One year ago, still reeling from the 9/11 tragedy, Americans were wondering what would come next. Toxins released on a subway train? A "dirty" nuclear bomb in some downtown area? More attacks by air or through the mail? The big news as 2002 approached its end was no news. A sniper with the last name "Muhammad" terrorized the Washington, D.C., area, but he apparently was responding to his own inner demons rather than proceeding under direction from an axis of evil abroad. Deadly terrorism continued in other countries, with the greatest loss of life coming in Bali, but America suffered no more massive scars. So Christmas this year approached with Americans focused on buying Christmas presents. In December 1999, some feared a Y2K crash. In December 2000, the presidential campaign that should have ended on Election Day was coming to its court-directed close. Last year Santa Claus was getting requests for gas masks. This year we could talk about sports and the stock market.
Many questions remain. Did the liberation of Afghanistan, along with John Aschroft's precautions at home, disrupt plots that would otherwise have come to fruition? Are Saddam-associated terrorists lying low so as not to give the United States more political ammunition for attacking Iraq? Are we merely in the eye of the storm, with even greater devastation coming? God knows, but we do not.
We should be thankful that this country, despite ourselves, was blessed by a return to normality. Some of our security precautions, such as airport screenings of little old ladies while more likely suspects boarded, became international jokes. Culturally, the bull market for sin raged on. Church attendance that spiked after 9/11 became lukewarm once again. Multitudes refused to acknowledge the God from whom all blessings flow.
But official discouragement of belief was declining as the end of the year approached. George W. Bush on Dec. 12 righted his faith-based initiative, which had gone off the tracks in 2001. He signed an executive order to back up his pledge that "faith-based programs should not be forced to change their character or compromise their mission," and he promised more action early next year: "I don't intend to compromise either."
That was 2002, a year that began with a whimper, proceeded with the absence of a big bang, and for many Americans was coming to an optimistic conclusion.