Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Fear Mongers

Maybe it's the simultaneous approach of the mid-term elections and the 5th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001; but there's been an awful lot of fear in the news lately. Years ago when Garrison Keillor was younger and A Prairie Home Companion was new, one of the sponsors he invented for the News from Lake Wobegon was "The Fear Mongers' Shop", and I sometimes feel that those folks are now running the country.

Dubya, of course, is reminding everyone how frightened they'd be if he wasn't protecting us, so we'll all vote Republican (dream on, Georgie). Ever notice how the threat alert level goes up when his poll ratings go down, and just before elections?

But it isn't only him. The San Francisco Chronicle had a big article today, Kids Remember 9/11, which interviewed four teenagers who were in grade school in 2001, and went on at length about how unsafe they feel now and how worried they are.

In fact, the kids came off better than the adults in that article; the African-American kid from Oakland frankly said he's more afraid of guns and crime in Oakland than he is of Al Qaeda, which is a perfectly rational point of view. The young woman said she now knows the world isn't a safe place, but commented that she would have found that out anyway. Unfortunately, one young man has bought Dubya's ridiculous claim that we're fighting the war on terror in Iraq: "It's to keep the terrorists busy so they don't come here." Still, he's only 15.

The quote that made me furious came from Joel McClough, 38, director for the Families Forward Program at the Institute for Trauma and Stress at New York University's Child and Study Center. Mr. McClough delivered himself of this brilliant thought:
"Teens today have to deal with the threat that they could be in danger or people they know could be in danger ... a danger they may have to confront on a daily basis and one that my generation, and people of the pre-9/11 generation, never had to.''
OK, he's 38. By the time he was 10 years old, in 1978, nobody really believed the Russians were going to try to take us down; we were negotiating nuclear disarmament treaties. But I'm 60. In 1956, when I was 10 years old, we were having duck and cover drills in grade school, so we'd know what to do if the Russians attacked. Even ten-year-olds know that a school desk won't give you much protection from a nuclear strike. I worried all the time that the Russians might attack; I grew up in the shadow of an imaginary mushroom cloud. The Bay of Pigs standoff happened when I was 15. Going farther back, an entire generation of Californians lived in fear for most of World War II, wondering if the Japanese would invade; after all, they'd bombed Pearl Harbor.

It is the height of ignorant arrogance for this man to assume publicly that no generation of young people has ever lived in fear the way this one does.

The real truth is, fear is only a problem if you let it rule you. We are allowing our fear of terrorism to rule us in a way that is way out of proportion to its actual threat. Every time we take a car out on the freeway, we risk our lives at a level that dwarfs anything the terrorists can do; but we don't fear driving on the freeway. We put our children in the car and drive on the freeway, which is a much greater threat to them than than Al Qaeda. The guns that litter this country kill far more people every year than Al Qaeda; but we don't (I'm sorry to say) fear them, in fact we don't even respect them enough to take proper care with them. We must stop allowing our fear of terrorists to rule us; and when we do, the absurdity of the idiots in the White House will become obvious and embarrassing, and we will vote them out of office.


  1. Anonymous5:56 AM

    Very well put, hedera.

    Anonymous David

  2. Anonymous1:05 PM

    Sheese, this harking back to a non-existent halcyon time irritates me. Hedra, you may have had duck and cover drills. We were required to carry addresses of relatives who lived outside the strike zone. Okay, we lived just outside Washington, D.C.

    At one point, there even was a drill where we were sent out of class, an entire high school, and lined up as if we were getting on buses to evacuate. The plan was to clear the highways to get the school kids out first.

    By the way, as we waited out in front of the school for the return to class call, a few military jets flew over – not an unusual event. Almost the entire school started chanting, “R-U-S, S-I-A. Russia, Russia, yea, yea, yea!” The school authorities were not pleased with us.

    To go back further into the good old dark ages, I was a latchkey kid in fourth grade, here in sunny CA. All of us in this category had protective guidelines drummed into our scared silly, little heads by concerned working outside the home parents. No friends in the house without prior permission. Do NOT answer the door. If the phone rings, and the caller asks for your mother or father, say “He/she is taking a shower. Give me your name and number so he/she can call back later.” Let’s not forget the Don’t Talk To Strangers routine, which is by no means new, and the Don’t Go With Anyone Unless Mommy or Daddy Have Personally Told You In Advance warning.

    Kids today find it a scary world? When I was even younger, living on a military base outside Tokyo, one of the neighborhood kids went missing. She was the same age I was, say seven or eight. I remember somewhat scary questions about the last time I remembered seeing her, although as an adult looking back I realize my parent was trying to ask gently. I don’t think my answers were helpful as kids don’t usually keep an eye on who in the neighborhood is or isn’t involved in this afternoon’s play.

    Anyway, she was found, buried, sexually assaulted, on the base golf course. After all the rumors and innuendoes as a result of being on a base overseas, a staff sergeant was eventually convicted. Parents talked about his having a war injury that required a steel plate in his head. Despite reassuring themselves with this, there were parents popping out of houses to count noses for what seemed like ever after. Yep, it sure was a nice safe old world back then.

  3. And that's exactly my point, boggart. It isn't a safe world. It never was a safe world. Idiots who think it used to be a safe world are not remembering all the details. You do the best you can, you warn the kids of the things you think they need to be aware of, and you get on with your life.

    Even in sunny rural 1950s Napa, where we actually did leave the doors unlocked (at least when I was small), we were warned Not To Go Down To The Creek, because at the creek were Tramps who would do Unnamed Things to us. I actually hung out at the creek a lot when I was a teenager, and never saw a tramp; I think once I saw the remains of a campfire, but that could have been the Potts boys.

    We never had evacuation drills, though - nobody considered Napa a potential target. I do like your chant, though - I bet that really annoyed them.

  4. Anonymous10:06 PM

    I had to participate in bus evacuation drills in the mid-50s. My mother's question: Where exactly did they think they were going to take you if there was a nuclear attack? I was 13 or 14, I think. We had been subjected to all the propaganda for as long as I could remember. I asked Mother if the Soviets would launch a nuclear attack on the United States. She said No, because it made no sense and would be of no benefit to them.

    We had a Stategic Air Command base in Orlando at the time, and on into the early 70s. It's now McCoy International. God, B-52s are unnervingly loud.

    My Sweetie, who was in high school in the early 70s, still has the dog tag she was issued so her body could be identified in case of a nuclear attack. It looks just like a GI dog tag, tooth notches and all.

    Sidenote: Thank Lobster Kennedy, not W, was president and Kruschev was an essentially rational premier at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with all its potential for an accidental nuclear light show to make Fourth of July fireworks specialists green with envy. I was in college at the time and remember deciding, along with my friends, that the correct response to a nuclear exchange was to go outside with a mint julep and watch the show, since man's stupidity had finally caught up with him.

    Anonymous David

  5. Anonymous10:11 PM

    Oh, yeah, to borrow from FDR: We have nothing to fear but the idiocy of the people in charge in the execute-ive branch, and their Republican co-dependents in the legislative and judiciary branches. We ain't successfully muddling through this time around.

    Anonymous David

  6. Anonymous7:54 AM

    Yeah but logic and rational thinking doesn't get the conservative religious groups motivited to get out and vote for the Repugs. I have been really bothered by all the harping on how terrible everything is and how only the Republicans can make it better when they are the ones who made it worse. I heard on Morning Edition that Iraq was central to the war on Terror becaues AlQuida is there now. No mention was made that they are there because we brought them in...

    ice cream, ice cream...

  7. Anonymous6:59 PM

    Butter pecan, double scoop.

    Anonymous David

    What's even worse about that utterly misleading comment on Morning Edition is that what is going on in Iraq has very, very little to do with al Qaeda (sp, dammit?)and very, very much to do with insurgents created by our presence and our treatment of Iraq and Iraqis. Shame on Morning Edition for being a mouthpiece for architects of misimpressions.

  8. Anonymous9:20 AM

    Along with this...anyone watching the campaign commercials lately? hedra, I seem to remember you do not watch TV. These "The only person that can save you from the fiery death that awaits you is your local republican candidate" commercials are making me ill.

    I tried to post this yesterday, but it didn't show up. Sorry if it comes out twice.

  9. Stephen, you're quite right that I don't watch TV; commercials are a good part of the reason (the generally dismal quality of the programming and the fact that I'd simply rather read covers the rest), and political commercials are the dregs of the dregs.

    Given that the Repuglicans running the country (I do like that) are showing disturbing signs of repeating again in Iran what failed so disastrously in Iraq, remarks about them saving us from "the fiery death that awaits us" seem especially ironic.

  10. Anonymous5:55 AM

    And since those bastards couldn't save donut from a rainstorm, we are really screwed. I assume that if their internal polls show them that Democrats will actually retake either the senate or the house, all hell will most assuredly break loose. This might explain the intensity of the rebellion against Team Bush within conservative ranks. There must be insiders who still want a better future for their posterity, and in more than just quarterly bottom line financial terms. People like the actual decider Cheney and the "brain trust" for which he is the designated person in power really are a serious threat to the wellbeing of the planet, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean included.

    Getting drunk and inadvertently shooting a friend with a shotgun is actually quite emblematic of
    Team Shitheads.

    Anonymous David