While the country celebrates (if that's not too inappropriate a word) the anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing, one of the television stations heads its broadcast “America On Alert” and the whole country holds its breath.
We are told that although the threats are credible, they are still not specific, but the President assures us they are to be taken seriously. We’ve moved up from a Yellow to an Orange Alert, merely one shade away from a Red Alert, and polls show that 75% of Americans are afraid of future attacks. Particularly if they work in tall buildings or live near National Monuments,
When my husband was on a ship in WWII, he said that every now and then they’d go on Yellow Alert. Somehow on these days, the Japanese bombers would take the day off… but I digress.)
The source of these potential attacks is unnamed. Will they again be from Al Qaeda? Or has Saddam Hussein decided to risk the obliteration of Iraq by launching his A-Bomb (if he has one) or a biological or chemical attack? Or are there other Evil people out there planning our collective deaths?
Rumsfeld wants to attack Iraq right now, just in case, but although we appear to be building up our forces for a historical First Strike, President Bush says he hasn’t yet made up his mind, even though he really, really wants a regime change in that country.
Perhaps he can offer some “proof” of the imminent danger, the way his Daddy managed to when he came up with the news that the Iraqis were massing troops and tanks on the border of Saudi Arabia — which was the pretext for the Persian Gulf war in 1991, even though analysts later came up with satellite images of nothing but blank deserts. Even today, the Pentagon's photographs of this ghostly horde remain “classified” and then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney gave the reporter from the St. Petersburg Times the official response, “Trust us.” (See story in the September 6 issue of The Christian, Science Monitor) It’s all very confusing.
Still, whatever happens, Oregon is ready. Although the main threat is against our embassies and military bases overseas, there is heightened security at Oregon’s Bonneville and other dams and on our water reservoirs. In Portland. the FBI has set up a 24-hour a day Task Force command post with terrorist experts on hand and ready. PDX (Portland’s International Airport) is bristling with F-15s and F-16s armed with missiles and rows of attack helicopters all set to go, along with National Guard troops and extra police patrolling the terminal. New television sets have been installed to better monitor the activities of passengers. Overhead, AWACS keeps watch and NORAD is on alert. The head of security at the airport assures us that the airport is safer than it was before 9/11.
Oregon’s bridges are under surveillance and the Coast Guard is ready to meet any threats coming up the Columbia. (Nobody mentioned the Willamette which is perhaps so polluted it poses a threat all by itself.)
In Salem, the Capitol Building and other government buildings have also been reinforced with extra police. There would probably be more of them if it weren’t for the fact that the State is having a financial crisis because it can't decide whether to abolish some vital social services or raise taxes — or even impose (horrors!) a sales tax. For this reason, we Oregonians don’t have too many State Troopers, and their number may be reduced even further unless the legislature can figure out how to raise an almost $500 million shortfall. But again I'm digressing.
To illustrate our readiness, we've managed to put a local Imam of a southwest Portland mosque in jail just as he was trying to leave the country. Something about his citizenship papers and “traces of an explosive substance” on what was first thought to be his luggage, but then may be somebody else's. His apartment is now being searched. One can’t be too careful. Also under investigation are many Islamic charities that may have somehow tunneled funds to Al Qaeda.
Personally, like many Americans on this Day of the Dead, now dubbed Patriot’s Day. I’m going about my normal life. On edge, but determined. Heeding the injunction by Attorney General Ashcroft, I intend to be alert and report any unusual behavior to the authorities. Just this morning I went out on my deck and looked around. (My house may be a dump, but I do have a magnificent view.) The Cascade Range looked the same as always, and the junipers and sagebrush were undisturbed, so I feel relieved and hope for the best, I will however remain vigilant.
One thing bothers me though. The collapse of the Soviet Union was partly due to the arms race, with the USSR spending most of its resources on defense and neglecting its other domestic obligations. The 9/11 terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center with about two dozen conspirators, a few knives and some box cutters. In retaliation, we've bombed the hell out of Afghanistan, built up our military defenses around the world and initiated another agency called Homeland Security in order to obtain security from an enemy as elusive and invisible as a virus.
As long as we live in fear, the terrorists can sit back and watch us spend billions on weapons of mass destruction, for overseas deployment of our armed forces and for domestic security measures, while all they have to do is issue occasional non-specific threats. In the meantime, our infrastructure decays, our citizens lose their civil rights, states are forced to slash spending on schools and libraries, and curtail their social services on health and for the poor, elderly and disabled.
Will our chief accomplishment be the uniting of the Moslem world against us, the alienation of most of our former allies and the promotion of unrest at home? And the Administration will still claim a win-win situation. As long as we’re at “war,” nobody will make a fuss about the corruption of corporations the pathetic stock market or the pot holes in the highways.
If there are no more terrorist actions, the government can claim it’s because of a strong military and the measures taken by the Homeland Security authority. If there are any terrorist acts they can justify diverting funds away from domestic concerns. In any event, opposition to the current state of affairs is muted or absent in the legislature and media and the population is too frightened both of terrorism and of being thought unpatriotic to complain. So nobody is asking if our Emperor’s naked.