three hand clock sketch

This Article Is Not A Bomb

I live in Trumansburg, a small village in Upstate New York. There are about 1,600 people who live in the village itself, and a few more thousand people who live in the surrounding countryside, and send their children to the Trumansburg schools.

Part of the reason that I moved here was so that I could get back to a pace of life which would not be dominated by the anxiety of urban and suburban life. I grew up in small villages, and wanted to return to the sense of those communities that there was a distinction from the national and global realms described by TV news networks.

In particular, after the nonsense of Homeland Security after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I wanted to be in a place that would be small enough that people would know that they never be attacked by Osama Bin Laden. I wanted to live among people who would be immune from that kind of paranoia.

I thought Trumansburg was that kind of place. I was wrong.

This week, a disenchanted middle school student placed two notes in a school bathroom, and blew up a firecracker in a toilet. As a result, school was canceled for one day, just as a precaution. That seemed reasonable.

The reaction to the firecracker didn't stop there, however. Soon, rumors were flying around the village that someone had left a bomb on the playground. No such thing ever happened, actually.

The Superintendent held a public meeting, at which residents' bags were searched, just in case they were carrying bombs. At the meeting, some parents called for extreme security measures, such as placing security cameras to spy on students throughout the schools.

It was explained that, though a middle school student was suspected of igniting the firecracker, elementary school students and their parents would now searched just in case they had weapons. Parents would have to show their drivers' licenses, although the ability to drive a car had no known connection to the bathroom firecracker incident.

Furthermore, the schools would be increasing their budgets in order to hire security guards to prowl the doors and hallways of our rural schools - not just the middle school, but the elementary school and high school too.

bomb fizzledThe prevailing mood in Trumansburg was panic, although some residents began to question whether the reaction to the firecracker was going too far. One mother wrote,

"I just returned from dropping my own first grader off at school. The security and police presence was pretty scary for her and her backpack was indeed searched. I was allowed to walk her to her classroom without being asked for ID (which was good because I didn't have any on me and I think she would have wanted to turn around and go home with me if I hadn't been allowed to walk her in)

I am sure the perpetrator is pretty pleased with all this extra attention."

What happened in Trumansburg is a small version of what has happened to all America. One incident has come to define and confine all life in the community, even though that incident was not typical and is not likely to be repeated. The panicky overreaction of the government has given a reward to the perpetrators of these incidents, paying them with the kind of currency that bullies love most: Attention.

Security has come to dominate our way of life that we sit with hair triggers in our grasp, ready to spring into action to defend ourselves at any time. We imagine terrorists lurking behind every tree. We inflate firecrackers into bombs.

I am tired of sitting by and watching these kinds of exaggerated fears overwhelm the public stage, leading us into irrational, self-destructive policies of paranoia. I'm ready to talk back.

I've created the following items as a way to talk back. It is time that we contradict the anxious notion that a terrorist could be anywhere at any time, and that any object carried in public might secretly contain a bomb.

dog not a bomb shirt

This dog is not a bomb.
shirt not a bomb

This shirt is not a bomb.
car not a bomb bumper sticker

This car is not a bomb.
car not a bomb bumper sticker

This coffee mug is not a bomb.

Do these messages seem challenging, or intimidating, or somehow irresponsible? How? Why would they be irresponsible?

Has our culture become so paranoid that someone saying that something is not a bomb has become a reason to suspect that person of being a terrorist? I would hope not, but recently my hopes about American culture have not been fulfilled.

The cultural threat from these messages comes from their challenge to the orthodox faith that there is a real, ongoing, grave terrorist threat. If Americans stop to seriously consider the idea that there is no reason to believe that there will be any terrorist attacks any time soon, they risk feeling very foolish about the choices they have made over the last several years.




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