AND IN the sixth month, we went nuclear. On paper, anyway.
Word from the Pentagon leaked to the Los Angeles Times that the United States government has changed the way it looks at The Bomb. It has, for two generations now, been seen as the ultimate horror. The mere thought of its use is so terrifying that all discussion about nuclear weapons was required to have as its purpose the aim that they never be used again.
Now Pentagon planners think it would be dandy to have some new nuclear bombs that would be very useful, indeed, in taking out a dangerous bunker or cave or two. Or if it were time to go to war over Taiwan.
They thought they could keep this a secret. But it leaked, and so now we are told by President George W. Bush's top spinners that it's just a thought, a possible contingency plan for a contingency not immediately foreseen.
After all, we are supposed to feel safe again now. We just didn't know we were to stop worrying by learning to love The Bomb.
The thing about anniversaries is that they are time for remembrance and time for taking stock. Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the day terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The remembrance part went beautifully. New York gathered in person and in spirit near Ground Zero for a solemn, sunlit ceremony. It had the peculiar balance of emotion and grit the city brings to everything it does.
The White House ceremony was lovely. Flags of the assembled nations - 100 or so diplomats from around the globe attended - sprang to life in the March breeze. In a speech that sought to thank allies and keep them eager for our cause, Bush did not mention using The Bomb in the war on terror. It is not the type of thing you say in polite company.
The war in Afghanistan is going as well as could be expected. We are, at the moment, bogged down in the mountains fighting al-Qaida, but there is no way this crew ultimately can escape the overwhelmingly superior American military.
The trouble is not so much abroad - though there is, as yet, not one nation that has come forward to say it is square behind the administration's apparent intent of using military force, around the globe if necessary, to uproot terrorists. This was before the "axis of evil" morphed into the generals' axis for annihilation.
At home, things just do not seem right.
We pull toddlers out of airport security lines if their names turn up in the computer for a random frisk. There is no reason to believe a 3-year-old returning home from Disney is a terrorist. Still, we are told, precautions must be taken.
There is very good reason to believe a terrorist might check a suitcase with explosives into the belly of an airliner. Still, we are told, we cannot X-ray all checked bags. It costs too much. The machines are too unwieldy to install quickly.
There was, from the start, an official dismissiveness toward a congressional mandate to at least match all checked bags to a passenger. It's not done, even now, on connecting flights. Change in Chicago for a riskier ride.
This is our national decision: We will pay whatever it takes to dispatch the military around the world, and leave soldiers in a temporal hell for as long as it takes. We will, though, leave in place airline security gaps so wide you could pilot a B-52 through them.
The Pentagon's nuclear strategy "re-assessment" now contemplates using nuclear weapons to deter - or respond to - a chemical or biological attack. So far the only deadly biological agent used against U.S. citizens was anthrax. It was sent through the mail not by a hostile outsider but, authorities believe, by some homegrown loner with access to our Army labs. If the culprit is found we will, presumably, not nuke New Jersey.
The war on terror is permanent, and it has given rise to a permanent war mentality. That has its benefits. It is good that we are not, as a rule, mouthing off to harried airport security workers who, no doubt, think it's silly to force a pre-schooler to remove Pooh sneakers before proceeding to the gate.
The permanent war mentality lends legitimacy, too, to a belief that all will be well if we undertake just one more military campaign, in one more terrorist haven, with one or two more sophisticated weapons and maybe even the ultimate one. This may make some feel safer. Personally, I'd like to see them X-ray checked bags.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.