Terrorism comes in many forms
In Storm Lake, two stores are locked down and people held hostage by our fears for two hours, while bomb dogs, x-ray equipment, a water cannon and officers from four local and state departments are called in. All because someone apparently forgot an empty old suitcase in a parking lot while they loaded their car.
This is our reality in 2002. We have become so afraid that we are seeing shadows even in the sunshine.
The sad thing isn't that police took such drastic action, it is that they have to. Two years ago, if somebody left an empty case in a parking lot in Storm Lake, police probably never would have been called. Somebody would have shaken it to see if it was empty, checked for a name tag, and tossed it into the lost and found until the owner missed it and came back for it.
We are not so innocent today. Not even in little Storm Lake, as far as you can get from east coast sniper shootings and west coast gang drive-bys. Even here we are a bit paranoid and not without good reason. Remember part of the downtown being shut down and sealed off for a suspicious envelope at the Planned Parenthood clinic, which turned out to be nothing more than mail? Not so long ago, we wouldn't think twice about opening a stray envelope dropped off at a business; now we have to.
Law enforcement has to take every precaution, and we appreciate them for their care. It does make us a little sad, however.
Is it any wonder we are turning skittish? Barely healing from the scars of September 11th, the national news today is filled with dire warnings about Saddam Hussein or al-Qaida, threats of biological terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
A sniper in the Washington, D.C.-area targets people at random, and suddenly we are a little more sensitive to what life is like in Israel and other places of persisting violence, with terror following people to the mall, school and gas station. One writer described the feeling as "the cross hairs burning holes in the back of our heads... Imagine what it would be like if the next roving killer carried smallpox, anthrax or a nuclear device in a suitcase."
Or maybe we would rather nor imagine.
Since the September 11 attacks, we have changed. A sniper threatens to change us more. We have learned to be more vigilant, and found that we can no longer assume that terrorism in any form cannot threaten us where we live.
At some point, we will face the question. How much of our collective innocence will we give away, or allow to be taken away?
Will we always be afraid of every empty box or envelope lying around? Afraid to let our children go play in the park? Afraid to take a family trip on an airplane? Afraid of people with different skin color or accent? Afraid to open our mail?
In the past year, a little of all that has been heard in Storm Lake as everywhere else.
The good news is that all the excitement over a forgotten suitcase proved to be no threat at all. We can almost laugh about it in retrospect, though we know we would have to act in the same way if the same thing happened again.
The bad news is that for who-knows-how-long, we're going to see shadows and look over our shoulders and wonder what could be next.
We survived the "threat" of an empty old suitcase just fine. As a nation, we will even survive Ground Zero and Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. And one day, I wonder if we will decide that our greatest threat is our own fear.