If you went to the beach this summer, it never occurred to you to scan the sky and stare at the sea with dread when your children played in the sand for fear that, without warning, a missile would turn them into a scattering of body parts.
As you will recall, that is what happened to a bunch of Palestinian boys mistaken for Hamas fighters by an Israeli gunship.
Why them and not us? How often in recent days the news from Ukraine to Gaza has made me wonder out loud, “Is this a great country or what?” and my wife responds with the ritual, “God bless America.”
Even after 9/11, we’ve gone about our business and on vacation without a hint that death and destruction might noiselessly strike us down.
Are we just charmed? God’s favorite first-born?
There is a certain amount of mythology to being American: America the exceptional, home of the free and land of the brave, which flies in its own special jet stream above and beyond the normal course of history that affects lesser nations.
Judiciously consumed, mythology is good for citizens. If there is nothing in the inventory of citizens’ souls that they believe without proof such as patriotism, it would be a nation of the walking dead.
Our good luck is explained in part by our continental size protected by two great oceans in a moderate climate bordered by friendly neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
What if Mexico burned with resentment at the bad deal it got from Tom Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase? Then we might better understand the violent relations between Israel and Palestine.
The Ukraine and Russia have been entangled with one another for centuries, including the Battle of Poltava in the decisive Russo-Swedish War (1788-90) fought on Ukrainian soil. The Russian victory displaced Sweden as the dominant power in eastern Europe.
That history is part of the DNA of any Russian leader, including Vladimir Putin. He must deeply resent the desire in Kiev to align itself with the European Union, with which he has a testy relationship.
We would feel the same if Mexico chose to join an anti-American movement in South America.
But Putin is not crazy, he will take advantage if it is open and not too costly. This is what he did in the Crimea, where most of Russia’s fleet is berthed. He has nothing to gain, and a lot to lose, from the issue of the downing of the Malaysian aircraft.
World outrage hits Putin in a tender spot, low self-esteem, a defensive Russian sense that the United States, western Europe and much of the world look down on Russia as not quite fit for the club of nations.
When and if investigators discover who pulled the trigger, it is doubtful that responsibility will touch the Kremlin. The culprit is more likely one of the Russian-oriented rebels who was given rudimentary training in a highly sophisticated antiaircraft missile system.
The scene might be something like this: a group of highly agitated rebels surround the operator of the system when he locks in on an unidentified plane. He announces his sighting, which produces a cacophony of contrary advice. Finally, a respected rebel shouts, “Don’t let him get away. Shoot. SHOOT!”
If that is anything like the true facts, Putin would likely want to strangle the operator himself for embarrassing the nation.
The point of all this is that we’re a young and lucky nation, which has suffered one — and only one — shattering terrorist attack. Our allies are more personally experienced in unexpected and frequent attacks.
A humorous example was security at a London airport when the UK was on edge from terrorist IRA bombings. When the guards spotted my hand-held recorder, they asked, “What is that!” A recorder, I said. “Play it,” they demanded. I did and security officers were amused when the message was, “Hello, Margaret, this is your daddy’s pocket talking to you.”
On that note in an angry and dangerous world, I repeat: Is this a great country or what? God bless America.