I wonder, in the wake of the barbaric attacks in Paris, how terrorism affects my children. Do they lie awake at night worrying about the next ISIS target? Do they find themselves avoiding popular restaurants, refusing to take the subway, scanning the faces in crowds for potential threats? Do they find it harder to sleep, to eat, to enjoy their lives?
Or do they accept the occasional assault on civilization as simply another unpleasant aspect of modern life, nastier but essentially no different than the random deadly plane crash or train derailment that occasionally interrupts the normal flow of existence?
When I was young, years before the PLO and their successor murderers of innocents appeared on the scene, each new incarnation seemingly more psychotic and sociopathic than the last, we faced a far different threat–nuclear annihilation.
We didn’t worry then that a couple of heavily-armed, black-clad killers would burst into the cafe where were lunching; we were terrified that we and everyone and everything for miles around would be atomized in a giant fireball, or that if we did somehow survive, the world we knew would be horribly and irreparably changed.
We knew who the enemy was: the Russians. They didn’t hide behind masks. They didn’t meet in secret rooms in third-world provinces the names of which we’d never heard hatching plots to down airliners or massacre concert-goers. We knew their names and recognized their faces.
Oddly enough, we said the same things about the Soviets then that we now say about ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda and Hezbollah: they aren’t civilized, they don’t share our values, they don’t respect human life the way we do. As the Cold War wound down and we looked back at the flash points, we discovered that what kept us from nuclear annihilation was in fact a shared fear for our loved ones and terror of destroying our civilization. Our adversaries were more like us than we knew or were willing to admit.
What is confounding and terrifying about ISIS and its murderous brethren is that we may be right about them this time.
But in the world of my youth, we didn’t have ISIS to keep us awake at night. We only had to worry about being incinerated in a nuclear holocaust that destroyed the world.
Tomorrow’s Sleeper Ave. story revisits that time.