Last week, The Wife and I took a belated honeymoon in the fantastical city of Rome — a town filled with so many naked statues, a thousand John Ashcrofts could not cover them all. On the last day of our trip, terrorists in Madrid blew up commuter trains packed with workers and students, but we knew nothing about it until late that night.
We spent the afternoon in the Vatican Museum (Overheard in the Sistine Chapel: a girl gazing up at Michelangelo’s famed ceiling fresco said to her friend, “I wonder how much they paid him.”) and the evening in a funky expatriate neighborhood called Trastevere.
Night found us wandering streets and alleys in a futile effort to find our way back to our hotel in the Piazza Esedra. At last we came upon a taxi stand. By the time our driver dropped us at the hotel, we were done. We ordered room service and turned on the BBC. But when our food arrived, we had no appetite for it.
What we saw on the television reminded us of what we had seen live and in person in New York in September of 2001, right down to the impromptu candlelight vigils. The next morning — the morning of our flight home — we heard about the people donating blood, and saw them laying wreaths. That brought the rest of it back.
In New York in 2001, The Wife and I had also tried to give blood, but we were turned away, because there was no one to give the blood to. In lower Manhattan, people had either gotten out of the buildings in time or been atomized within them as the walls fell.
What to do about mass murderers? Fight them of course. But not by waging preemptive wars against countries that had nothing to do with 9-11. It is like attacking cancer with machine guns. There’s a lot of smoke, a lot of racket, a lot of blowing bystanders to bits. But after the smoke clears and the funeral parades trudge on, not one cancer cell has been cured.
Although it is hard for many Americans to understand, between Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, many people in this world are more afraid of the U.S. than they are of terrorists whose objective is to wipe modern civilization off the face of the earth.
Right now we know that a leading Pakistani scientist has sold nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, to Iran, and quite possibly to members of Al Qaeda. But instead of finding out who bought what weapons and where they are now, my country’s leaders are looking the other way. In return, Pakistan has agreed to help the U.S. find bin Laden before the U.S. presidential election in November. (The deal has been reported by the International Herald Tribune, The Economist, and the BBC. You might even find mention of it in an American newspaper.)
Taking out bin Laden while leaving nuclear weapons in play is like firing Michael Eisner and expecting Disneyland to close. One fanatic with a bomb down his pants could take out Manhattan, or London, or Rome. Three fanatics with three bombs could do all three. I live in one of those places and I’d like to think that all of them will be around after I’m gone. This isn’t a political issue. It’s life or death. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone in Madrid.
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