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Papieren Bitte? Just your shoes please

Most people can easily conjure the cinematic image of Gestapo officers blocking train passengers, demanding "Your papers please." That such a scene could ever develop in America, haunts citizens opposed to national identity cards or embedded microchips. But with modern surveillance methods as pervasive as cellphones, perhaps today's state security services have less need to verify who we are. I'll assert the US Department of Homeland Security is charged more with making Americans feel the heavy boot print of authoritarianism. I think that in the wake of 9/11, this nation has indeed mobilized a "papers please" law enforcement policy. The proof is there in black and white in the Patriot Act; you can see it in the Civil Liberties-free zone which immigration officers have been empowered to enforce to 100 miles inland from our borders; and you can see it at our airports. Last night's 60-Minutes questioned the punitive aspects of the TSA measures to which today's airline passengers are subjected. Less surprisingly, CBS also suggested their probable ineffectiveness. Having just paid a holiday visit to DIA, I was inclined to see more. Yes, this is another holiday post. Credit where credit is due? It's no coincidence this is about shoes. Papieren Bitte First, I'd like to deconstruct the film mythology, which originated in wartime, from Hollywood Home Front propaganda meant to demonize the Hun. Certainly the trench-coated SS officer, or leather-jacketed Gestapo detective, asking for your documents, cut a villainous figure. But they were, in reality, as out of the ordinary as today's FBI or CIA agents. Have you ever happened upon a one of those? More often by far, during WWII, the job of asking for a traveler's "Legitimacion" was assigned to the gendarmes of the occupied countries, or to the collaborators who'd been deputized. These were ordinary constables and men who otherwise were unfit to serve in combat. Old frumps, maligned and bitter. If you can picture the run-of-the-mill TSA troll, you see where I'm going. Public Transportation Where travelers a half-century ago were taking trains, today the public city-to-city lattice is airborne. Today we queue for planes, not trains. And instead of producing our "papers" --I should say, IN ADDITION to producing our papers-- we are required to remove our shoes, all sorts of articles, submit to searches, and refrain from carrying certain items, in order to thread the needle that allows us access to public travel. I'm not sure if today's security screening isn't the equivalent of the depiction of the 40s silver-screen. Before you argue that I'm being alarmist, please consider that most Germans during the war, indeed the overwhelming majority of citizens of occupied Europe, had little to fear by being asked for their documents. You or I are not insurgents on the lam, nor aspiring bomb-throwers. We do not fear being sent to Guantanamo. Indeed, you might remember, the movie heroes who sweated the Nazi checkpoints were always resistance fighters, saboteurs, or escaped Allied prisoners. Today, ask yourself how an enemy of the USA would fare trying to use

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