My Turn: Catching up to the world
Another mindless tragedy. Another official moment of silence before a television show or event. A moment of silence for the Boston Marathon bombing. The Sandy Hook massacre. The victims of Virginia Tech. The Aurora shootings. Oklahoma City. Pretty soon, our collective lives will just be one extended Moment of Silence. Maybe that’s not a bad idea if it makes us all more conscious and compassionate.
After the World Trade Center attacks, many commentators reflected on our “loss of innocence,” as if such a thing existed. Our government, whether liberal or conservative, has visited death upon the unsuspecting across the globe for decades but because such actions happen in another country, it might as well be happening in another galaxy. The scenes of horror recently witnessed in Boston have been replicated in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The unseen women and children blown apart by drones, even if unintentional, are just as mourned. Does that make us, as Americans, evil people? Not at all, in my opinion, but it does unite us with the fates of other victims around the world.
My fear is not that we have lost any imaginary innocence. I worry that we will soon become used to such atrocities. Or worse, become coarse and hardened by them. I received this lesson years ago while traveling in Israel, a nation that knows a thing or two about terrorist activities.
In 1977, I spend two months there at a time when it was not only surrounded by hostile neighbors in a state of conflict but suffering terrorist bombings and attacks on a regular basis. The United States during this era had yet to experience such scenarios in the visceral way we do now. The first inkling I got of being in a civilian war zone was when I went to the movies one evening in Tel Aviv. Before I bought my ticket, I was frisked and searched by a soldier who politely but firmly went through my pockets and bags. He offered no explanation and I asked for none. He wanted to make sure no device was brought into the theater and detonated. I had never been searched at a movie theater before or since.
I received a more charged reaction a few weeks later. I had picked up a nasty stomach bug en route to Akko, an ancient city on the Mediterranean. My hotel wasn’t ready to receive me so I was left to wander downtown with my luggage feeling increasingly distressed. Eyeing a restaurant, I left my bags on the sidewalk and rushed inside to the bathroom. Relieved, I exited and was stunned by the sight of two men going through my suitcases. In true New York City fashion, I gruffly demanded an explanation but got no further than three words before they blasted me with some righteous indignation of their own. “Stupid American tourist! You NEVER leave your bags on the street!” In those pre 9/11 days, the equation that bags equaled explosives hadn’t ever occurred to me.
It occurred later when I was sitting on a bus at the Tel Aviv transit station waiting to leave for Jerusalem. About 10 feet away from me on the platform were a trio of unattended pieces of luggage. I thought nothing of it until someone loudly asked, with unmistakable alarm, whose bags these were. There was no response. Immediately, an electric current of fear arose in the station that could have been cut with a knife. I shrank in my seat, knowing that were there a bomb in those bags, I would soon cease to exist. Fortunately, another dumb American tourist ambled over to claim them. He, too, received a well-deserved torrent of abuse. Fortunately, other than a three-hour security screening at the airport upon departure (then a local anomaly, now common worldwide), my time in Israel was unremarkable.
Within a month after my return to the states, every town, public market and individual bus routes I had traveled through, suffered a terrorist attack with injury and loss of life.
Years later, I reflected how I would exist knowing that every time I went shopping, viewed a movie, dropped my kids off at school, sat in a restaurant or rode a city bus, I could, without warning, be blown apart by a bomb or shot to death by a domestic or foreign terrorist. And if I had to live with that tension day after day, week after week, year after year and decade after decade, it might explain why the Israelis are somewhat brutal and crazy in how they deal with the Palestinians.
The question, however, is whether our increased exposure to unexpected violence will make us Americans brutal and crazy as well. Friends of mine have asked “When will this end?” The answer is “never” as long as anyone, American or otherwise, feels entitled to express their rage and hatred in ways that destroy the innocent lives of others.
Daniel A. Brown has lived in Franklin County since 1970 as an artist, writer, amateur historian, and photographer. He is a frequent contributor to The Recorder and welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.