Earlier this week, there was a news report on the radio that 50 percent of hotel rooms in London and Paris were empty. Individuals, tour groups, even business travelers had canceled their reservations and were staying home. The statistics made me sad.
When I was graduating from high school in 1958, I passionately wanted to travel to some distant shores and see what life in those countries was all about. I had read about Paris in my French class, had translated Julius Caesar’s “The Gallic Wars” from the original Latin, studied the rise and growth of democracy and personal freedoms in my history class, and tried to understand political ideas like communism and socialism in political science class. Now I wanted to see these concepts in action in the real world. My mother was adamant: “You can travel to Europe with your husband. Not before!”
Sure enough, the first time I crossed the Atlantic, I sat beside my husband on an eight-day guided tour of London. How fascinating and instructional it all was. How much knowledge I amassed by the time I returned. How much more I understood. I was hooked on travel for the rest of my life.
It was said then that we were citizens of our countries, but our children and grandchildren would be citizens of the world. And that prediction has come true. My grandchildren have already been to three different continents. The impressions they brought back have made them smarter, better and more compassionate people, and they have not yet even reached their majority.
But what about today? Are the risks worth the rewards? We know there is a lot in the news these days to make us angry and fearful. Maybe those two emotions are really the same. Almost every day there are reports of carnage of innocent people across the globe triggered by terrorists who want to make a political or sectarian statement, or are looking for revenge. The death and maiming of those victims, whose only misstep was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is a modern tragedy — a game of Russian roulette. The more gruesome the killings, the more notice their assailants get. Children killed, sure. People slaughtered as they are kneeling in prayer, yes. Aid workers risking their lives with humanitarian motives … kill them. The ultimate idea is to spread a tsunami of fear and isolation.
When people stop traveling, the terrorists know their brutal efforts are working. In a world that has become wonderfully global — with citizens of different countries interacting and coming to understand the customs and religions of each other, with economies benefiting from tourist spending that raises standards of living — travel is a natural target for those who would bomb us back into the Stone Age. And to what end? The purpose of the killers is power, the power to better control the masses, to attract followers by using corrupted ideology and perverted religious tenets, to enrich themselves with plunder — age-old strategies throughout the bloody centuries. Nothing new here.
What is new is a world interconnected by jet planes and Internet information in a way that was unimaginable in the past. Yes, there was the Silk Road and trade routes around the capes of the continents centuries ago. But they were open only to the adventurous few, and those few were more interested in commerce than in societal change. Too many people now have tasted the fruits of travel, enjoyed the wonders of seeing new treasures, tasting new foods, enjoying new dances, meeting new people, appreciating new lifestyles, applauding different forms of government, for the clock to ever be turned back. That is why the killers seek to destroy art and architecture wherever their bloodthirsty rampages take them. They don’t want people to see the different wonders of the world and equate them with new ways to live.
So, is it worth it? Is travel to return to only the most daring and adventurous who sailed the seas and trekked the land? I don’t think so. Remember that old song? “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”