While watching the news reports building up to the Super Bowl and the Olympics in Sochi Russia, I was struck by the fact that if one accounts for the difference in language, I was looking at the same picture.
That picture was one of police, soldiers, and others in flak jackets, carrying automatic weapons, with over head air support, on the water boat support, canine units, fences, high-resolution cameras and monitors, heat sensing devices, hazardous material detectors and on and on. Russia and the United States were the same — a difficult pill to swallow for this former cold warrior. It made me more than a little disappointed that the visuals were indistinguishable. Turn off the sound to the television and I would be hard pressed to know which one was which.
Don’t misunderstand me and think that I am saying that our countries are the same. Likewise it is obvious that events over the last fifteen to twenty years have caused many nations to institute a nearly universal effort to defend their citizens with an abundance of concern about security. In this day and age, no one can be “against” security. The common knowledge is that “soft” targets are more likely to be hit than “hard” targets and if nothing else, the appearance of strength may deter a terrorist (or criminal) act. I suppose it is necessary and I understand it.
It still makes me a little sad. In the halcyon days of the mid-1980s I taught a college course that included an examination of the roots and elements of terrorism. One of the maxims is that terrorists are working to change society and that the use of terror as a weapon is the tool to do so. In so many respects, our society has changed as a result of the threat of terrorism. Compare our large public events from twenty or thirty years ago with those of today. For that matter, compare almost any public gathering today compared with twenty years ago. No longer do we go care-free to a large sporting event such as the Super Bowl. Instead we undergo the kind of scrutiny once reserved for getting into the most secure of secret installations. I am not entirely convinced that everything we do these days in the name of “security” is necessary or even effective. In some respects certain measures are more for the psychological impact they create in order to make people “feel” safer. If I was a little more cynical I would suggest that some of the measures are only instituted to cover the authorities should something happen — they can then argue that they did everything possible — whether or not it actually makes any real difference to our degree of safety.
I know there is no turning back. I still don’t have to like it.