This reminds me . . .
I remember the first time I saw someone in an airport with a gun: I was in Luxor, Egypt, in 1998 returning to Cairo from a visit to the Valley of the Kings and the other sites along the river. The airport there is very small — only two gates if memory serves — and I remember distinctly a man in white who walked to the metal detector, removed a pistol from a belt holster under his linen coat, placed the gun on the table in front of a security guard, walked through the metal detector (it still beeped), then reached back for his weapon and holstered it again. He gave the security guard and his partner a warm hand-shake a kiss on either cheek (a customary greeting among men in Egypt) and they laughed like old friends. My eyes were saucer-wide open watching this interaction while the other dozen or so people in the waiting area quietly watched the World Cup match on the television. The man with the gun in the airport deserved no attention in their eyes while I couldn’t look away due to my astonishment on such a casual interaction involving a firearm. What I gathered from observing the man in white and the other men in uniforms was a high-ranking police official. Had I understood what they were saying to each other, I might not have been so concerned by the cavalier response to a man in plain clothes with a gun in a small regional airport.
I’m starting this trip and this blog with this memory because as I sat in the Bradbury Terminal at LAX awaiting my flight to Seoul, Korea, I was only 30 feet from a uniformed Los Angeles Police Officer a sizable machine gun. What is remarkable is how normal this is to all the people milling around here. No one is staring or doing double-takes at him. No one else seems unnerved by how large the gun is, what it’s purpose is, why the office is even standing there, or by the fact that his hand grips the gun firmly, with his index finger just an inch from the trigger. This scene is a reminder that there is a constant threat of violence now that didn’t exist not-so-long-ago. The threat is heightened at airports, obviously, but travelers seem to have accepted this officer and his colleagues-in-arms as necessary or natural accouterments
There’s a bit of irony I’m seeing here, too. My reason for being in this situation — the international terminal at the airport — is that I am going on an educator trip to Korea to learn about Korean history, politics, education, and culture, so that I can teach my high school students, and other teachers, about Korea. There’s an implicit idea here that education breaks down barriers, makes connections between countries and individuals, and may even improve the quality of life of those impacted by the newly-formed connections. My peaceful endeavor is shadowed by the prevention of — by threatening to use — violence.
So, against a backdrop of violence, I will endeavor to do something peaceful.