“First Responders” or “Second Responders”? “Heroes” or “Role Models”? Reflecting on the train attack

“First Responders” or “Second Responders”? “Heroes” or “Role Models”? Reflecting on the train attack August 26, 2015

The kids are at school, I have a mountain of things to catch up on for work, and what have I done?  A late breakfast (because I spent the time before the kids left, filling out the forms at the last minute), prepped a pot roast in the crock-pot, read the paper, and a quick blog post.

But there are two reflections on the French train attacks that caught my eye.

The first, from Glenn Reynolds, aka instapundit.com, in his Monday column at USA Today.  “See something? DO something!”, he urges in the title, and then writes:

Bureaucracies have their place, but they don’t deal well with diffuse threats such as terrorism. By the time “first responders” get there, it’s usually too late. But there’s one group of “responders” who don’t have to go anywhere, and that’s the group already on the scene. In conventional analysis, and in the terrorists’ hopes, those people are called “victims.” But as the three Americans on that French train demonstrated, victimhood isn’t the only response. . . .

Fear is contagious. But so is courage. People should respond not like a herd of sheep but like a pack of wolves.

. . . [Despite the recognition that quick thinking passengers on doomed Flight 93 fought back against terrorists] when the government reacted, the money went into enriching and strengthening those bureaucracies instead of, as [J.B.] Schramm urged, educating and training American citizens. Perhaps this latest incident will serve as a reminder that there is another way. At the very least, it should remind citizens that while you can’t rely on the government to be everywhere you are, you yourself are always there.

The second, a Bloomberg piece by Marc Champion, as syndicated and published in today’s Chicago Tribune.  It’s titled, “Want More Heroes?  Bring Back the Draft,” but that’s a misleading headline, as the article doesn’t actually say anything of the sort.  (It seems to be a case of a headline writer wanting something attention-grabbing.)

Here are his key paragraphs:

Soft targets — from trains to buses to bars to shopping malls — can be attacked. No police force can protect them all, and no intelligence service can monitor every suspect. So if this incident tells us anything useful about defending against terrorism, it is that ordinary people will sometimes be the only defense. The key to making ordinary people effective isn’t the American spirit, it’s training. Because they knew what to do, Stone and Skarlatos were confident enough to say, “Let’s go,” and empowered to succeed.

Moogalian is still alive, his wife says, thanks to Stone. The American said he saw the professor was bleeding profusely from his neck, realized a tourniquet would do no good, and plunged two fingers of his undamaged hand into the wound to cap a burst artery. He kept his fingers there until help arrived. Without military-level first aid training, I doubt he would have had the knowledge or confidence to act so effectively.

Conscription-based militaries are out of vogue in most of Europe and in the U.S., and for good reason. They’re expensive, inefficient and unpopular (I know I wouldn’t have wanted to join the army at 18). Reinstituting the draft, or national service as it used to be called in Britain, would as yet be a vast overreaction to the scale of the threat.

Even so, it’s worth considering that the most effective defense against a certain kind of attack that appears increasingly part of the jihadist tool kit, may be to make the training Stone and Skarlatos had much more widespread.  (emphasis mine)


there are a couple issues here.

The first is mindset.  Do you wait for help to come, or do you recognize that you can be the “help” that others need, even at risk to your own life?

The second is ability.  My kids are in Boy Scouts.  Here’s the Scout Oath:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Everyone thinks that the “morally straight” is a joke, now — but the “physically strong” component is not meant simply for its own sake, but because if you are weak, you are much less able to “help other people at all times.”   And not only is First Aid a merit badge required for rank advancement, but basic first aid is required for some initial ranks, and various other badges require understanding of relevant first aid.

My oldest son will also be taking a Health class in school (10th grade) this year.  I am a bit nervous that it’ll be a semester of “eat your vegetables and use a condom” but am hopeful that it’ll include meaningful First Aid.

Ultimately, it comes down to this:  after September 11, the term “first responders” came into vogue to describe police and firemen.  But we as a country are much better off if we recognize that they are really, or should be, “second responders” and that ordinary citizens can, and should, step in when such situations occur.  And Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler are heroes, but they should also be role models for the rest of us.

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