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State of Mind: American Exceptionalism

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Now, as Americans, we all know that Americans are exceptional in many different ways. It therefore should be gratifying to all of us to see that there are still some Americans who are willing to go abroad and show the world just how exceptional we can be. I am talking, of course, about the incident that occurred at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on April 28, 2022. And I am talking about being exceptionally clueless.

After some 20 years of practice, most of us by now know the rules about what you can bring aboard aircraft in your carry-on bags and your checked luggage. For example, we know the “3-1-1 rule,” according to which bottles and jars of liquids, gels, and aerosols must be 3.4 ounces or smaller and must fit in one quart-sized plastic bag, and only one such bag is allowed per passenger in carry-on bags. And we know that fireworks of any kind are not allowed in carry-on or checked baggage.

So it came as a surprise to read that a family of American tourists had caused the evacuation of the terminal at Ben Gurion. They did this by approaching the security checkpoint with a piece of unexploded military ordnance. As fireworks go, this was not just a cherry bomb. 

According to reports, one of the children in the family found the object while they were touring the Golan Heights, which had been heavily shelled with artillery during the Six-Day War in 1967 and again in 1973. The object appeared to be the explosive projectile of an artillery round. 

Having up to that point not killed themselves with it while also blowing up their hotel, the family thought it would make a great souvenir and wanted to take it home. Obviously, had they been successful and gotten it home, it could have provided a wonderful “Hold my beer” moment for the dad, as in “Honey, hold my beer. Hey Bob, look what we found in the Golan Heights!” (while tossing the object across the family room to his brother in law who was never good at playing catch).

Now, to be fair, according to at least one report the family approached security officers to ask if they could place the object in their checked baggage rather than trying to smuggle it through the detectors in a carry on. Nevertheless, just the presence of the artillery shell in the terminal caused a panic when the evacuation order was given. After decades of experience, Israelis do not tend to be exceptionally clueless when it comes to explosive devices. Many people went sprinting for cover. Others followed their training and assumed a prone position on the floor. One man was injured when he tried to run over a baggage carousel.

The artillery projectile was confiscated. The family was questioned. Order was restored. When it was determined that they were exceptionally clueless, the family was allowed to board their flight home – minus their souvenir. 

I think we need to honor such people with an award. At first I thought that the Darwin Award would be appropriate, but then I remembered that the Darwin Award is almost always awarded posthumously because it honors those who through their own clueless actions improve the gene pool by removing themselves from it.

So perhaps we need a new award for exceptionally clueless acts with dangerous objects. We could name it after someone such as Madison Cawthorn, the U.S. congressional representative from North Carolina. Cawthorn, as you may have read, has a problem remembering one of the other important rules about what you can bring onto airplanes: guns must be declared to the airline, must be unloaded and in a locked hard-shell case, and are only allowed in checked baggage. Thus far Cawthorn has been stopped twice in the recent past for attempting to bring an unlocked loaded 9-mm handgun on board a commercial aircraft in his carry-on — once in Asheville and once in Charlotte.

Or perhaps we could name it after actor Alec Baldwin, who took the word of others and did not personally check to see if the gun was loaded and then cocked it (but, as he asserts, without pulling the trigger) while pointing it at a person.

Or perhaps both of them. I kind of like the sound of it: the Cawthorn-Baldwin Award for Exceptional Cluelessness.