There is an eerie familiarity to walking through New York City’s Penn Station these days, as I do going to work.

The armed guards, cops and army are back in far greater numbers. Tough looking young men and women in uniform with Department of Homeland Security across their flak jackets are back and very visible.

The sight of all the armed men and women is a sharp contrast to the Christmas carol reels in the bright shops full of Christmas wares and the Hanukkah candles joyously lit. It is Christmastime in New York. The big tree is at the center of the Amtrak concourse in Penn Station and the wonder and excitement in kids' eyes is everywhere to be seen.

All seems well with the world.

But now there is an undertone. Penn Station is claustrophobic and overcrowded most of the time, never more than now.

My pace is just a little faster as I wend through the concourse, the feeling of vulnerability bringing back echoes of an earlier and eerily similar time. Business is down for vendors because people are spending as little time as possible in the station. It is hard to blame them.

Outside, just two blocks away, the crowds line up for the windows at Macy's as they have for generations. It is the very epitome of Christmas in Manhattan, but all is not right.

It brings me back to the aftermath of September 11, 2001 when for a period of weeks I could not walk through Penn Station without a shiver of fear and a feeling of what if?

All of New York was in deep mourning and fear. There was a pervading sense of violation of our beloved city. Nearly 3,000 dead was almost too much to process.

Those times faded, of course, thanks to beefed up security, but now with San Bernardino and the knowledge there are more nuts out there it becomes uncomfortable again.

The killers this time were hiding in plain sight, seemingly unremarkable to neighbors and acquaintances who had even thrown them a baby shower.

Some of those who helped throw the baby shower for the killers six months earlier were gunned down by them.

Their hatred was so great they abandoned their only child to life as an orphan and who knows what kind of trauma as the child ages and learns of her parents’ betrayal.

Is this the new normal, or is it just another blip on the way to defeating a deeply devious and merciless enemy?

In a strange way I am more worried now than post-9/11. America seems far more divided in its response than on 9/11 when there was an immediate closing of ranks behind President George W. Bush. Now, the bitterness of the political hostility is such that we cannot even agree to stop suspected terrorists on the watch list from getting guns.

Somehow the field seems far more muddied this time. There is an alphabet soup of groups engaged in the latest struggle in the Middle East with countries taking sides depending on whether they are Shia or Sunni. It seems like a confusing mess with no clear choice.

It may come down to making that choice. The elimination of ISIS must be the priority.

Now we have a series of ignorant armies clashing by night, with no solution to be found.

We need to make a hard choice more than ever.

The Long Island Rail Road concourse at Penn Station.Irish Voice