Close the Washington Monument

The National Park Service wants to add airport-level security to the Washington Monument.  Bruce Schneier says we should close it:

…Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears.

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They're afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as "soft on terror." And they're afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they're right, but what has happened to leaders who aren't afraid? What has happened to "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers' inability to take that kind of stand — and their inability to truly lead.

…The empty monument would symbolize our war on the unexpected, — our overreaction to anything different or unusual — our harassment of photographers, and our probing of airline passengers. It would symbolize our "show me your papers" society, rife with ID checks and security cameras. As long as we're willing to sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety, we should keep the Washington Monument empty.

Terrorism isn't a crime against people or property. It's a crime against our minds, using the death of innocents and destruction of property to make us fearful. Terrorists use the media to magnify their actions and further spread fear. And when we react out of fear, when we change our policy to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed — even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we're indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail — even if their attacks succeed.

…We can reopen the Washington Monument when we've defeated our fears, when we've come to accept that placing safety above all other virtues cedes too much power to government and that liberty is worth the risks, and that the price of freedom is accepting the possibility of crime.

I would proudly climb to the top of a monument to those ideals.

I agree.


"The only thing to fear is fear itself" never existed. We forcibly removed all Japanese and Japanese Americans from the West coast and placed them in concentration camps because of our fear. We have always been willing to violate our own ideals in the face of uncertainty.

"The only thing to fear is fear itself" was regarding
the depression not wwII,
but your point is taken.

When people get scared, they will swallow everything.

Andrew, You are one of a kind: atrributing your thoughts to someone else's statements. That's not what I said. Strange.

But I do have a better, serious proposal that doesn't discriminate against the wrong people. Open up the Washington monument as a symbol to the American spirit that prevailed under Washington and on Flight 93. Put a sign on the fence that reads "This particular monument will not be a symbol for the terrorists. It is a monument to American defiance against oppression and reserved for those individuals who are willing to defend themselves against real rather than imagined threats. If we fail, we fail. That doesn't mean they win. Anyone who don't understand can view it from a safe distance."

I think closing it is a good idea to indicate that we are not going to make decisions that are silly on a cost-benefit basis.

We may need to fly to Cleveland, and we may need to enter a criminal court building, so tight security makes some sense -- and the volume of people going through makes the cost tenable. I doubt if either is true of the Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument was so important to this country that it was subject to many construction delays (started 1848; finished 1884).

There's also this bit of trivia from Wikipedia: "The original elevator was a steam elevator and took 20 minutes to go to the top. Wine and cheese were served to those riding, but only men were allowed on board since the elevator was considered unsafe. If women and children wanted to get to the top, they had to climb the 897 steps and 50 landings."

So, let's think like an economist, or rather, let's think like economists have been having a lot of trouble thinking about this issue.

Probably, terrorists want to maximize deaths and they want to maximize symbolism. So, does increasing the visibility of security at a monument increase the symbolic desirability from a terrorist perspective? Probably. Does it reduce the number of deaths? Only by the number of people not willing to put up with the government harassment. So, if the government harasses enough people to where it is too hard to succeed and too few tourists show up the terrorists just choose the next one down on their ordinal value list and only negative results have been accomplished with this investment in security theater..

We don't 'know' that the 'security' measures won't stop something as the terrorist attempts have always been one step ahead of the steadily increasing intrusiveness. But here's how I know it. On multiple occasions Janet Napolitano has insinuated that the underwear bomber was 'thwarted' or that 'the system worked.' That tells me that she is 100% in image fabrication mode. It's not that I didn't know that before, or that a 'successful politician' could do otherwise by theory, but this is an example of demonstrable proof.

Whenever I hear the word "treasure" used in a policy argument I want to reach for a gun. However I would not shoot the utterer of the pretentious phrase: "blood and treasure." I would merely want to pistol whip them, repeatedly.

The terrorists are snickering. And bin Laden exactly predicted the US would do this, and bankrupt ourselves in the process.

Wasn't the Statue of Liberty closed for several years after 9/11?

"Its not, and never was, about public safety. Its about avoiding the political consequences of public humiliation by terrorists."

We know. We're the guys saying not to let politicians manipulate our irrationalities, waste our money and fondle our balls for their own aggrandizement and CYA in efforts that actually make us worse off on net.

In light of thinking like economists, security measures could be enacted if we thought rationally and avoided the moral perogative clouding our governments current approach. In one of the freakonomics books the author claims terrorists share stastically identifiable charachteristics such as age, income and (here is the bombshell) religious affiliation. Since the best economists tend to examine issues apart from moral and social norms, we are intellectually remiss in allowing ourselves to be held hostage by fear peddling officials who ignore rational solutions.

We should close or, even better, sell off the national parks and forests, especially since they are almost never visited by Black, Hispanic or Native Americans.

Maybe I'm wrong here but isn't this about fear not economics but political fear of another 9/11 happening on Rep.So and So or Sen.Whomevers or President Oval Office watch. Isn't it about what terrorism is really about using fear for gain. Our fear, our governments political fear?

I gave my site a few examples below. If you appreciate my comments in you enter.Baseball Hats

You agree, Alex? Really? With that entire thing? You even agree we are a "show us your papers" society? Really?

So essentially even the most educated minds find comfort and agreement with hyperbole and hysterics because it's more or less in line with their ideology? Or do you really think we are a "show us your papers" society? Or do you just not understand the connotations of the phrase "a show us your papers" society? Or are you just profoundly ignorant?

Comments for this post are closed