Naturally the next time we come out onto the Mall and see the finish line of a race awaiting us, or a similarly crowded event, we’ll turn away, take a detour, head back home. And the time after that. And the time after that. Until … well until what I don’t know, except that time passes, and fear subsides.
But what I hope we don’t see, when the next race or a parade or festival looms up in front of us, are layers of extra stops and searches and checkpoints, wider and wider rings of closed streets, the kind of portable metal detectors that journalists remember unfondly from political conventions, more of the concrete barriers that Washingtonians have become accustomed to around our public buildings … more of everything that organized officialdom does to reassure us, and itself, that soft targets can somehow be eliminated entirely, and that everything anyone can think of is being done to keep the unthinkable at bay.
This kind of security theater is a natural response to terrorism, but it’s a response that since 9/11 we’ve done an absolutely terrible job of reasoning through and then gradually ratcheting back. Today’s attack, on the kind of event that countless cities hold and that even the most omnicompetent police force couldn’t make entirely secure, could easily lead to a further ratchet, a further expansion of preventive (or preventive-seeming) measures, a further intrusion of bureaucratic and paramilitary rituals into the rhythms of everyday life. Or it could be an opportunity to recognize the limits of such measures, the impossibility of achieving perfect security, and the costs of pretending that an extra ring of barriers and inconveniences will suffice to stop a determined evil from finding its way through.
Ross Douthat, Keep Calm and Carry On