Oceans still spawn hurricanes, but they don't stop ICBMs or terrorists. On 9-11, al- Qaida demonstrated that what the World War I generation called "over there" is nowadays very close to "back here." America -- according to its enemies -- is everywhere (a "pan-global" political and military phenomenon), but a computer keystroke will quickly find al-Qaida agitprop, Nigerian scams, North Korean warmongering and Sudan's hideous genocide in Darfur. An airline ticket, a sick tourist and 22 hours moves the Asian flu from Bangkok to Denver, or the avian flu from Hong Kong to Austin.
The upscale phrase is "technological compression," but the down-to-Earth 21st century fact is all of us live next door.
Technology has compressed the planet and created the Age of Proximity, with positive effects in communication, trade and transportation; with horrifyingly negative effects in weaponry. Decades ago, radio, phone cables on the seabed, long-range aircraft and then nuclear weapons shrunk the oceans. Sept. 11 demonstrated that religious killers could turn domestic jumbo jets into strategic bombers. For murderous zealots preying on a lax public, the oceans were not obstacles.
To return to an era where distance made a difference requires eliminating technology. Where do we start? Ban ICBMs? I'll listen, but it appears North Korea and Hezbollah have no interest in arms control. But do we ban long-range commercial jets and the Internet? Or do we police the murderers, tyrants and criminals who abuse them?
Hello, high-tech Pandora, for the good and the bad. "Technological compression" is a fact -- it cannot be reversed. To deny or ignore it has deadly consequences. Responsible citizens and public servants in New York, Austin and Miami considered those consequences.
Anxiety is one of the soul-altering afflictions explored by W.H. Auden in his Pulitzer Prize-winning poem "The Age of Anxiety." That classic begins in a World War II-era New York bar. No argument -- anxiety is destructive. Diminishing the threats posed by the Age of Proximity requires action. We're also doing that. We call it the War on Terror.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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