20 OCTOBER 2001, Page 78

The right stuff


ENew York xactly one month before 11 September, Arnaud de Borehgrave, big chief of UPI and known as the last of the great foreign correspondents, came and addressed the Gstaad Symposium, the poor little Greek boy's contribution to international relations. Arnaud spoke about the coming terrorist threat, and in no uncertain terms informed us that biological and even nuclear terror was on its way. It is not a matter of if it happens, but when it will happen,' said Arnaud. Although everyone was fascinated, and the audience asked him to stay on after the dinner, one man's reaction sticks in my mind. He was an Egyptian unknown to most of us. 'Why did you come all this way just to scare us? Haven't you any good news?' Arnaud dismissed him outright, as well he should have. The man afterwards complained that both the speaker and I had been rude, which was only half true. Arnaud had been very polite in his dismissal; I had been rude over the stupidity of the question.

Well, we all know what happened one month later. It wasn't chemical, biological or nuclear, but it was almost as bad. Last week, during my stop-over in London, I picked up James H. Jackson's The Reaper, a novel which is as prescient as it is topical. Jackson is a post-graduate in military studies and a specialist in conflict analysis. He writes like a dream. The book begins with a spectacular outrage in St Peter's in Rome. Little do the millions watching realise how much more horror there is to come. For the perpetrators are no ordinary madmen. They are Satan's legions attempting to provoke the free world into a final confrontation that will usher in the apocalypse.

Does this remind you of something? While on the subject of books, my old Yom Kippur buddy Bill Tuohy, a double Pulitzer Prize winner, has written a non-fiction story about the The Bravest Man, the story of a US submariner in the Pacific War. A

wonderful story and also very topical. The men who will now do the fighting are those with the right stuff, just like Tuohy's hero.

Later, at Heathrow, a not so heroic Pakistani woman working in security, managed to lose my cufflinks as she opened my carry-on bag. I had words with her and a United Airlines supervisor happened to be present. She informed the pilot that a passenger had been mistreated by United security personnel. The pilot, a tall and imposing black American, Captain Williams, came to my seat, apologised for the airline, gave me his card and told me that unless I got back my property he would make sure that heads would roll. I asked him if he had been in the military. It was a dumb question. Of course he had been. Which brings me to another point I wish to make.

Airline pilots are among the most highly trained and carefully screened professionals in the world. The majority are militarytrained with previous firearms experience. They are level-headed and stable. •The nature of their job requires them to make critical decisions in less than a split second, and they perform very well, day after day, in stressful and sometimes life-and-death circumstances. Ergo, they are uniquely qualified to carry firearms. Just think about it. Wouldn't you trust the man in the cockpit with a gun? Yet there are always knaves and fools who object to anything that makes sense and might be beneficial to mankind. They argue that arming pilots could make hijacking situations worse. Horse feathers. If a terrorist boards an aircraft with a weapon, and he is the only armed person on board, he is in charge. As long as a pilot is armed, and securely locked in, he is in charge.

Air marshals, incidentally, are a pipedream. In order to place one on each flight we'd need at least 50,000 of them, and disarming them in the cabin would be easier than getting a gun away from a well-trained pilot locked in the cockpit. I say give guns to pilots like Captain Williams and see hijacking go the way of well-dressed passengers. And now for some good news. I had a wonderful time in London, a place I swore I'd never set foot in until those jokers in power go back to the bed-sits they came from. Two nights of drinking in San Lorenzo, followed by a great party given by an Italian friend of my daughter's, where I ran into my old cricket adversaries: Zac Goldsmith, Tom Parker-Bowles, his cousin Ben, Victoria Aitken, Kate Reardon, the beautiful Berangere (and future Mrs Taki), you get the picture. Lily Phipps, another future Mrs Taki, was also there, but my daughter cramps my style and every sweet young thing got away. Just as well. My oldest English buddy, Charles Benson, is in hospital and cheerfully announced that he was on his last legs, pun intended, as he can't walk. Time is catching up on my old crowd. Here's some invaluable advice to young Spectator readers. Don't get old.