For those of you keeping up with current events, you probably saw that on May 31, the State Department issued a continent-wide travel alert for U.S. citizens traveling throughout Europe. Let’s talk about how ridiculous that is.
I happen to be in Europe at the moment. I’ve been here for almost a month and I’ve traveled through six countries to date and have had no run-ins with terrorists, bombs, or even lockdowns because of a potential shooter or suspicious package. Less than 3 days since the State Department issued their warning, the UCLA campus was shut down because of a murder-suicide, which is actually a relief to most of us who thought this was going to be a another mass shooting with a higher death toll, just like all the other shootings that happen on almost a weekly basis in the United States.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of personal safety. As impulsive and insane I might seem, I have no intention of getting blown up at the Louvre anytime soon. So I can appreciate the State Department warning for what it is: a call to be cautious and aware of your surroundings. What puzzles me is that when tragedies like UCLA, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook occur a few times a month in the United States, shouldn’t the State Department be issuing warnings about domestic terrorism ruining your school day? Because frankly, it seems a lot more dangerous to teach or attend a school in the United States than it does to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Croatia.
That brings me to my next point. Europe is a very large continent and encompasses 50 countries. Call me an optimist, but I doubt anyone is going to be suicide bombing a beach in Dubrovnik, Croatia anytime soon, so a terror warning that vague is essentially useless unless you think Europe is made up of Paris, London, and Brussels. The alert suggests a risk to terrorist attacks targeting major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centers, and transportation. And it singles out the European Soccer Championship in France and the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland.
Paris and Brussels have already been directly affected by terrorism in the past year. And guess what, they’re not going to let that stop them from enjoying their regularly scheduled lives, including the European Soccer Championships. So why should it stop US visitors? So we can stay home in Minnesota and be shot by a domestic terrorist with an AK-47 and a trunk full of ammunition?
I recently sent a postcard to my friend from Belgium and I don’t remember precisely what I said, but his response was “You should know that I’ve learned many things from you. But yes, I will now internalize a stubbornness in regards to terrorists.” And I’m not suggesting my friend or anyone should seek out dangerous situations, but I think it’s important to objectively analyze the real danger of situations for yourselves and not keep yourself from any amazing experiences out of fear.
Because if you do that, the terrorists are winning. They’re succeeding in changing the fundamental way in which you live your life. They’re deciding what you do and what you see, but more importantly what you don’t. And nothing good comes from living a life of fear. So go to the Eiffel Tower, go see Madrid play Barcelona, get on the London Eye, take a tour of the Colosseum, go have a waffle in Brussels. And if you die there, either by terrorism or sheer bad luck, at least you’ll die living.
Now where’s that beer I ordered?
Editorial note: At the insistence of my friend and travel partner, I did not end this article with “Come at me, ISIS,” but know that I wanted to.