Or, Suppose the Middle East was our Far West
For the last 50 years, relatively few Americans have ever experienced anything like 9/11 first hand. A few million or so were close enough to ground zero in New York to smell and hear it as it happened. A few thousand in Oklahoma City lived sufficiently near to the Federal Building to have their windows blown out when Timothy McVey decided to show how Americans can be good at terrorism too. A few hundred were in the Colorado and Oregon high schools when kids went on random shooting sprees. A few dozen have been unfortunate enough to witness bombings of abortion clinics or hear the supersonic crack of a serial sniper’s bullet. Terrifying terrorism events each and every one, but in this country, they are noteworthy for their rarity here in both time and distance.
Granted, they were life disrupting events as well as life ending for some. They scared and scarred TV spectators far and near as well as the unwilling participants. At the same time, for the most part, other than the lost loved ones and the traumatic stress syndrome, “everything” was not changed. For the most part, the change was only a few days or weeks or months in duration except for comparatively minor aspects of daily life like taking off shoes when going to the airport. The anguish no doubt is still there undiminished for many, but not all, not even for all those present at the scene when it happened. Frankly, an observer from another planet would be hard pressed to see much physical difference in the daily conduct of life on our West Coast before and after those events. People still go to malls, stand in line at movies, attend concerts, open their front doors to total strangers and do not have bomb shelters or buried supplies.
If you count in the ghettos of LA and other big cities where gangs and drive-by shootings are more frequent, there is some permanent change in how locals wake up each morning. In those more permanently risky places, many do wonder whether they will be lucky enough to survive the day. Nevertheless, most folks don’t live in ghettos. The blood and bandages, the debris and dead children is far, far away.
Suppose we weren’t so lucky. We’ve all seen the destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel. It’s all over the TV. Even if you don’t watch the news, it’s on the covers of newspapers and magazines in plain sight at every newsstand. We’ve even seen it, or what looks like it, on the big screen. Hollywood is pretty good at picturing the trauma. BUT, have any of us who were born here and never went where the bullets and bombs were flying ourselves ever really thought about it except in the abstract?
Now is the time. They may have been unspeakable act, but we do need to speak about them. Here is a mental exercise for you. Think about the unthinkable in concrete terms, real concrete. Imagine what is happening “over there” occupying the very concrete laid down in your own US postoffice zip code. Forget for the moment what Hollywood star is sleeping with whom. Picture what is happening in the Middle East happening to you and yours where you can see it outside your front door.
For instance, imagine if you were afraid to go to the ironically titled Safeway for food because someone may detonate a bomb next to you in the checkout line. Imagine your nearest Target in the target sights of a military jet. Still want to shop there? Do you want to play “Russian Roulette” every time you step through revolving doors at the store?