Terrorism Envy

I have met small-town officials all over the country who insist their town is a terrorist target. “We have an interstate highway here,” they say, with a hard, ominous stare. “And an airport.” For a TIME story on why Wyoming gets more homeland security cash per capita than any other place, I listened to a room full of 22 nice, well-meaning Casper fire fighters say they would feel insulted by any suggestion that Casper (pop. 50,000) should get less homeland-security money. “No one can say Casper can’t be a terrorist target,” fire fighter Roy Buck told me.

So is being a terrorist target now part of the American dream? I’ve never been 100% sure if people are saying these things because they really believe it…or because they want the federal money that comes with high-risk status. But this USA Today story confirms that a few officials really, truly believe it. Some villages you’ve never heard of (West Baraboo, Wisc., pop. 1,248) are using their own residents’ money to pay for terrorism insurance to protect their water towers and police stations from the enemy.

Here’s the thing: yes, a rural attack by international terrorists would be frightening for Americans, and in that sense, it would be psychologically effective. But Americans are not the audience for groups like al Qaeda. Muslims around the world are the target demo, and they don’t get fired up about West Baraboo. (Sorry, I know this is hard to hear…) But major targets for these kinds of groups will almost certainly be places that people who have never been to America can effortlessly visualize: places like New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles.

But this yearning to be part of the action is actually really interesting. When did the threat of random violence against civilians become a badge of honor? How did vulnerability get confused with civic pride? Consider what West Baraboo village clerk Mary Klingenmeyer is saying when she tells USA Today: “We had quite a few outlying areas laughing at us,” Klingenmeyer said [about the decision to adopt terrorism insurance]. “Maybe we’ll have the last laugh.”

The last laugh? After your village has been attacked by terrorists, you’ll have the last laugh? Really? I’m guessing it wouldn’t actually be so supremely gratifying. Except for the terrorists, of course. Although it appears that in West Baraboo, at least, they have already won.