Ever since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, there have been whispers about reinstituting the draft. In some ways, that’s a moot point.

We’ve all been drafted already.

We’re in the Army now. We stand on guard for attack. We worry about white powder. We worry about the air that we breathe. We think the enemy may strike at anytime. We are alert. We are debriefed. We are given orders from our leaders.

Isn’t that how soldiers behave?

Last week, President Bush came on national TV and essentially deputized the country. He said: “We take every threat seriously. The American people shouldn’t be surprised that we’re issuing alerts.” Earlier that day, the FBI had warned of additional terrorist attacks and called upon people to
“immediately notify the FBI and local law enforcement of any unusual or suspicious activity.”

So we’re all in the Army now. An army of soldiers dressed in blue jeans and business suits. An army of grandfathers and skinny little schoolgirls. An army that is focused on battle one hour and going to the movies the next.

We are the army.

It is the Army of the In-Between.

Keeping our eyes open

Isn’t that how most of us feel these days? Lost in the In-Between? No longer filled with the immediate horror of watching the World Trade Center crumble to the ground. Yet no longer anywhere near the innocent, unthreatened lives we used to lead.

We are in between now, between nervous and normal, between eyes forward and eyes glancing to the side. Our leaders tell us to go about our lives, go shopping, go bowling, but they also say be careful when opening the simplest little envelope, lest it contain a substance capable of killing us with an inhale.

We flip on the TV as we used to do, but we find ourselves agitated watching a sitcom. We go to a basketball or hockey game, but the action is stopped so that the president’s speech can be broadcast on the big screen.

We don’t know how to react, so, not surprisingly, we sometimes overreact. A plane en route to Los Angeles was diverted to Shreveport, La., and escorted to the ground by F-16 fighters — all because a man handed a nonsensical note to a flight attendant.

A Troy office went into a daylong panic after someone received a letter coated with a powdery substance — which proved to be nothing.

Gas masks have been cleaned off the shelves by nervous buyers, despite repeated information that gas masks are all but useless. Arab Americans who have done nothing wrong have been detained for weeks.

Heightened alert. But stay calm.

In the terrible in-between.

Marching toward the unknown

“The American people have got to go about their business,” Bush declared. “We cannot let the terrorists achieve their objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop. That’s their intention . . . their intention was to frighten to the point where our nation would not act.”

This is Bush’s incarnation of Roosevelt’s famous “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Only in this terrible new war, we have nothing to fight except fear itself. There is no great army to take on. There is no land to conquer. There is no one government to topple.

There are only shadows. And the most normal of things — a shuttle flight, a crop duster, a simple white envelope — are now suspicious.

“We’re getting back to normal,” Bush said, then, typical of our dilemma, added, “but with a heightened sense of awareness.”

We are already drafted, like it or not, into the Army of the In-Between. Depressed yet hopeful, confident yet concerned, we march forward, wondering how, exactly, we are supposed to fight this thing?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m. Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.

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