I am reluctant to raise this topic because of the argument that any publicity given to terrorism encourages the terrorists. But when I heard of plans for closing northbound lanes on the Golden Gate Bridge for the San Francisco Marathon, silence seemed inappropriate. This development feels like a tipping point in our approach to terrorism, if only because the bridge is an icon recognized throughout the world—breathtaking in size and beauty, a monument to Art Deco design, once named one of the “Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, it blends aesthetics with utility, and for 27 years held the title of longest single span of a suspension bridge (4,200 feet).
Now, defending thousands of runners on The Bridge against terrorists potentially armed with trucks, cars, bombs and other weaponry, opens an ominous new chapter in the sport, pointing back to the grim prologue in Boston four years ago. Other races are working hard to protect runners and spectators, but the high profile of the Golden Gate action casts a cloud over the sport from the public’s point of view. That the measure is prudent and pragmatic rather than alarmist emphasizes still more the loss of innocence. It is no consolation to think of how much more vulnerable Europeans are to these horrific attacks, and still more vulnerable are people in the Middle East and northern Africa where terrorist and government atrocities are a daily occurrence. If there’s anything good to be made of this development in San Francisco, it’s our growing sense of kinship with those on other continents whose peril is greater than ours.
There’s an unwelcome side effect of the lane closing on the Golden Gate. At a time when more communities are protesting closing of city streets for road races, the restriction of traffic on a bridge that carries tens of thousands of vehicles a day takes some shine off a celebratory event. Few in the public will consciously resent the lane closings—knowing it is being done for safety of the runners—but in the unconscious, the marathon will come to represent inconvenience as well as drama.
I will be holding my breath on the 23rd with hopes that the San Francisco Marathon will end happily. The final stage of the Tour de France ends in Paris on the same day, where masses of fans will constitute a much riper target for terrorists, of whom there are plenty in France. Moreover, the Tour is the pride of all of France, and a deadly attack on it would be a deep wound to the national psyche. Every July I wonder, knowing what monsters lurk in the French capital, will this be the year that the unthinkable strikes the Tour? And every year I thank the French police and their allies for having held dark forces at bay. Let’s hope their success, with the help of a lot of luck, continues, and that the Golden Gate Bridge will convey joy, not sorrow.