Tuesday, December 03, 2002

I came across an old C.S. Lewis essay called "On Living in an Atomic Age." With references to the atomic bomb replaced by references to terrorism, here is the opening passage:
In one way we think a great deal too much of terrorism. "How are we to live in the age of terrorism?" I am tempted to reply: "Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents."

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before September 11, and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors -- anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because terrorists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by terrorism, let the terrorists when they come find us doing sensible and human things --- praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts --- not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about terrorism. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.


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