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Francis Wilkinson

The War in San Bernardino

December's jihadis did not pose an existential threat. The city has been under siege since 1982.
Love is not enough.

Love is not enough.

Photographer: Michael Robinson Chávez/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The terrorist attack on Dec. 2 left San Bernardino, California, with 36 shooting victims, 14 dead and 22 injured, and a spectral imprint of international terrorism. "This horrific murder underscores that we are in a time of war," said Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie likewise viewed San Bernardino as a new front in a bitter clash of civilizations. "We need to come to grips with the idea that we are in the midst of the next world war," he said.

Yet less than two months after the shootings, the rituals of trauma in terrorism's aftermath, familiar from attacks in other locales, are routinely disregarded in San Bernardino, a struggling city of 210,000. In long interviews with city leaders or short conversations with residents, none felt compelled to mention where he or she had been at the fateful hour. Some presidential candidates seem to view the attack in San Bernardino as evidence of an existential threat to the nation, and invoke it every chance they get. In San Bernardino, it hasn't registered as an existential danger even to San Bernardino. It's rarely mentioned.