Give Everybody Eat!!

A parable for our times, courtesy of Joseph Heller, and Catch-22.

To Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren, the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a glorious pain in the ass, since it complicated their task of organizing the crews for each combat mission. Men were tied up all over the squadron signing, pledging and singing, and the missions took hours longer to get under way. Effective emergency action became impossible, but Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren were both too timid to raise any outcry against Captain Black, who scrupulously enforced each day the doctrine of ‘Continual Reaffirmation’ that he had originated, a doctrine designed to trap all those men who had become disloyal since the last time they had signed a loyalty oath the day before. It was Captain Black who came with advice to Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren as they pitched about in their bewildering predicament. He came with a delegation and advised them bluntly to make each man sign a loyalty oath before allowing him to fly on a combat mission.

‘Of course, it’s up to you,’ Captain Black pointed out. ‘Nobody’s trying to pressure you. But everyone else is making them sign loyalty oaths, and it’s going to look mighty funny to the F.B.I. if you two are the only ones who don’t care enough about your country to make them sign loyalty oaths, too. If you want to get a bad reputation, that’s nobody’s business but your own. All we’re trying to do is help.’

Milo was not convinced and absolutely refused to deprive Major Major of food, even if Major Major was a Communist, which Milo secretly doubted. Milo was by nature opposed to any innovation that threatened to disrupt the normal course of affairs. Milo took a firm moral stand and absolutely refused to participate in the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade until Captain Black called upon him with his delegation and requested him to.

‘National defense is everybody’s job,’ Captain Black replied to Milo’s objection. ‘And this whole program is voluntary, Milo – don’t forget that. The men don’t have to sign Piltchard and Wren’s loyalty oath if they don’t want to. But we need you to starve them to death if they don’t. It’s just like Catch-22. Don’t you get it? You’re not against Catch-22, are you?’

Doc Daneeka was adamant.

‘What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?’

‘You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you?

And you don’t see him signing any of our loyalty oaths.’

‘You aren’t letting him sign any.’

‘Of course not,’ Captain Black explained. ‘That would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade. Look, you don’t have to play ball with us if you don’t want to. But what’s the point of the rest of us working so hard if you’re going to give Major Major medical attention the minute Milo begins starving him to death? I just wonder what they’re going to think up at Group about the man who’s undermining our whole security program. They’ll probably transfer you to the Pacific.’

Doc Daneeka surrendered swiftly.

‘I’ll go tell Gus and Wes to do whatever you want them to.’

Up at Group, Colonel Cathcart had already begun wondering what was going on. ‘It’s that idiot Black off on a patriotism binge,’ Colonel Korn reported with a smile. ‘I think you’d better play ball with him for a while, since you’re the one who promoted Major Major to squadron commander.’

‘That was your idea,’ Colonel Cathcart accused him petulantly.

‘I never should have let you talk me into it.’

‘And a very good idea it was, too,’ retorted Colonel Korn, ‘since it eliminated that superfluous major that’s been giving you such an awful black eye as an administrator. Don’t worry, this will probably run its course soon. The best thing to do now is send Captain Black a letter of total support and hope he drops dead before he does too much damage.’ Colonel Korn was struck with a whimsical thought. ‘I wonder! You don’t suppose that imbecile will try to turn Major Major out of his trailer, do you?’ ‘The next thing we’ve got to do is turn that bastard Major Major out of his trailer,’ Captain Black decided. ‘I’d like to turn his wife and kids out into the woods, too. But we can’t. He has no wife and kids. So we’ll just have to make do with what we have and turn him out. Who’s in charge of the tents?’

‘He is.’

‘You see?’ cried Captain Black. ‘They’re taking over everything! Well, I’m not going to stand for it. I’ll take this matter right to Major – de Coverley himself if I have to. I’ll have Milo speak to him about it the minute he gets back from Rome.’ Captain Black had boundless faith in the wisdom, power and justice of Major – de Coverley, even though he had never spoken to him before and still found himself without the courage to do so. He deputized Milo to speak to Major – de Coverley for him and stormed about impatiently as he waited for the tall executive officer to return. Along with everyone else in the squadron, he lived in profound awe and reverence of the majestic, white-haired major with craggy face and Jehovean bearing, who came back from Rome finally with an injured eye inside a new celluloid eye patch and smashed his whole Glorious Crusade to bits with a single stroke. Milo carefully said nothing when Major – de Coverley stepped into the mess hall with his fierce and austere dignity the day he returned and found his way blocked by a wall of officers waiting in line to sign loyalty oaths. At the far end of the food counter, a group of men who had arrived earlier were pledging allegiance to the flag, with trays of food balanced in one hand, in order to be allowed to take seats at the table. Already at the tables, a group that had arrived still earlier was singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in order that they might use the salt and pepper and ketchup there. The hubbub began to subside slowly as Major – de Coverley paused in the doorway with a frown of puzzled disapproval, as though viewing something bizarre. He started forward in a straight line, and the wall of officers before him parted like the Red Sea. Glancing neither left nor right, he strode indomitably up to the steam counter and, in a clear, full-bodied voice that was gruff with age and resonant with ancient eminence and authority, said:

‘Gimme eat.’

Instead of eat, Corporal Snark gave Major – de Coverley a loyalty oath to sign. Major – de Coverley swept it away with mighty displeasure the moment he recognized what it was, his good eye flaring up blindingly with fiery disdain and his enormous old corrugated face darkening in mountainous wrath.

‘Gimme eat, I said,’ he ordered loudly in harsh tones that rumbled ominously through the silent tent like claps of distant thunder.

Corporal Snark turned pale and began to tremble. He glanced toward Milo pleadingly for guidance. For several terrible seconds there was not a sound. Then Milo nodded. ‘Give him eat,’ he said.

Corporal Snark began giving Major – de Coverley eat. Major – de Coverley turned from the counter with his tray full and came to a stop. His eyes fell on the groups of other officers gazing at him in mute appeal, and, with righteous belligerence, he roared:

‘Give everybody eat!’

‘Give everybody eat!’ Milo echoed with joyful relief, and the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade came to an end.


14 thoughts on “Give Everybody Eat!!”

  1. That’s how it happens, isn’t it. One guy with a cell phone, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore and suddenly the spell is broken. We’ve all hated it, it’s ridiculous, and suddenly it’s gone.

    But Catch-22 was written against the back drop of anxiety about communism in the wake of the Berlin airlift in ’48, the Chinese communist revolution in ’49, the Korean war starting in 1950, and (a couple of years after the book was written) the craziness that ended in Senator McCarthy’s hearings in ’54. Give everybody eats, and good riddance to those loyalty oaths, indeed!

    But airport security is different. Yes, the collective groping of our crotch is ridiculous. In generally peaceful and affluent times there are limits to what we’ll accept, and the TSA may just have bumped up against one of those limits. However, even if airport security is overreaching (and how much money are we spending on it?) it is not venal, stupid, or corrupt.

    How much risk are we willing to take when we fly? The government wants to reduce that risk as close to zero as possible. But ultimately, how much risk we are willing to take as travelers should rest with us travelers, not with the government. So the idea of turning this process over to the airlines, and introducing competition, strikes me as worth thinking about. Some will introduce Israeli style screening, some will adopt full body scans and intrusive groping, and some will just let us say “Give everybody eats!”

  2. If you accept the TSA argument, don’t you have to question why they are failing at their self-described mandate so badly? Because body cavity checks are the logic conclusion to this line of reasoning. That is clearly the path of least resistance, and almost certain winning strategy for the next would-be terrorist.

    So if everything they are arguing is valid, why aren’t they performing body cavity searches? Don’t they care about keeping passengers alive?

  3. mark b.,

    Perhaps they won’t feel the need to follow the line of reasoning to its logical conclusion. Perhaps instead they will heed Thomas Hardy and avoid “another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise.” _Far from the Madding Crowd_

  4. My “modest proposal” would be to give everyone on the plane a stunner or a tazer, with a massive penalty if it’s used for anything other than subduing a bad guy. Instead of the “castle” defense the TSA is using, why not an “offensive” strategy?

  5. mark, you have a general point about the logical conclusion argument- but what about this specific case? If you intended to blow up the plane you were on, where would you hide the explosive? In your jock strap where a TSA goon could find it? Or, with a tiny bit more effort (not to say discomfort) inside your body where we have no capacity to find it under any circumstance?

    Not to be too crass but anything you can hide strapped to your genitals you can hide in your lower GI… not theory, drug mule proven fact. If you can smuggle

    And if we manage to somehow put a stop to that… well hell the Joker already figured the whole thing out in Dark Knight Returns. You just plant a bomb in somebody’s stomach and set it off via remote control. The same technology thats been used to blow up our humvees for ten years. We cant stop that, and nobody wants to even think about it. Our only defense is keeping the bad guys off the planes, and preferably out of the country. With a pound of semtex, blowing up a plane is trivial if you are willing to die doing it and have half a brain in your head.

  6. mark b.,

    Personally, I just don’t have very strong feelings about it one way or the other. Myself, I don’t at all mind the scanners or the pat downs. I’d probably feel a little more comfortable on flight knowing that everyone went through that, than I would if they hadn’t. I also think it probably reduces the likelihood of someone trying to sneak something onto a plane that they shouldn’t, whether that is explosives, a weapon, drugs, or child porn. If you reduce the instances of attempts, no doubt you’ll reduce the instances of successes.

    All that said, I’m the first person to admit the above isn’t an argument in favor of continuing the program. In a democracy we all have to compromise in reaching a collective consensus on how we balance security and safety against fairness, intrusion and inconvenience.

    I do believe there has been an enormous amount of over-reaction to 9/11 and the “war on terror.” This could be one of those. As overreactions go, however, this is certainly less of one than, say, invading Iraq. I mean, of all the things our government has done in the past 10 years in the name of keeping us safe, wiretaps, rendition, waterboarding, watchlists, Guantanamo, invading foreign countries, etc., it’s odd to me that this provokes so much ire. But again, I can live with it or without it. Let’s have a national referendum.

  7. Mark that’s exactly the problem I have- its a veneer of safety. It might keep people from smuggling pot or porn through the airport… but its billed as keeping you safe when you aren’t (at least as far as the threat you are purporting to address).

    Its kinda like keeping a shotgun by your bed to prevent house fires. It may keep you safe from other things but it wont prevent any fires… which is fine except if you aren’t putting batteries in your smoke detectors or keeping your extinguisher charged because you feel safe.

    I suspect if we dispensed with all the Kabuki the American public would take a much greater interest in who is getting into our country and on our flights, and that’s probably one (of several) reasons the government is disinterested in doing so.

    _”I mean, of all the things our government has done in the past 10 years in the name of keeping us safe, wiretaps, rendition, waterboarding, watchlists, Guantanamo, invading foreign countries, etc.,”_

    That’s probably because those things are aimed at keeping the enemy over there (or dead) and us safe over here, as opposed to a policy basically designed to avoid having a long talk about profiling, which inevitably leads to questioning if the mainstream Muslim world is more interested in stamping out extremism in its own flock or battling every non-PC slight that comes around the bend, regardless if the alternative is patting down little boys crotches in line at the airport.

  8. A few things:

    – The scanner is ineffective because it instantly renders itself moot. This seems a fairly logical assumption especially given that NONE of our screening measures have yet to catch a bomber. We react, they react. We have created a massive inconvenience (and cost in wealth, resources, and political will) for ourselves while creating a minor inconvenience for a would be bomber. This is a losing strategy.

    – I agree that ethnic profiling isn’t very useful- but to apply your own above logic to it it would certainly raise the bar of difficulty for Al Qaeda, requiring _them_ to spend inordinate resources to recruit outside their wheelhouse. I’m not in favor of ethnic profiling- I’m in favor or profile profiling. People with a Yemen visa on their passport should be a red flag. We need to know who is in our country and where they have been and what they have been doing- which heretofore has been considered a version of ethnic profiling. IE- ‘what just because he studied in a Madrasa in Pakistan he should get extra screening’? Yes, yes he should.

    -Metal detectors are unobtrusive, already in place, and politically accepted. They don’t raise any of the problems of wasted resources scanners do. They won’t stop bombings, but they can stop hijackings etc with no additional cost. Moreover they don’t give us any false sense of security anymore- everybody knows they don’t stop bombs.

  9. mark, again, I am not saying we ought to have scanners. However, your argument that they are ineffective because they have never caught anyone, I think, misses the point. Their existence reduces the likelihood of someone trying. Metal detectors do the same thing. They stop people from trying to bring guns onto a plan because they increase the likelihood of getting caught. It’s just another layer of precaution. Whether the extra layer is worth the expense, hassle or intrusion is not a judgement I am qualified to make because I just don’t know the likelihood of someone trying to sneak explosives onto a plane in the future.

    Maybe, as someone –possibly you — on another thread here suggested, we should simply give people a choice of scanner-free flights or scannered flights. Let people chose their own level of risk. As I said earlier, I’d feel a little more comfortable knowing everyone on my flight was scanned. I’d fly regardless. But I’d prefer precautions were taken to minimize risks. And I’ll repeat that if people _are_ trying to smuggle explosives under their clothes, scanners seem the best way to detect that and, as a direct consequence, reduce the number of people trying.

  10. Honestly, the scan itself isn’t a huge deal. I’m not worried about the tiny amount of radiation involved, I’m not worried about someone saving my fuzzy-naked picture (though frankly, I’m unattractive enough that I don’t much need to worry on that score). I can see how other people might have greater concerns on these points. Surely I don’t believe that the system is adequately hardened against picture retention, but you COULD do that with the right hardware and motivation.

    No, the problem is that they realize that “go through the scanner or don’t get on the plane” won’t fly, politically speaking and please excuse the pun. So they offer an alternative for people who object to the scanner. But because they DO want people to use the scanner, they make the alternative a thorough frisking, the likes of which wouldn’t have been acceptable even a week after 9/11.

    Frankly, at this point it’s clear that what passes for leadership at the TSA has passed beyond the level of dysfunction; it’s time not merely to prune the branches but to cut down the tree and yank up the roots. Turn airport security back over to the individual airports, and let common sense tell them what they can and can’t force on people. There’s nothing that suggests to me that we’re any safer by having airport security run by an army of rent-a-cops with a federal badge. If you need law enforcement available for the rare instance of an actual “security event”, well, you can have a local cop or two working some overtime at the airport; surely you don’t need a legion of g-men to confiscate Granny’s nail file.

  11. As brilliant as Major _______DeCoverly was in this instance, I feel that the situation calls for ex-PFC Wintergreen’s particualr set of skills.

  12. Roland, are you seriously suggesting that the TSA isn’t stupid, venal, and corrupt?

    How many links do I need to set out to change your mind??


  13. Leaving aside the question of whether invading Iraq was effective in making us safer — or for that matter whether Iraq ever posed a significant threat to begin with, I am somewhat skeptical of your assessment of the motives behind the scanners.

    It seems to me that a scanner that can detect explosives hidden under clothes would be somewhat effective in preventing people from trying to hide explosives under their clothes. The desirability of such scanning, however, depends on the likelihood of anyone trying to hide explosives under his or her clothes.

    If you were trying to prevent people from hiding explosives under their clothes, I don’t see how profiling muslims would be effective, for no better reason than it is impossible to tell a muslim by looking. If I wanted to smuggle explosives onto a plane and I knew that security were profiling middle-eastern types, I would probably recruit my smuggler from among the 238 million Indonesians, or the 80 million muslim Nigerians or 15 million muslim Tanzanians, or among Albanians, or 20 million Chinese muslims, or muslims from the Caucasus Mountains, the obvious point here being that it is pretty difficult to effectively profile from a group of 1.5 billion very ethnically diverse people.

    Of course, the scanner won’t be a foolproof method. Nothing is. The question is whether the risk is worth it and to know that you’d need to know what the risk is? Is it high enough to use scanners? But, if you believe there is a risk, you’re certainly not going to reduce it by profiling. It would be a lot easier to evade profiling measures than scanning measures. So I don’t see that it is likely that scanner policies have been enacted to avoid profiling policies.

    Just curious, but are you opposed to the metal detectors that we have to walk through, as well?

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