Not long after 9/11, the catch-phrase “or the terrorists win” became an ironic addendum to casual statements (“I must eat another cheeseburger, or else. . .”). As Thomas Friedman points out, we needn’t have been so ironic. Noting that SECSTATE Powell skipped a Rhodes Scholar anniversary celebration because of security concerns,

Every American I talked to was both sad and embarrassed–sad that an event intended to affirm the Atlantic alliance turned into another small victory for terrorists; sad that all these young Marshall scholars didn’t get to see their secretary of state being honored and to hear his thoughts; and embarrassed that some nameless security officer decided Mr. Powell couldn’t brave a few protesters, but Prince Charles could.

But this is more lament than criticism. I wouldn’t want the responsibility of deciding when the president or secretary of state should appear in public.

These are tough calls. It’s always hard to know where the line should be. But I fear we’re starting to cross it in ways that could actually be dangerous for us all. Whether we’re talking about our public officials or your family deciding whether to vacation in Istanbul, we all have to learn to live with more insecurity. Because terrorists are in the fear business, and every time we visibly imprison ourselves, they win another small victory and become more emboldened. Indeed, we could learn from the British. The I.R.A. murdered the queen’s cousin and almost blew up Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in her hotel–yet life in London goes on and the police here still don’t carry guns.

I fear that the kinds of security officials who pulled the plug on Mr. Powell are becoming the new priesthood of our age. If the 1990’s were the era of “Davos Man,” the 2000’s are the era of “Security Man”–and like a priesthood, these “terrorism experts” have unchallenged authority to curb our freedom in the name of freedom. Some of them deserve respect and know their stuff. But some wouldn’t recognize the 6-foot-5 Osama bin Laden if he walked past them dribbling a basketball and dragging his dialysis machine.

Bin Laden is supposed to be on the run–not us. What good is driving bin Laden into a cave if our secretary of state has to live in a bubble? When Mr. Powell can’t deliver a speech in London–London–then why travel anywhere? And if diplomats can’t travel or circulate, then diplomacy becomes virtual. And virtual diplomacy leads to virtual allies and virtual allies lead to no allies at all. If communities of shared values can’t share their values, where are we?

I called an Israeli friend, the political theorist Yaron Ezrahi, to fulminate about this and he perked me up. He told me he had just been to the reopening of the Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem, which a suicide bomber just blew up a few weeks ago. “It was so crowded you couldn’t find a seat,” said Mr. Ezrahi. “Freedom is the only guardian of freedom.” Which is why Israelis insist that any bus stop blown up by suicide bombers be rebuilt by the next day. Message to suicide bombers: You’re dead and we’re not afraid. That is the best deterrence.

The events of 9/11 were a new and dangerous form of terrorism–“terrorism not meant to stimulate political concessions but to destroy our way of life,” notes John Chipman, head of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. We had to react, but we must stop overreacting. Terrorists win when they prevent us from enjoying and spreading our values. We defeat them not just by how we react, but by how we don’t react.

The Brits and Israelis, sadly, have much more experience living with terrorism than we do, so it’s not surprising that they’re better at it. But the emulation of the fabled “stiff upper lip” of our cultural forebearers would be an excellent start in the adaptive process.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.