Point and shoot: Gawking at security forces is the latest cheap tourism trend


Beyond belief, it's starting to become fashionable to visit places for the enjoyment of watching the local menfolk brandish deadly weapons. In Italy, soldiers in body armor were recently deployed to stand vigil around potential terrorist sites. The Financial Times reports that in Rome, where a thousand of them appeared this summer, patrolmen quickly became tourist fodder in their own right.

It's not just in Italy, either. There is almost no other reason to visit the border between North and South Korea than to gaze in admiration at the trigger-happy sentries who mill along the DMZ, and yet each day of the week, coach tourists make the day-trip from Seoul to do just such a thing. (Of course, it doesn't always work out -- in July, one clueless tourist was shot dead by North Korean soldiers after she wandered away from her border resort.)

Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie, an emblem for oppression and woe when it was a militarized link between East and West Berlin, is now a tacky tourist ghetto where visitors pose for snapshots with actors dressed in fake army getups. Old-timers are outraged -- there's no museum there to supply context.

And why not? Cops are plentiful, intentionally conspicuous, and above all, free to admire. And often, their style varies as much as the cultures they protect. These days, a locale's demonstrations of defense says as much about its modern society as its cuisine.