- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Dangers of mile-high gunplay overstated

While I agree with the overall position of your May 3 editorial "Pilots as the last defense," you inadvertently perpetuate some of the biggest myths regarding airplane safety and armed pilots. Contrary to what you imply, there is little danger from "explosive depressurization" in general, and even less danger that a handgun could cause it. Nor is a handgun bullet likely to result in loss of control. The only sure way to lose control is to turn the plane over to the hijackers.

On April 28, 1988, an Aloha Airlines jet lost a 14- by 18-foot section of its fuselage while at an altitude of 24,000 ft. The plane did not crash. Nor did anyone die from lack of oxygen, because the pilot took the plane down to a lower altitude. The only loss was a stewardess who was swept out of the opening in the fuselage.

Other planes have lost cabin pressure without any loss of life. In such instances, passengers have access to emergency oxygen masks, and pilots get the planes to a lower altitude as soon as they can.

As for bullet holes, there is little chance that a bullet could catastrophically depressurize a plane. They make small holes (approx. 0.16 square inches or less) that would simply cause the main cabin pressure relief valve (which is an approximately 6-square-inch valve that is always open to some degree) to close down slightly.

Could a bullet cut the control lines? In theory, yes, but in practice, it would be quite unlikely. First, every control line is at least doubly redundant, so damage to one line would have no effect on the control of the plane. Second, the lines are behind and underneath various structures that provide protection against bullet impacts. Even this remote possibility could be avoided by issuing the pilots frangible bullets that have less ability to penetrate hard material.

Could a bullet cause catastrophic structural failure? Almost impossible. Many of the main structural members of planes are too thick to be penetrated by a handgun bullet. Even if they were penetrated, they would be unlikely to fail because engineers design load-bearing parts with huge margins of safety. Remember that in World War II, we used 50-caliber and 20mm machine guns (each projectile had 10 to 100 times as much power as a handgun bullet) to down aircraft that were much smaller than today's airliners. Even at that, it took many hits to cause a plane to crash, unless a single round incapacitated the pilot the vulnerability the present proposal seeks to address.

Finally, we should note that in the recent congressional hearings on arming the pilots, a Boeing aircraft representative testified that it is very unlikely that a bullet could bring down a modern airliner.



The Center For The Study Of Crime

Las Vegas

Holocaust history is a delicate matter

Op-Ed columnist Suzanne Fields rightly directs attention to the deplorable fact that in Western countries, anti-Semitism never has ceased to exist and again rises its ugly head within the framework of anti-globalist, pro-Third World ideologies ("Anti-Semitism in a native tongue," May 2). Unfortunately, she has fallen prey to some widespread, but nevertheless erroneous views about Nazi concentration camps in general and Buchenwald in particular.

First, Nazi concentration camps were not a product of anti-Semitism. They were designed (and served) as a means of terrorist suppression of political opponents in Germany proper and, after the outbreak of the war, in the German-occupied countries. That they were later used for the extermination of the Jews is another story.

Second, Buchenwald never had a gas chamber.

Third, the famous picture that a modern artist "defamiliarized" was staged for photography after the liberation of Buchenwald and shows political prisoners.

Holocaust history is a highly delicate matter. Spreading errors of fact and easily refutable legends about the Holocaust only gives grist to the mills of the Holocaust deniers. As dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semites, they pretend to "know" that "the Jews always lie." Don't let us make it too easy for them.



Joachim Neander is currently a visiting scholar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

A thousand points of hype

The American people now know what President Bush means by "compassionate conservatism" ("Back to basics," Editorials, May 5). It is synonymous with Mr. Bush's call for a brand of volunteerism that requires no government funding. Volunteerism is noble, but it doesn't begin to solve the hunger, homelessness, unemployment and despair for too many in America.

Like his father's "thousand points of light" program in the early 1990s, Mr. Bush's thousand points of hype for volunteerism are a poor excuse for needed social justice programs that only government can provide. Many Americans do not have health insurance. Can volunteerism meet that vital need?

More and more of our citizens and cities are at risk. Mr. Bush must not play politics, passing tax cuts for the rich while life and death issues affecting much of our citizenry are left to the goodness of well-meaning volunteers. Mr. Bush's "back to basics" approach is just a rehash of Reaganomics, or supply-side economics, which have been proven not to work. What makes Mr. Bush think his brand of compassion a compassion motivated by greed will be effective?


Louisville, Ky.

U.N. enables Palestinian terrorism

In his May 6 letter to the editor "Bloody smear of U.N. staff," Paul McCann of U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) uses the word "sovereign" meaning "governmental" to deny UNRWA's responsibility for terrorism emanating from "refugee" camps under U.N. sponsorship. UNRWA camps are under no sovereign authority at all, as the Palestinian Authority is not sovereign and the sovereign state of Israel is not responsible for the camps.

What counts is who dishes out the money and to whom the "disher" reports on money spent. UNRWA is a U.N. agency, and its commissioner-general reports directly to the General Assembly. In 2000, UNRWA raised more than $337 million from U.N. members ($89 million of that from the United States) and spent all of it. The fact that they passed it off to locals who used it to build a terrorist apparatus and produce schoolbooks that teach anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and the glories of death one's own and that of others may shield UNRWA by one step, but makes it no less responsible for where the money ends up.

Whether by its own acts or by closing its eyes to the acts of others, UNRWA (and thus the United Nations) supported or permitted terrorists to use the mechanism of refugee relief to kill Jews.


Director of special projects

Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)


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