Is this the way it's going to be from here on out?
Is every incident at an airport going to make us tremble?
Every time we celebrate a national holiday, are we going to fear the worst?
The shooting at LAX came first, about 11:30 Thursday morning. Two were dead and
one more was dying. Minutes later, a twin-engine Cessna crashed into a crowd at
a park in San Dimas, killing four and injuring at least 12.
You didn't have to be paranoid to think that both could be the work of terrorists
sending a message to America on the day we celebrate freedom. And you didn't have
to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder if it was just the beginning. I was glued
to the TV, watching victims carried to ambulances, waiting to find out what we
were looking at.
At last report, we were told that neither situation appeared to involve terrorism.
But for a couple of hours, we were all terrorized in a manner of speaking, because
the one thing we know about life in the postmodern world is that we don't know
"It's really hard to go out and celebrate the whole notion of freedom and independence
when we're living in an atmosphere of 'What next?'," said Nancy Snow, a political
analyst who's teaching a summer course on media and social change at UCLA.
"The first thing I heard on the news was that the Bradley International Terminal
was in lockdown, and I thought that was an emblematic slogan for our times. We've
got a semblance of freedom, but we're also in lockdown."
As the events unfolded, I felt perfectly helpless and a little ticked off.
We virtually declared victory after the Taliban were routed and Afghans marched
back into Kabul, and we proudly strung up those "United We Stand" banners.
But two months short of the first anniversary of Sept. 11, nothing has changed.
We have no idea where Osama bin Laden is. We haven't gotten any closer to dismantling
Al Qaeda. We've sacrificed some of the civil liberties we claim to cherish. And
we've still got the jitters. On the Fourth of July, when we ought to be throwing
hot dogs on the grill and tossing Frisbees, we can't take our eyes off the gurneys
So what have we accomplished?
More than a little, to be honest. We've put the Neanderthal Taliban down, and
we're trying almost single-handedly to nurse Afghanistan back to health, which
is a treacherous walk down a long road. And 3,000-plus American martyrs have helped
expose militant Islam as nothing more than a despicable, bloody hypocrisy.
But we completely forgot a vow we made to ourselves after Sept. 11. We were
going to rethink the meaning of our lives, remember?
We were going to live less materialistically and more thoughtfully.
We were going to give some consideration to the fact that much of the world
sees us as the fat kid at the birthday party, stuffing cake into his mouth while
everyone else dives for crumbs.
"The rest of the world doesn't see us as we see ourselves--as good people with
good intentions," says Snow, a former official with the State Department and the
U.S. Information Agency.
They see us as the guys who cut deals with petro-villains in the interest of
our own comfort and prosperity. They see us peddling arms to despots of dirt-poor
countries that could better use schools and capital. And now we're threatening
to blow Iraq to smithereens because battleships and bombers are the only defense
We barely whisper about any of this, much less care, but we're all screaming
when someone wants to snip "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
It's this combination of cluelessness and self-righteousness that has the world's
mongrels--those who profit from the imposed ignorance of their own people--gunning
"I love this country, but there's a lack of critical thinking," says Snow.
"We have all this talk of freedom, but the discussion in Washington is about guns
and missiles that will only promote the cycle of violence. If you got a group
of children together and put the problems out there for them to look at, they
could do a better job."
We don't have a greater freedom than our right to hold Washington, and ourselves,
to a higher accountability. And we don't have a more appropriate time to remind
ourselves of this than Independence Day weekend.
Wake up, folks. This very conversation is our strength, and the best salve
for frayed nerves.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times