My wife and I are contemplating a return visit this summer to Berlin, Germany, where our son has been living for 18 months. We visited him last year and very much enjoyed the city, the country, and the adjoining countries that we toured with him. On that visit we drove into Austria and Switzerland and even spent a night high up in the Alps in Liechtenstein.
Since that trip, however, Europe has been the target of terrorism, most especially with the deadly attacks in Brussels last month. Reports this week indicate that Paris may be a prime target for a future attack. And Germany may also be on the terrorists’ hit list.
And so we find ourselves contemplating a new element in planning a vacation, to wit: to what extent should the threat of terrorism dictate our itinerary? My inclination is to avoid giving the threat much weight. It’s a simple calculus. I just don’t want to give up my freedom to fear. Heck, I’m already scared enough of life as it is (or used to be pre 9/11). I fear all kinds of things, mostly in the illness and end-of-life scenarios: the stuff of life, as it were, wherein I or a dearly loved one is diagnosed with a terminal disease or develops some form of dementia. Those potential realities and the “what-ifs” attendant to them haunt me enough. I don’t need to add the threat of a terrorist attack to my paranoia.
But then there is this from the U.S. State Department:
Europe Travel Alert
Last Updated: March 22, 2016
The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to potential risks of travel to and throughout Europe following several terrorist attacks, including the March 22 attacks in Brussels claimed by ISIL. Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation. This Travel Alert expires on June 20, 2016.
U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places. Exercise particular caution during religious holidays and at large festivals or events.
U.S. citizens should also:
- Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency.
- Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.
- Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
- Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
And this is where the terrorists win. It isn’t enough that they subvert our Bill of Rights freedoms, with the protections of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments (e.g. freedom of speech, search and seizure, due process, the right to counsel) all threatened by overly aggressive government attempts to “keep the country safe.” Now it gets personal, as in, don’t travel where you’d otherwise love to travel lest you be a victim of a terrorist attack.
So, okay, sure. I get it. We are dealing with a “new normal.” It used to be normal to plan exotic vacations as a reward for hard work and as a means to make life seem other than mere drudgery. It used to be that if you planned and saved and got that Christmas bonus you were counting on, you could take that dream vacation to Paris or London or Rome. It used to be that the biggest thing you had to worry about on such a trip was whether your luggage would arrive with your flight.
Now, terrorism, or at least the constant, ever-present threat of it, has become part of our daily lives. Or has it?
Here’s a different way to think about terrorist attacks. Yes, they happen, and when they do, they are horribly cruel and inhuman, causing untold grief for those who are victims or relatives of victims of the attacks. But, absent the immense loss of life and the overall impact that a WMD could create (the detonation of a nuclear bomb would devastate society writ large), the actual number of victims of these attacks is in the hundreds at most, and often is far less still.
How many lives were lost in Brussels last month? From the furor the attack created in the media and in workplaces everywhere, you’d have thought the answer must be in the thousands, or at least in the hundreds. But the answer is 32. In a city of 1.14 million (as of 2012), 32 lives were taken by the terrorists in those attacks.
What about San Bernardino last fall? Surely over 100 deaths, right? Wrong. Fourteen lives were lost with another 22 seriously injured, out of a city with a population of over 200,000 (as of 2013).
Even the 9/11 attacks, where original estimates were upwards of 10,000, resulted in less than 3,000 deaths.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not seeking to diminish the tragic consequences of these monstrously evil actions. And I’m not seeking to lessen the security and intelligence efforts by the governments of all civilized nations, ours most particularly. And I’ll pay some attention to that State Department travel alert before my wife and I finalize our vacation plans for this summer.
But in terms of fear, I still have to count my long-standing haunts as my primary source of existential anxiety. The threat of Islamist terrorism is real, of that I have no doubt. But so is the threat of gun violence, which has caused far more death and destruction than all the terrorist attacks put together since our new normal took hold. And so is the threat of natural disasters like the floods following Hurricane Katrina and the destruction brought on by Hurricane Sandy, which together took the lives of over 2,000.
My wife and I may opt not to travel to Europe this year, but I hope that if we don’t, our decision is based on the old normal – on things like our budget and conflicts in our schedules and not on the fear of becoming victims of terrorism.
Terrorism is part of the new normal, and I hate it. But I’m damned if I’m going to give in to it.