I recently sent my last kid off for her senior year of college. There are rituals to such moments, and because dad-confessions are not among them, I just carried boxes and kept quiet. But what I really wanted to say to her—rather than see you later, call this weekend, do you need money?—was: I’m sorry.
Like all parents in these situations, I was thinking about her future. And like all of America, in that future she won’t be able to escape what is now encompassed by the word “terrorism.”
Everything Is Okay, but You Should Be Terrified
Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. You have a greater chance of being hit by lightning, but fear doesn’t work that way. There’s no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or “if you see something, say something” signs that encourage you to report thunderstorms. So I felt no need to apologize for lightning.
But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was that she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most frightened country on Earth.
Want the numbers? Some 40 percent of Americans believe the country is more vulnerable to terrorism than it was just after September 11, 2001—the highest percentage ever.
Want the apocalyptic jab in the gut? Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said earlier this month that the threat remains just as grave: “Those people, those enemies, those members of that terrorist group, still intend—as they did on 9/11—to destroy your freedoms, to kill you, kill your families, they still intend to destroy the United States of America.”
All that fear turned us into an engine of chaos abroad, while consuming our freedoms at home. And it saddens me that there was a different world, pre-9/11, which my daughter’s generation and all those who follow her will never know.
My kids grew up overseas while, from 1988 to 2012, I served with the State Department. For the first part of my career as a diplomat, wars were still discreet matters. For example, though Austria was a neighbor of Slovenia, few there were worried that the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s would spill across the border. Suicide bombers didn’t threaten Vienna when we visited as tourists in 1991. That a war could again consume large parts of the globe and involve multiple nations would have seemed as remote to us vacationers that year as the moon.
Even the big war of the era, Desert Storm in 1991, seemed remarkably far away. My family and I were assigned to Taiwan at the time and life there simply went on. There was no connection between us and what was happening in Kuwait and Iraq, and certainly we didn’t worry about a terror attack.
It’s easy to forget how long ago that was. Much of the Balkans is now a tourist destination, and a young soldier who fought in Desert Storm would be in his mid-40s today. Or think of it this way: Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, on entering the Oval Office next January, will be the fifth president in succession to bomb Iraq.