Tuesday, March 16, 2004


I liked Tim Burke's recent post, Terrorist Tipping Points. Tim tries to figure out a motive for Madrid's bombing. Was it desperation, nihilistic blood lust, or political strategy?

He writes,
Anybody who devotes even a small amount of time to thinking of plausible targets knows that not only is there a huge surplus of such targets, there must always be so in democratic societies. The train attacks in Spain could easily have happened on Amtrak: in the past ten months, I’ve sat on Amtrak trains where people in my car have left a backpack on a seat and gone to the bathroom or club car, or so I’ve assumed. If they were leaving a bomb instead, how could any of us tell? Trains only scratch the surface: a hundred ghastly scenarios spring to mind.

Since 9/11, I also think about the worst possible scenario. A series of small bombs under the George Washington Bridge. A vial of lethal bacteria in an upstate reservoir. A dirty bomb in Times Square.

It's better now. Those thoughts of devastation have subsided a bit. But in the months right afterwards, when most New Yorkers were suffering from a mild case of post traumatic shock syndrome, the worst case scenario seemed imminent. I was in midtown when it happened. Read about it here, if you like.

In the days after 9/11, we were all on edge. In the playgrounds, the parents described their escape route from the city. They knew where they would go in upstate New York and how they would meet up with their spouses. We had all thought this stuff through. When the fighter jets flew over the eerily quiet city, we stopped talking and looked up.

Many friends packed Go Bags for themselves which they left by the door.

Steve loaded up the trunk of our car with gallons of water and beans and a transistor radio. We finally got a cell phone. I only wore sneakers to work for a month in case I had another long walk home.

I was teaching at the time. When class finally reconvened, I just let the students vent that first day. 50 freshman faces looked to me for answers, and I had none. One student had to drop the class, never recovering from almost losing both her parents in the towers. One student worked as an intern for the Times and told the class wild rumors that the reporters were investigating. There was some story about a bomb on Halloween. Students were continually late to class, because the subways were always being shut down for investigations. Every time this happened, I had a sharp burst of panic.

After several months, we calmed down and ate the beans and drank the water. Student life returned to normal. I no longer compulsively worried about my husband working in Times Square. I stopped looking up at the sky wondering who was piloting the 747 overhead.

Madrid brought me back to that place for a moment. The panic of living in a place that is so fragile and full of people and symbolic. The buildings that I used to regard as solid and massive, now look like they could fold up like a Kleenex. I saw steel and concrete turn to dust on TV. Now I've seen powerful trains opened up like an high school earthworm experiment. The world is a lot more fragile.

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