New York bombing brings terrorism to our doorstep

MIKE LITTWIN

March 01, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

The experts have now confirmed it was a bomb that blew the huge crater in the World Trade Center and the giant hole in our psyche.

They're pretty sure it was a car stuffed with explosives -- an act, somebody wrote, requiring more gall than wit -- that killed five, injured hundreds and staggered the rest of us.

We need to know more.

We want to know who, and then why.

We want a name, a face and, mostly, some kind of explanation because this is something most of us can't begin to understand.

You don't have to be an expert to suggest who might have been involved. Throw a dart at your nearest world map, and start from there.

The easy guess would be Serbs, perhaps protesting the American food drop into Bosnia. Or it could be any of the other, many ethnic groups from the former Yugoslavia. You can't stop there, though. There's no shortage of violent grudge holders. Palestinians. Iraqis. Libyans. Hezbollah. Colombian drug lords. The IRA.

We all read the headlines. They think it was a Pakistani who emptied his gun on CIA employees and then walked away into the traffic and into the void. The investigators may be busy a while.

And for all we know, this act of terror may not have even been politically motivated. Maybe the bomber was someone who worked there -- or who had lost his job there. Maybe it was someone who wanted to impress an actress. Or who heard the voices of dogs directing him.

In our time, we have seen a man open fire in a McDonald's. Could this bombing have been the work of a poor misfit who wanted to do something obscenely large so he wouldn't seem so desperately small?

We don't know. We want to know, so we can act.

But let's assume, as most will, that this was a political statement. At last count, there have been 50 callers taking credit for the bombing. Yes, they take credit. It's a twisted thought, but it's a twisted act that doesn't make sense here. In America, we're plenty used to violence, but not this kind of violence.

Even the weird violence outside Waco, Texas, where a religious cult was shooting it out with local authorities, seems more understandable. The cult will get explained to us on "Hard Copy." And survivors will appear on "Geraldo."

But bombings take place elsewhere, on London streets or Israeli buses. This stuff doesn't happen here.

If you go to Europe, when you land at the airport, you're met by soldiers carrying machine guns. They know about terrorism there.

In London, any unsupervised package will be spirited away and destroyed. At the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, it is not unusual for play to be stopped three or four times a day as something so seemingly innocent as a camera case is checked out as a possible bomb. That's life every day there.

Is that what's in store for us?

One fear is that the illusion of American invulnerability has been lost. If a terrorist can take down the World Trade Center, a mighty symbol of American strength, then might not others be encouraged?

There's no way to know. We're an open society that prizes nothing more than that openness. In the name of personal freedom, we allow people to buy guns with which they kill each other in appalling numbers. On a typical day in New York, more people are murdered than the number who died in the World Trade Center blast.

But those of us who live in urban centers know how to deal with street crime. We know how to take precautions. We know how to play that game. There are no rules in the terrorism game, which is what makes it so, well, terrifying. Big armies don't do any good. Nuclear bombs don't do any good. Terrorism is, of course, the great leveler.

We've had bombings here before. But nothing in recent years, when the entire world seemed hostage to terrorists, has come home to America like this explosion. The headline-grabbing terrorism, even that involving Americans, has always been half a world away.

Now, in the aftermath of the bombing have already come a spate of bomb threats, like aftershocks from an earthquake.

And the isolationists are suggesting that, if we want this business to stop, then we must get out of the world's business. I wonder if anyone actually believes that's an option.

What's really frightening is how few options we have.

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