The 9/11 terrorists commandeered aircraft using only box cutters and knives with blades under 4 inches. They relied on the shock value of people seeing a blade to intimidate and control the passengers. Although too late, the passengers on United Flight 93 did finally take action and resist, losing their lives anyway, but probably saving the lives of many others by forcing the aircraft to crash in rural Pennsylvania instead of into another building.
How did four men with such insignificant weapons control so many people?
One reason is that people have been trained since childhood that violence is not the answer to conflict; that you should talk to your attacker and try do understand him or her. This may work with a distraught, but otherwise good person, but it does not work with a person who is intent on causing you harm. When you hesitate in your defensive reactions, you allow the perpetrator with a minor to gain the upper hand and possibly gain access to a major weapon.
Another reason for the inaction of people when they are faced with an edged weapon is the tremendous psychological advantage an edged weapon possesses. Most people have never been punched or shot so they do not have any memories of the pain it may cause, but most people have been cut in some way during their lifetimes. Thus, most people have experience with the pain and trauma of a cut, so they cringe at even the thought of being cut.
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