As many Indians raised questions — shouted them from the streets, in fact — about negligence in their own government and security services following last week's attacks in Mumbai, terrorism experts keep referring to the city as a "soft target."
"Soft target" is military tech-speak for a place with what are called "exploitable vulnerabilities."
All great cities, like New York, London — and now Mumbai — that have suffered terrorist attacks are soft targets. So are Sydney, Chicago, Los Angeles and scores of other big, open cities that absorb people from all over the world. Their "exploitable vulnerabilities" begin with their freedoms.
People come to those cities to grab opportunities, work hard, find themselves, meet new people, get new jobs, change their politics, find love, fall in love and try to change into the person they'd like to be.
Soft targets are not hard cities. Great cities can be cruel, closed, uncaring and cold. But they don't bristle, the way that closed, smug places do.
That's why people will smuggle themselves into shipping crates and the holds of ships to slip into places like Miami or Los Angeles, where no matter how they may struggle, they have the hope of finding new lives. Have you ever heard of someone risking his or her life to slip into North Korea or any other tyranny?
According to the most recent reports, the plotters of the Mumbai attacks rode boats onto the shore, hailed cabs and began their murder spree at several carefully selected sites.
Some people on the beach wondered what was going on. But people in great cities get accustomed to seeing the unexpected. If a spaceship landed on Broadway, Piccadilly or the Santa Monica pier, people might just walk around them. In a great city, even Martians wouldn't seem out of place. Reportedly, the people on the beach wondered, but just shrugged.
In these brutal times, soft targets may have to toughen up. But it might be good to remind ourselves in this season that the chance to build a place that embraces the world is a blessing. It may be the very idea of civilization.