For the generation of my parents, the defining question was “Where were you on December 7, 1941?” For my generation, the question had been “Where were you on November 22, 1963?” For some, the question had been “Where were you when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed?”
I have been reading “Ghost Wars,” for which author and Washington Post reporter Steven Coll won wide acclaim when it was published in 2004. Ghost is what Soviet conscripts called the Afghan guerillas. It could also refer for our hunt for elusive radicals. “Ghost Wars” tracks the unhappy history of Soviet and U.S. adventures in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and the rise of the type of fundamentalist Islam that found expression that we know as September 11, 2001.
Like many, my office turned on CNN on 9/11 when they reported that an airliner accident had struck one tower of the World Trade Center. While we watched, another airliner veered in and struck the other tower and burst into flames. It became clear that it was no accident.
Shortly after that, a plane struck the Pentagon. There had been internal debate about the target of the plane that was steered into the ground by a passenger uprising over Pennsylvania. Some wanted to attack the White House but it was well-known as a no-fly zone protected by fighter planes and surface-to-air missiles so it was targeted for the U.S. Capitol.
We almost always close the barn door after the horse has already fled. Attacks against U.S. targets have been foiled by the enlarged U.S. Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies. Threats have become so desperate like the shoe-bomber, Christmas Day in Detroit and the foiled Times Square plot. Those who fly have had the weird experience of being treated like potential criminals. They have to remove their shoes and demonstrate that their cellular telephones and laptops work. Some of my friends have had the unfortunate experience of sharing the same name as people on the terrorist watch list.
I have been subject to an electronic wand because I was flying one-way without carry-on luggage to Orlando to help when my father had surgery. I was not sure when he would be well enough for me to fly back. It led me to conclude that they had me confused me with some other middle-aged, near-sighted Danish-American terrorist leading a holy war for separatism in Florida.
In the name of enhanced security, we surrender civil liberties Americans treasure. Cell telephone providers have been asked to report the location of all their subscribers. Most have resisted. My cell telephone provider is the German Post Office, so I doubt they would ever cooperate with Washington. Libraries have been asked to turn over borrower records.
Ironically, “Ghost Wars” might appear on a watch list.