“Terrorism” is not new. Call it activism, rebellion, guerrilla warfare, resistance or the underground, combat by other than “conventional” means has been practiced for hundreds of years.
The power of what we’ve come to experience as terrorism is not a particular violent act, but the psychological effects of that act. The physical devastation – primarily the loss of life – that was 9/11 was a precursor to true terrorism. For months, even years, many were afraid to fly. The mere sound of airplanes frightened folks. We altered how we fly and changed forever the once simple act of getting on an airplane. The “shoe bomber,” though unsuccessful, dictated to a nation that its airline passengers must now take off their shoes before they are considered non-risks.
In warfare, the same tactic is used. A single mine in a large harbor will shut down sea traffic for days until the entire area can be swept. That one mine doesn’t even have to explode, just become known, and shipments will come to a halt.
ONE submarine spotted in home or international waters will alter sea lanes and create panic among shippers.
So it is with today’s terrorism. Over eight years after September 11, 2001, we still look over our collective shoulders and worry. There is a national paranoia that grips us and, well, terrorizes us.
It doesn’t matter if there has been a terrorist “attack” on our soil since then or not. As long as we get reminders – the “shoe” bomber, the “underwear” bomber, raids on cells, bin Laden videos, etc. – we will continue to live under the grimy thumb of terrorism.
It doesn’t matter if we cleanse Iraq, contain Iran, flatten Afghanistan or neutralize al Qaeda, terrorism owns America at least for the remainder of our generation.
It owns us because it made us change. It scared us and it continues to do so.
The Kaiser didn’t change us, neither did Adolf Hitler. But al Qaeda did. Oh, we stood together in a very American, jingoistic way immediately after the towers and the Pentagon attacks, but too many in positions of influence were/are weak and couldn’t stand the pressure of fear.
They waffled, they denied, they apologized to the rapist. And in doing so, gave up another victory to terrorism.
I don’t believe our campaign in Afghanistan will result in removing al Qaeda or terrorism as threats to American security or national interests. The best we can do is establish a very high price for challenging that security and those interests.
But we’ll never undo the scar.