Among the many eye rolling questions of this election season, the one that may make my eyes roll most is… are we safer? Well, unless you believe in a parallel universe, the only honest answer is… who knows? But the more important point is that the question is specious because it is not a serious one, nor is it seriously asked. Its only objective is to embarrass its recipient, not to find the truth, because the truth in this case is unknowable. True safety from terror will take decades. Most of us know that, but many of us don’t want to face it. Yet only by facing safety’s extraordinary difficulty is there any help of achieving it.
That is why I find the people who ask that question dangerous or at the least highly disturbing. They are either deceiving others or deceiving themselves or both. Some of them are impatient that the situation hasn’t been resolved in eighteen months, that there have been numerous ups and downs. Well, I have news for them – the situation wasn’t resolved in eighteen months and it is most likely not going to be resolved in eighteen years either. If they think the ups and downs we have seen in the last eighteen months are troublesome, that misjudgments were made, wait until they see some real ones. We are dealing with a mindset that blew up a railroad station in Madrid a few months ago and referred in their statements to the Reconquista of 1492. Eighteen months? Eighteen years? How about six centuries?
Naturally, this is anxiety producing in the extreme and we all want to go back to “business as usual.” Desperately. Some of us will run around pretending, or rather hoping, that the situation is only a “nuisance” – or could be. If only. This is gut check time in all our lives, even if we are not on the front lines. We have to be honest with our friends and relatives and, more treacherously, more complicatedly, we have to be honest with ourselves. Traditional ways of viewing things no longer hold. But human nature is conservative. Hardly anyone likes change – even the most “revolutionary” of us, sometimes they most especially. So we should not be surprised when we see some of our heroes of the last few years retreat into positions they held before September 11. Many already have. This will happen again and again and again.