There were two main ways of getting into the nursing home: the front entrance, which was not really convenient to anything for anyone, and the side entrance, which opened right off of the parking lot and took you directly past the administrative offices. (There was also an Ambulance entrance, but this was only convenient for vehicles pulling up to the far side of the building to pick up or drop off patients.) Like most visitors to the facility, I generally used the side entrance from the parking lot.
Until just after September 11, 2001.
That weekend a sign appeared on the side entrance, which was now locked. I don't remember the exact wording, but it was something like this:
Yes, we thought, that sounds reasonable. Can't be too careful. Terrorists everywhere. The threat is real. They might come to Nanticoke and attack this nursing home...through the side entrance.
It sounds ridiculous now. Back then, less so. At the time, it really did sound perfectly reasonable.
On September 11, 2001, hijackers trained in how to fly passenger jets turned fully-fueled airplanes into guided missiles that were used to kill over 3000 people. In 2002, anthrax spores were sent through the U.S. mail and resulted in several deaths, several non-lethal infections, and the closure of several contaminated facilities. Throughout the world cars have been used as housings for bombs; parked in plain sight or driven up to their targets, they provide both additional fuel for the bomb and deadly metal and glass projectiles.
On January 31, 2007 Boston was shut down because of some small electronic lighted billboards that had been placed without permission or notification in public places.
Was this an overreaction? Definitely. Was there a reasonable cause for alarm? It must have seemed so at the time to the people involved in the situation.
Were there planes flying overhead, and cars parked on the streets, and mailboxes on the corners?
The root of terrorism is terror. Fear. We have not learned how to manage our fear, to assess which items should concern us and which should be dismissed. For the sake of ratings, the sake of having something to say to fill up airtime other than "We don't know what's going on, we don't know what's going on, we don't know what's going on...", for the sake of posturing and scoring a few political points, elements in our society have learned to play on our fears as effectively as any terrorists.
Yesterday was a sad exercise in fear and demonstration of our failure to manage it. It helped show our enemies that even the approximately $500,000 that Al Qaeda invested in the September 11 plot was perhaps overkill. When a climate and culture of fear have been cultivated in this nation to the point that a few strategically placed electronic devices can shut down a major city, we have shown that we are quite capable of terrorizing ourselves. Through our fear, we are doing the terrorists' work for them.