The so-called “Cold War” between the United States and the Soviet Union was a triumph, maybe of diplomacy, maybe of luck, but whatever it was, it was historic. Never before had two mighty powers armed to the teeth without eventually going to war. When my wife and I were first married and looking for our first house, we saw more than a few with bomb shelters. Nike batteries were underground in the Boston suburbs, ready to fire. (At the time, the comic novel Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys spoofed a missile battery in suburban Connecticut, with the climax of the send-up describing an accidental firing on the Fourth of July while the crowds of locals went “oooh” at the explosions overhead.) The Cuban missile crisis sent thousands scurrying to hardware stores to stock up on whatever they thought they’d need when the nukes hit. There was real tension in the air in those days, but the nuclear weapons stayed safely in the caves in the USA and the USSR until, unbelievably, there was no more USSR, and the Cold War was over.
Today, there is no military power that threatens another Cold War. China? No. There will be tensions from time to time, but the USA and China are too interdependent We need each other. Globalization is here, whether we like it or not. (Did you know that 61 percent of Apple’s revenues come from outside the U.S.?)
The emerging threat to our safety comes, not from countries, but from small groups of ideologues who learn how to make bombs on websites. The Boston Marathon disaster was really too easy to pull off. Two brothers taking out their grievances by setting off two homemade bombs on a bright sunny day at Copley Square. No TSA guards to inspect their shoes, no “no-fly” lists to navigate around. In an open society like ours, there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We can find out who did it after the fact; cameras are everywhere. But we can’t stop it.
The answer, I’m afraid, is that we’re going to become a less open society. And when critics complain, the answer will be two words: “Homeland Security.” It’s unfortunate, but the genie is out of the bottle. There are lots of people with grievances they feel passionate about. Some are on the right politically, some are on the left, some are angry over joblessness or high taxes or immigration reform or moral decay or whatever. But here's the thing: Too many people are too angry. I get forwarded emails and robocalls, maybe half a dozen a day, every day, and most are really angry. It's time for someone in authority to shout