Americans celebrated the 4th of July in mostly tradtional ways Thursday – at picnics, air shows, festivals and other public events.
In major cities, war planes flew overhead. On the ground, thousands of police, soldiers and security personnel patrolled, weapons on ready, ever watchful for a terrorist attack that many felt would come.
In Los Angeles, a fruitcake with a grudge opened fire at the airport, killing two before an El Al security guard gunned him down, but the incident apparently had more to do with mentral instability than any terrorist agenda. That was the only event that marred an otherwise traditional 4th of July.
So, what happened? Were the many warnings and threats groundless? Did we keep looking over our shoulder for an enemy that wasn’t there? Is paranoia more a threat to our way of life than Osama bin Laden?
Some people are starting to wonder. Washington’s security forces stood on yellow alert on the 4th of July, but the threat of terrorism fell short of the opressive heat and humidity that put the city in a code red weather alert (which meant those attending the festivities on the mall were more in danger from the heat than Osama).
In St. Louis, where my wife and I spent the 4th, security was stepped up at the dome where the Rams play football because the FBI’s monitoring of Internet activity detected someone with terrorist connections downloading a map of the place.
But nothing happened. Flags waved, fireworks flew, traffic backed up and everyone got indigestion and sunburn.
“We’re at a crossroads now,” an FBI agent told me earlier this week. “We have to be alert and in a constant state of readiness, but we will have trouble maintaining that state when nothing happens.”
Which creates a Catch-22. In order to be prepared for a terrorist attack, we have to have one. If one doesn’t happen, we stop worrying.
Which means we live in fear of something that may, or may not, ever happen.
Which means we learn to live with security checkpoints, body searches, invasion of privacy and loss of the freedoms we have taken for granted for so long.
Which means Osama can win this war without ever doing another thing,.