About a year after 9/11, I was sitting in an airport terminal, waiting for a flight, when nature called. I turned to the young lady sitting next to me, and asked her if she would watch my carry-on baggage while I went to the restroom.
She looked at me, she hesitated, and then she asked, "How do I know that you're not a terrorist?"
She wasn't kidding. She looked a little scared.
I thought about delivering some snappy retort, like "I used to be a suicide bomber, but I quit, because I didn't like the pension benefits." I could see, though, that she was actually feeling some fear, so I looked her in the eye and said, "I'm not a terrorist." She thought for a moment, and then she said, "OK, I'll watch your bags."
And off I went.
After that conversation, I realized that 9/11 had not only radically altered our national security priorities, but also the way that many people thought about others. And the weird possibility grew in many people's minds that any stranger could be a killer.
Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, I hope that that feeling also is dead. The feeling that we live in fear. Judging by all the spontaneous celebrations, maybe that feeling is dead.
We have often heard the phrase, "if xxxxxxx, then the terrorists have won." Martha Stewart once told her employees that if not enough of them attended her company Christmas parties, then "the terrorists have certainly succeeded."
Here is one formulation of that formula that we didn't hear: "If the terrorists make you feel terror, if they make you fear them, then the terrorists have won."
I hope that that's over, now.
We spend roughly $3,000 for every American each year on the U.S. military. There is a theory that the reason for this is that the military-industrial complex controls our foreign policy, in much the same way that the medical-industrial complex controls our health policy, and Wall Street's money-industrial complex controls our economic policy. That public opinion is simply irrelevant.
Maybe. But public opinion since 9/11 has been skewed by the real fear that many Americans have felt. Urged on, of course, by certain parasites in the body politic who want us to believe that they are the only ones who can save us from the threat.
In George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four, the fundamental basis for the totalitarian state that he portrays is the fear and hatred of the foreign enemy, Oceania. A siege mentality, brought about by endless war.
I hope that the death of Osama bin Laden will mean the death of the siege mentality. The end of the perceived need for foreign occupations, and the end of foreign occupations.
I hope for peace.
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