an exaggeration and rarely placed in the context of history.
People in England were exposed to daily bombing raids by the Germans in World War II. France, Russian, Poland and numerous other countries were invaded, people lived under oppression we can't imagine today and, in the end, those countries survived. In the United States during the Civil War, 1.2 million soldiers died, entire cities were burned, people lost their homes and everything they owned, and the people of this country rebuilt and persevered.
We dropped atomic bombs on Japan, that nation lost a war and today it is one of the leading industrial powers in the world.
And faced with the real threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, which may well have ended life on this planet, the United States economy thrived.
This threat, in other words, may be different than some we have encountered in the past, but it is no worse. And it is time for average Americans to understand that and confront the fear that has empowered these thugs far beyond their numbers or their cause.
That's not to say they should be ignored, or precautions should not be taken. Everything within reason should be done to reduce their ability to strike, undermine their ability to recruit operatives and make people secure in their daily activities, here and in other countries facing the terrorist threat.
Yet, we need to think hard about what values we hold dear that will not be sacrificed in the name of national security. We must begin to discuss among ourselves what realistically we're willing to give up in order to combat this threat.
Should we shut down schools? Commuter railroads? Downtown shopping areas whenever someone launches an attack on social media? Even if the threat can be traced to a source with terrorist links, do we want to do that?
The reason I pose such questions is that our political leaders are going to be looking to us for the answers. They are going to be measuring public reaction to each attack, perceived or real, and how Americans respond. Do they demand greater security? Are they so fearful they would gladly give up more civil liberties, allow the government greater control, restrict travel, prevent immigration, have their calls monitored or demand religious liberties be suspended?
The answers they get will determine our future path.
I believe the average American is tougher than most of our elected leaders imagine. This country has withstood greater challenges. Weakness is not part of our DNA.,
Yet, when people allow fear to dominate their thinking, they sometimes ignore logic and history.
An e-mail disrupted the lives of people living in one of our largest cities. We're all pretty scared right now. But we have faced far worse threats, with more dire potential outcomes, and emerged a better nation. That will happen once more. This threat will vanish. We simply need to remember that and remind our neighbors.
Copyright © 2015, Daily Southtown