THE FEAR OF FEAR ITSELF. Terrorism, so often sponsored by nations and magnified by the media, plants seeds of fear throughout the world. And fear can imprison free men and women more surely than the stoutest walls.
WHEN ``The Color Purple'' went to the Cannes Film Festival in France this month, director Steven Spielberg and star Whoopi Goldberg stayed home. The Italian Open tennis tournament began yesterday in Rome, but there were no junior players from the United States: The US Tennis Association had decided not to send any.Skip to next paragraph
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A trade delegation from the state of Washington canceled a European trip just days before it was to have begun.
TWA is closing down its Cairo-Athens and Cairo-Rome connections; Pan Am has laid off 212 employees and canceled new services planned for the Chicago-Frankfurt and Los Angeles-Paris routes; and US travel agents are reporting 20 to 30 percent declines in trips to Europe.
The reason in each case: fear of terrorism.
In the past year, terrorism has made its mark on America as never before. A relatively small number of committed terrorists, operating thousands of miles from America's borders, have succeeded in changing the way the most influential nation on earth lives, works, and relaxes.
The present upsurge in concern began, perhaps, with the 17-day ordeal of TWA's Flight 847 in the Middle East last summer. Watching the hijacking unfold in lurid detail on network television, ordinary Americans were reminded once again how much they, too, were susceptible to terrorism.
Americans had seen plenty of terrorism before, of course. But much of it had been directed at government officials and other obvious targets. The takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, in 1979, although of much longer duration than the TWA incident, involved diplomats, not ordinary folks. The truck-bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, though far more lethal, involved uniformed servicemen.
But TWA 847 seemed different. Ordinary Americans from places such as Indianapolis, Little Rock, Ark., and Albuquerque, N.M., became hostages. The terrorists, given plenty of television air time, explained their deadly purpose with new force.
So the nation was already primed with concern when, in October, New York passenger Leon Klinghoffer was brutally murdered by the Palestinian hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. The spiral of fright rose another notch when, in December, five Americans perished in the wanton massacres by Palestinian gunmen at the Rome and Vienna airports.
Could not something be done? Must the Western world stand by helplessly while trained terrorists strike out at will against innocent people?
The occasion for response came after a discoth`eque frequented by US soldiers in West Berlin was bombed April 5. US intelligence traced the cause to Libyan agents in East Berlin. On April 14, US planes bombed Libya.
Never before in the Western world's two-decade-long battle against modern terrorism had military force been directed against a government. Terrorism had moved into the big leagues.
Historians will long debate the wisdom of the Reagan administration's decision to send in the bombers.
Will the strike help limit terrorism, by sending messages that states supporting terrorist groups cannot escape without penalty? Or will it provoke new fury and new attacks on Americans?
Will the attack drive wedges between America and friendly nations, or will the unified stand against terrorism articulated at the recent Tokyo summit prove to be a bellwether for tougher stands in general?
Is terrorism best fought with military force? Or does it take better police work, tougher security, and more preventive intelligence?