On July 17th, 1996, TWA flight 800 inexplicably exploded in midair and crashed into the Atlantic, killing all on board. The Federal investigators eventually attributed that to an explosion in a fuel tank. Others had other explanations, including an erroneous missile strike from an American submarine. We don’t pretend to know. The most important aspect of the event was probably that, once it left the headlines, there were few ramifications.
The Malaysian Airlines flight just downed by missile in Ukraine may be a different story. The Boeing 777 Dreamliner’s downfall killed some 295 people from all over the world. This time, we feel no need for the gift of prophecy to predict ramifications aplenty. The Ukraine government is naturally blaming the Russian military in eastern Ukraine posing as Ukrainian rebels who are trying to forward Russia’s annexation of the Donetsk. The Russian government is of course, denying this and blaming Ukraine. The world, aware that a missile capable of bringing down an airliner from 33,000 feet must come from some government, believes Russians responsible.
Crimea was swallowed smoothly; Eastern Ukraine has been going less well with the ‘rebellion’ largely stalemated as the Ukrainian government was successfully rebuffing the ‘rebels.’ Opinion has turned against Russia and capital flight and financial sanctions have begun to bite. So it seems likely that the lightly masked Russian invasion will have to be abandoned, at least for now. However Russia supplies Ukraine and Europe with badly needed heating gas; winter may bring a new game.
However, the location of this event is not the primary consideration, it seems to us. Rather, think about the number of places on the planet where mobile missile launchers capable of downing an airliner from 3,000 feet are located. It is a wonder that this hasn’t happened before now. Most of the world’d governments that maintain what now passes for air defense have these systems; they are much more available than nukes. And the numbers of people who can use them has grown likewise. This has now been called to everybody’s attention. As Shakespeare put it: “What is this I see before me, handle toward my hand?”
Beginning with Malaysian Airlines, people may reinstate old and mostly forgotten fears of flying, one more issue to add to its rising cost in declining economies. Politicians will surely see a need to ‘do something’ to protect the public. Whatever the resulting protection, whatever they undertake, won’t be cheap and we already know who will pay. Now that the way has been shown, copycats will proliferate; Moslem terrorists are no doubt drooling already. A world that relies upon cheap international transport will no longer find it so cheap nor so safe. That is a major hit to the economy.
And the world’s tolerance of violence has just been escalated. The deaths of a couple of hundred people were a much larger issue when flight 800 went down; the near 300 hear are still bad, but much less of a shock. More than three times that are dying every month is Syria alone. Our sensibilities are anesthetized. And that anesthesia contributes a rising level of tolerance for violence or at least, a rising expectation of it. In some places, this will excuse restrictions on travel.
In the end, the ramifications may cost us far more than this admittedly tragic event.Just as September 11th, 1991 has done …