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August 13, 2006

Filed under: politics»issues»defense

Red Alert

Travelers rejoice! The United States Threat Level, as maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, has been moved from Red to Orange for air travel. Passengers are no longer Severely Threatened, but may now take comfort in being Highly Threatened.

With all this Threat Level activity, I had to check my calendar to make sure we weren't at mid-term elections already.

Which is not to imply that the Department of Homeland Security has become simply a politicized bureau of fearmongering for the purposes of a Republican party desparately gripping the reins of power. (After Katrina, do I even have to imply that?) But in my personal observations, a funny fact has emerged: anxiety at terrorism seems to increase with distance from likely targets. John Rogers has noticed the same thing:

I am absolutely buffaloed by the people who insist I man up and take it in the teeth for the great Clash of Civilizations -- "Come ON, people, this is the EPIC LAST WAR!! You just don't have the stones to face that fact head-on!" -- who at the whiff of an actual terror plot will, with no apparent sense of irony, transform and run around shrieking, eyes rolling and Hello Kitty panties flashing like Japanese schoolgirls who have just realized that the call is coming from inside the house!

I may have shared too much there.

To be honest, it's not like I'm a brave man. I'm not. At all. It just, well, it doesn't take that much strength of will not to be scared. Who the hell am I supposed to be scared of? Joseph Padilla, dirty bomber who didn't actually know how to build a bomb, had no allies or supplies, and against whom the government case is so weak they're now shuffling him from court to court to avoid the public embarassment of a trial? The fuckwits who were going to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches? Richard Reid, the Zeppo of suicide bombers? The great Canadian plot that had organized over the internet, was penetrated by the Mounties on day one, and we were told had a TRUCK FULL OF EXPLOSIVES ... which they had bought from the Mounties in a sting operation but hey let's skip right over that. Or how about the "compound" of Christian cultists in Florida who were planning on blowing up the Sears Tower with ... kung fu.

A while back, we had some people running around the DC metro area with sniper rifles, taking potshots at completely random people. At the time, I was still at GMU, which has an open campus. And yet, what could you do? Not go to gas stations? Freak out every time you saw a white van? There was really nothing a single individual could do to stop the snipers from killing them while they walked back from Home Depot, except stay in the house all day watching The View.

Needless to say, Barbara Walters and Star Jones didn't really see an increase in viewership.

There are signs here at the World Bank, explaining that--in the event of a chemical or biological weapon attack--the air filtration system can keep us safe for something like four hours. They do not explain, probably because it goes without saying, that not only are we the World Bank, a huge symbol of international globalization, but we are one block from the Bush White House. I am not filled with an incredible feeling of safety when I consider that fact, personally.

But I still come in to work. We all do.

Whereas out where my parents live, in a town of 220 people and a pair of chihuahuas, the volunteer fire department has actually used town funds to take anti-terrorism courses. A couple hundred people, two hours from DC, without even a stop light, and yet to listen to them, you'd think Osama Bin Laden himself was going to personally crash a plane into the Handy Mart. ("They hate us for our freedom and our easily accessible beef jerky.")

It does my heart good to see attitudes coming around on the Iraq war. Honestly. I am so happy to see that apparently storming into another country on a flimsy pretext and attempting forceful democratic reform was perhaps a losing proposition. It would have been nice if we'd learned that lesson before a couple thousand US soldiers and who knows how many Iraqis were killed, but let's try and look on the bright side. One of these sides must be brighter. Just keep turning it over until you find it.

But it would also be nice if we could get back to the root cause of that policy: the way the rest of the country freaks out every time that some Al-Qaeda wannabe manages to tie his shoes together. A foreign policy driven by fear and reactionary panic is not a good way to run a country. Maybe we could give cynicism a shot instead.

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