Settle Down, People!
by Jerry Gilio
July 22, 2005

People here talk about not letting the terrorists win, but the sad truth is that terrorism is tailor made to disrupt contemporary America. We are a reactionary bunch.

In a recent article, Sarah Littman said, "As an 8-year-old traveling back and forth on the Underground to school every day by myself 30 years before 9/11, I was well aware of the need to watch for unattended parcels or suitcases. Yet here in New York, it's still possible to check briefcases and packages in restaurant cloakrooms without them being searched. What will it take before we learn?"

If some delusional rubberhead decided to exploit the vulnerability she mentioned by checking a briefcase full of C4 at a trendy metropolitan restaurant, the next day you'd probably be able to get a table at the city's most exclusive bistro without a reservation. There'd be plenty of room with everyone staying home, hiding in their basements and nervously munching rice cakes and canned beans. "Break out the duct tape, Phyllis! We're at Threat Level Red!"

And it's not just bombs. Ronald McDonald is only a couple of hundred tainted Happy Meals away from sleeping with the Filet-O-Fishes. After CNN spent 24 hours bludgeoning America with images of poisoned children, people would lynch Wendy and The Burger King, too, just to play it safe. Imagine the impact on the economy of putting down the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

Sarah also comments that, "After all, it's something [her children's] cousins in Israel cope with on a daily basis, though they don't let it stop them from getting on with their lives. We Americans had better get used to doing the same."

When I checked in with a friend of mine in London on July 7, he told me, "I was here in 2000 when someone fired a missile at the MI-5 building. Things shut down for a couple hours, and after that, back to business. If it had happened in Washington, I don't think they'd recover so calmly and quickly."

And he's probably right. Even a hint of violence in The Homeland brings things to a grinding halt. We don't greet such events with the grim resolve of the Israelis or British. We're more like Billy Pilgrim's wife in Slaughterhouse-Five. When he's hospitalized after a plane crash, she becomes so wildly distraught that she's killed in her frenzied rush to reach him. So it goes.

Most of America seems to have forgotten the Cold War, but I haven't. I remember looking into a clear summer sky when I was in college and realizing that one day it might flash brighter than the sun and turn me into vapor before the image reached my brain. (I was currently reading Hiroshima by John Hersey.)

Even after that realization, I got up every morning, went to school and had fun with my friends. What else could I do? It wasn't that I had some illusion of safety. I knew that if some ideological psychopath decided to push the button and destroy my city, he would. It wasn't personal and it couldn't be stopped.

Substitute terrorism for nuclear annihilation and it's the same shit, different decade.

All you can do is be on the lookout for anything suspicious and hope for the best. Like my grade school teachers used to say, "Settle down, people. We've got work to do."

Copyright © 2005