I don’t know a damned thing about terrorists. It seems like I should, but I don’t. I don’t know a damned thing about terrorists, even though I’ve been terrorized by them what seems like a dozen times a year since my first introduction to them. That would be Munich, 1972. The Summer Olympic Games.
Like most of you, my introduction to terrorism was basically antiseptic—TV set on, munching on potato chips, sipping a drink, checking out a footrace or a game of some sort, and then, WHAM. In the case in Munich, terrorists kidnapped members of the Israeli Olympic team, then blew themselves and their hostages from here to kingdom come at a Munich airport. American swimmer Mark Spitz, a Jew, was rushed home at the apex of his highest achievement. Everyone wondered how those Israelis—especially the tough Israeli wrestlers—were overcome and then herded to their eventual demise. Those terrorists used Uzis. It doesn’t require an Uzi. A small knife held to the throat of a small child or passenger could be equally effective at opening any cockpit cabin door. Terror manifests in many unthinkable ways.
The Munich Games were 29 years ago. Yet with every car bomb or hijacked plane and with terrorist attacks coming from every angle on every continent, we pause mostly to wonder how, but not why. Sure, sure, during every major encounter—the planes at Entebbe and Lockerbie, the Marine barracks in Beirut, Japan’s subway system, the first World Trade Center bombing—we glue ourselves to radios and televisions from which some expert can be counted on to say, “I told you so.” But really, not much plausible information is offered up and we soon go back to our regular routines.
We seldom engage in any meaningful remorse or regret when the victims are not American. We don’t look hard for answers when a bus blows up in the West Bank or on a Chechnyan street. We hardly glance askew when the victim or perpetrator is Chiapan or an Angolan. Those victims and those crimes are better suited to us in the form of stumbling blocks on the way to riches on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? You’ve seen those frozen faces. Regis: “For $100,000, who is the head of the PLO?” Contestant: “Uhhhh … I’d like to use one of my lifelines.”
A good number of men, mostly dead, have been awarded medals for throwing themselves onto live hand grenades or into a line of fire to protect others near them. Such acts are rightfully heroic—and demonstrably suicidal. What then, besides heroism and a commitment to cause, could prompt an otherwise normal human being to do likewise on a crowded bus or passenger airplane? And what heroic acts could ever include the barbaric taking of innocent lives?
There are none that I know. But according to the pundits, a coward to one is a hero to another. And therein lies the terror. For as we are victimized now, so have victims elsewhere preceded us with every bit the pain and sorrow we now feel. Of any stripe or color, a dead child is a dead child. It’s time we give less time to Regis and more time to Rather. We are no longer aloof, we are amidst.