A few weeks ago, we toured my favorite city, Washington D.C. I hadn’t been there since prior to 9/11, and felt stunned at the security measures that were part of people’s everyday life.
When I was in college, I interned for a California senator. The freedom we had as college students–compared to today’s interns–was substantial. We had the freedom to run back and forth between Senate offices, we had open invitations to receptions, we were able to hop on the carts that run through underground tunnels between the Capitol and the Senate/House of Representatives’ office buildings.
I was able to attend the press conference where Ronald Reagan announced his bid for the presidency. Afterwards, he walked through an aisle and shook peoples’ hands. I hadn’t even put my hand out…I felt too shy! But he reached through the crowd and shook my hand. I’ll never forget that.
Today, those everyday activities (everyday for D.C. style living) require going through metal detectors and security checks…very much like those at airports.
Is it possible we’ve gone too far? That we now live in a culture of security mania? Yes, there are nut cases out there, and Al-Qaida is out there. (I still can’t figure out why Google Earth can’t find Osama Bin Laden.) But the majority of people are not nut cases. They just want to see the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives. Doing so requires a wait of an hour or longer, plus metal detectors. Granted, reasonable precautions are…reasonable. But the rifle-toting police presence at the U.S. Capitol, the huge metal barriers that pop up at the entryway, the lightposts that were actually surveillance cameras…it felt a little like the Kremlin.
David Ignatius wrote a recent article in the Washington Post about this very thing. He feels that the fear we sense might be more ephemeral–a nameless, pervasive sense of danger–than real.
“Making trade offs isn’t easy when it comes to security,” he wrote. “But surely we have reached the point of diminishing returns with the fortress metality. The truth is, we all must live with vulnerability. It’s a part of modern life.”
“The hyper-security has added as much to public fear (and annoyance) as to public safety,” he continues. “This September, as we mark the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, let’s resolve to dial the paranoia meter back a notch.”
Source: The Washington Post, Tuesday, July 30, 2009