Finally, some good news! Nowadays, it seems that all the news we hear is dire. North Korea, which is run by an unpredictable mad man, has nuclear weapons capacity; Iran will likely have it in due course; Russia stalks Eastern Europe with impunity with no fear of retribution from a timid world; ISIS and other radical Islamic Jihadists have formed a Caliphate in the Middle East and threaten to annihilate Israel and the US; the economy is static, at best; there is racial and political conflict reminiscent of the 1960s; the Federal government seems to be ineffective; and we have been hit with one political scandal after another seemingly without end. I may have omitted one or two issues, but you get the idea.
Amid all of the foregoing, however, we finally got some good news last month, something to make us feel good about ourselves, even if only for a few days. Three normal, everyday Americans – Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone – were able to foil an Islamic terrorist on a passenger train in France. These three men had grown up together in the Sacramento area and were lifetime friends. They had gone their separate ways. Skarlatos is a member of the National Guard; Sadler is a college student; and Stone is a member of the Air Force. They were on vacation together and were enjoying a quiet, relaxing train ride to Paris. By now, you’re all familiar with the story. An Islamic terrorist, armed with an assault rifle, a pistol and a box cutter, began to fire randomly on other passengers. There was no one to stop the man – no security guards or even railroad employees in sight. This had the potential to turn into a significant terror attack like many others we have seen in recent years. But, the heroes foiled the attack. They bravely took it upon themselves to subdue the gunman. According to the heroes they didn’t think; they just reacted. Furthermore, they stated not only were the railroad employees no help, one of them was actually an impediment during the struggle for the terrorist’s weapons. Mr. Stone was the first to charge the terrorist, but he was joined quickly by the other two. Mr. Stone was stabbed in the melee.
Afterwards, the President of France, Francois Hollande, presented them with the country’s highest civilian honor, the Legion of Honor. Back in the US they became celebrities appearing on various news programs and talk shows. Their home town honored them with a parade. One trivia point: the Mayor of Sacramento is one Kevin Johnson, former star NBA guard known as “KJ” during his playing days. Mr. Skarlatos is appearing on “Dancing with the Stars,” and best of all, they were invited to the White House where they met President Obama. (Regardless of one’s political leanings it has to be a tremendous honor to actually meet the President.)
Incidentally, France’s state-run railroad company, SNCF, conducted an internal investigation, which, to no one’s surprise absolved its employees of any malfeasance. It said that one of the guards “confronted” the gunman, and the actions of two of the conductors caused him to “lose enough time” to enable the Americans to subdue him. Despite this “spin,” it is significant to note that the company has implemented enhanced security procedures and employee training.
It should be noted that despite the military background of two of the heroes they were not trained in counterterrorism, nor was it their responsibility to intercede. They were just brave men who saw a developing situation and reacted without regard for their safety. Most of us would like to think we would have reacted similarly, but who knows.