We woke up with scary good news. Our British cousins had thwarted a band of home-grown terrorists who were going to use liquid explosives, carried in hand luggage, to blow up airliners bound for America. The bad news was that security would be tightened on our flight from Washington to New York City.
The atmosphere was recognizably tense as soon as we walked into the bright expanse of the terminal at Ronald Reagan National Airport. The airline clerks were snappish, the inspectors at the X-ray machines were impatient, the baggage handlers grim. The counters were posted with lists of things you couldn't carry aboard, and we salvaged the bottle of vodka we were taking to our host by quickly stuffing it into a checked suitcase.
But that left my pocketbook. Soon I was pulled out of line by a uniformed woman with plastic gloves who started rummaging recklessly through my handbag. My Lancome tinted moisturizer, purchased especially for the trip ($41), was thrown into a trash bag with bottles of perfume, sparkling water, colorful smoothies, Cokes, Scotch, gin and paper cups half full of $5 grande lattes. There went a tube of cream prescribed for a summer rash. The box with my name and my doctor's name on it, which might have saved it, had been discarded at home. Tossed. Lip gloss, liquid eyeliner and other "weapons of mass deception" passed unnoticed. An expensively dressed woman from Texas next to me pleaded unsuccessfully to keep the ointment she intended for an in-flight neck and shoulder massage. "Well," she said, shrugging, "I guess I can consider it my contribution to the war effort."
Her remark gave me a sudden flash of remembrance of things past. Once upon a time, in a war long ago, this was the all-purpose answer to complainers about scarce shoes and sugar, meat and gasoline: "Don't you know there's a war on?" It was the retort that instantly shut up the most selfish complainer.
We've been at "war" for almost five years since September 11, but the "war" against terror hasn't required us to give up anything. The only sacrifice on the home front has been the sacrifice of a few minutes' time in security lines, or the requirement to take off our shoes before getting on a plane. The only men and women asked to make real sacrifices are the men and women risking their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.