Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review: "The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking" by Brendan I Koerner

As I held this book I thought to myself, "Self, you don't like to fly.Why are you holding a book about hijacking airplanes?" I don't have a good reason to give myself, except that it sounded interesting. And gosh darn it it was interesting.

The book talks about the "golden age" of hijacking by telling a lot of stories to supplement the main story. Over a 5 year span, starting in 1968, commercial airlines were hijacked on the regular, and when I say the regular I mean almost at the rate of one per week.Many times they were commandeered by Americans who were a) draft dodging and wanted to go to Havana or Canada b) were angry about the Vietnam War and wanted to defect to Vietnam or c) are just plum crazy and have no plan. About 90% of all of the hijackers fit into one of these categories.

If you're like me you're thinking "holy crap,do they let just anyone carrying anything on their airplanes?"
The answer is yes. Anyone who bought a ticket (and a lot of people who didn't) could stroll right up on a plane.(My parents like to tell me about how they remember walking onto the actual planes with loved ones to see them off.Which is insanity. I remember crying putting my Cabbage Patch doll -Joanna- through the Xray machine going to wait at the gate for my sister. And now THATS crazy talk.)

Throughout the whole book they talk about the airlines/government/nations different responses to hijacking. At first everyone decides that it would just be too expensive to do any kind of safety and security measures.The best they can do is train their pilots how to respond to a hijacking because they are inevitably coming. (Basically their training was "do whatever they tell you so no one gets shot, and hey here's a map of Cuba since that's probably where they're going to ask you to go"). Then some government agencies make up a list of things to look for in a passenger that might give them away as trouble (jittery, no luggage, etc). Then finally after a hijacking when someone was killed the government finally agrees that there might need to be some they start checking everyone's carry-ons. The airport officials were really scared that people were going to riot when told their bags would need to be searched. They even hired extra police to patrol the airports. They were shocked when everyone complied without fuss. The things we tolerate now, right?

Ah, the airport.You can go to Tuscaloosa but first Imma need to touch all your personal bits.


The book mostly profiles two specific hijackers names Rodger Holder and Cathy Kerkow.

Rodger Holder was always kind of a mess, even before his time in Vietnam. After he served and came back he went AWOL and was given an undesirable discharge (which I didn't know existed, but it's bad news.You don't want one of those). He did a lot of drugs and spent a lot of his time trying to figure out what the universe was telling him. Also he probably had PTSD, even if they didn't call it that then.

Cathy Kerkow was a bubbly,smart responsible girl from a very small town in Oregon. During her high school years she hit a bit of a rebellious streak and started dating much older boys and got into drugs. Eventually moving to California to take full advantage of the free-love anything goes attitude of the 60s.

Through a series of weird coincidences they meet and fall in love, shack up together. She works at a "specialty" massage parlor to support them both, since he is convinced "the universe will provide for them". Rodger is really contemplating on how to make his mark on the world, all he really knows is that he's angry at the Army and for the United States involvement in Vietnam. Rodger's grand plan is: hijack a plane, get ransom money for the passengers, fly to Hanoi, open up an orphanage for all the youngest victims of the war.

Seems like a foolproof plan right? The first problem is that the plane they hijack isn't big enough to cross any ocean. It's route was from California to yeah that might have been a crucial thing to think about. Amazingly (through dumb luck basically) the hijacking is successful and injury free but the destination changed. They land in Algiers. If you're not boned up on African history,landing in Algiers is almost as explosive as landing in Vietnam.

Black Panthers, lazy French police, government intrigue, extreme paranoia, Jimmy Carter, unexplained disappearances and all kinds of international shenanigans make for a super interesting book. I thought it was really interesting to see the evolution of airport security as well. 3 out of 5 stars!

I recieved this book for free in exchange for an honest opinion from Blogging for Books

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