Examining the history of tragic times often reveals many -- or most -- people of those times often were preoccupied with matters that seem trivial, or even pathetic, in view of the catastrophe looming over them.
Will later generations looking at our times and see a similar blindness, even frivolousness, in the face of mortal dangers?
Terrorists and terrorist governments are giving us almost daily evidence of their fanatical hatred and violent sadism, as the clock ticks toward their gaining nuclear weapons. They not only hold a harmless young woman hostage in Iraq, they parade her in tears on television, just as they have paraded not only the terrorizing, but even the beheading, of others on television.
Moreover, there is a large and gleeful audience in the Arab world for these gross brutalities, just as there was glee and cheering among the Palestinians when the televised destruction of the World Trade center was broadcast in the Middle East.
Yet what are we preoccupied with or outraged about? Whether the American government should intercept the phone calls of these cutthroats to people in the United States.
That question has been sanitized in the mainstream media by asking whether the government should be engaged in "domestic wiretapping," just as the terrorists themselves have been sanitized into "militants" or "insurgents."
The way the question is posed by many in the media and in politics, you would think our intelligence agencies were listening in on your phone conversations with your aunt Mabel.
Be serious. There are more than a quarter-billion people in the United States. Intelligence agencies have neither the manpower, time, money, nor the interest to listen in on you and your aunt Mabel.
Lawyers may differ on fine legal points about the constitutional powers of the commander in chief during wartime versus the oversight powers of the courts. But a Supreme Court Justice once noted the Constitution is not a suicide pact. The Constitution was meant for us to live under, not be paralyzed by, in the face of death.
When some honcho in the international terrorist network is captured in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the phone numbers in his computer are found by his American captors, it is only a matter of time before his capture becomes news around the world.
In the hour or two before then, his contacts within the United States may continue using the phones they have been using. Listening in on their conversations during that brief opportunity can provide valuable information on enemies within our midst who are dedicated to our destruction.
Precious time can be wasted filing legalistic documents to get some judge's permission to tap the domestic terrorists' phones before CBS or CNN broadcasts the news of the captured terrorist leader overseas and the domestic terrorists stop using the phones they had used before to talk with him.
With Iran advancing step by step toward nuclear weapons, while the Europeans wring their hands and the United Nations engages in leisurely discussion, this squeamishness about tapping terrorists' phone contacts in the U.S. is grotesque.
Has anyone paid attention to the audacity of the terrorists? Some in the media seem mildly amused that Palestinian terrorists are threatening Denmark because of editorial cartoons they found offensive.
Back in the 1930s, some people were amused by Adolf Hitler, whose ideas were indeed ridiculous, but by no means funny.
This was not the first threat against a Western country for exercising freedom in a way Islamic fanatics did not like. Osama bin Laden threatened the United States on the eve of our 2004 elections if we didn't vote the way he wanted.
When he has nuclear weapons, such threats cannot be ignored, when the choice is between knuckling under or seeing American cities blasted off the face of the Earth.
That is the point of no return -- and we are drifting toward it, chattering away about legalisms and politics.
Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.