On a two-week trip to Norway that ended on Thursday, I
decided that the country was the only sane, trouble-free place on the
planet, a gorgeous retreat, as secure and peaceful as high-walled
fjord, where people leave their laptops and car keys untended, never
lock their doors, and follow the ethic of cooperation they learned a
thousand years ago while sailing and fishing for cod in the harsh
In Norway I saw a country cushioned by oil money yet vividly
conscious of environmental change; communitarian if not socialist and
yet brimming with energetic entrepreneurs; concerned about
immigration, yet still suffused with an ethic of welcome.
And now, not even Norway is safe. Which means that no place is.
Which means that the society is under increasing pressure everywhere.
From what I saw, there is -- or was -- no more open and trusting
place left in the West, if not the world. And that made it tragically
easy for a madman or madmen to wreak havoc in Oslo this week.
Up and down the western Norwegian coast, I saw evidence of the
almost innocent openness and trust that so characterizes the culture
of the North.
In the busiest restaurant in Alesund, the picturesque capital of
the cod-fishing industry, I did in fact see a woman rush off to run an
errand -- and leave her open laptop, car keys AND wallet on the bar.
When I pointed out to her that no one would be that casual in
the US, she shrugged and then smiled. "Maybe I shouldn't here, but I
do. It's Norway."
Farther north, where it is colder yet in the winter, people often leave the keys in their cars -- and their cars running -- while doing
The sense of trust extends to public behavior in public places.
In the Hanseatic Museum in Bergen -- a 400-year-old wooden home filled
with priceless artifacts -- visitors are allowed to roam the premises
virtually without supervision, and are allowed to open and close
closets and doors with ancient paintings and hinges that would be
encased in plastic or under armed guard elsewhere.
There have been occasional thefts in recent years from some of
the 800-year-old wooden "stave" churches that dot the countryside, but
they are still largely approachable at all times of day and night.
In Oslo -- a national capital that still feels like an overgrown
small town -- there is no thicket of bollards and guard shacks
surrounding the government buildings.
And that made it so easy for a man with a witches' brew of
fertilizer chemicals to do his deed.
I'm sorry to say that while Oklahoma City was a horrible shock,
it did not seem entirely foreign to the soil on which it was
I know the age-old history of the Vikings, and they were a
fearsome and bloody lot, and Europeans further to the south used to
pray that the North Men would not ever come their way.
But that was so a millennium or more ago. The Oslo Rampage doesn't
seem in any sense Norwegian. Or it didn't until this week.