We're forced to find ways to fight fear

    More than a year after the fateful Twin Towers attack, Americans are still consumed by the unlikely possibility that they too will be slain at the hands of terrorists. The inhabitants of the so-called home of the free are now obsessed with survival against a nebulous, insidious enemy, and this obsession is being fed by the media and the White House, both of which benefit from maintaining a perpetual environment of fear.

    Over the past year and a half, these two institutions have emerged as shameless fear-mongering machines with a vested interest in keeping the American public as scared as possible. The media make money by selling fear to their viewers — fear of flesh-eating viruses, rabid dogs, gun-wielding schoolchildren, axe murderers, killer bees, crooked insurance salesman and the like. Then came Sept. 11, which, it’s fair to say, frightened every American out of his or her skin, and now the media machine is profiting by making us feel that fear over and over again.

    The White House also benefits by evoking this fear — not by earning profits like the media, but by earning Americans’ trust and trapping us into believing that the government is our only hope against a horrible death at the hands of an unseen, hate-filled enemy. Our administration is constantly reminding us that it is fighting the good fight against terror and to justify this fight, it must keep maintaining the perception that another terrorist attack is imminent. Any presidential administration, no matter how wise or righteous, is a huge PR machine, and from a public relations standpoint, the Bush administration is doing well — fear is the perfect tool by which to control people, and any government is basically in the business of controlling its people by any available means.

    Concerned citizens can be proactive in buying into this extreme fear by logging on to http://www.ready.gov, a Web site set up by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that beseeches Americans to “”be ready.”” Translation: Be as scared as possible, buy lots of duct tape and entertain the illusion that if America comes under attack, you just might survive with strategies you gleaned from this very Web site.

    As a preamble to the section titled “”If There is a Nuclear Blast,”” the site explains, “”A nuclear blast is an explosion with intense light and heat, a damaging pressure wave, and widespread radioactive material that can contaminate the air, water and ground surfaces for miles around. While experts may predict at this time that a nuclear attack is less likely than other types, terrorism by its nature is unpredictable.”” How comforting. The page also has helpful diagrams of such scenarios as a person inhaling air infected with a biological agent, another unfortunate soul (or perhaps the same one?) being blasted with radiation and a large area of radioactive contamination marked on a diagram of Texas.

    After establishing that “”Disaster preparedness is no longer the sole concern of earthquake-prone Californians and those who live in the part of the country known as ‘Tornado Alley,'”” the site is almost absurd in its methodic explanations of ways to survive a terrorist attack. Perhaps it takes a Californian to realize that the site’s ultimate message is to simply prepare an earthquake kit and use common sense — yet using those terms wouldn’t evoke the desired level of fear. Thus, the site resorts to such explanations and diagrams as the ones outlined in the preceding paragraph. The desired effect, of course, is to make people feel somewhat prepared for a terrorist attack, but not prepared enough to escape raw fear.

    Those who survived http://www.ready.gov without retreating to the corner to cower in the fetal position can mosey over to the Press Room of the Department of Homeland Security itself, which comes filled with pep talks like, “”The threat of terrorism forces us to make a choice. We can be afraid, or we can be ready. Today America’s families declare, ‘We will not be afraid; we will be ready.'”” Presumably, by visiting the site, an American automatically becomes one of the aforementioned “”ready”” families — ready to barricade themselves in their houses, windows sealed with plastic sheeting and duct tape, and turn on the radio or TV to listen to the ways the government will save them.

    Working in harmony with these Web sites are the ubiquitous terror alerts that tell Americans just how frightened they should be. Lately, America was elevated to an orange (high) terrorist alert, the highest since the anniversary of 9/11. Is this terror alert useful to the average American? Are we equipped with any productive, effective way to respond to this information? Would an orange alert on Sept. 11 have saved any lives? The answers to these questions: no, no and, sadly, no. So are color-coded terror alerts going to save any lives in an upcoming attack? Most likely not — but they maintain a country full of people who bow in awe of their government’s perceived knowledge and goodwill, which is in the best interest of the people who generate these alerts.

    Furthermore, any true merit that these terror alerts had in the first place is negated by their bogus nature. On CNN’s “”Late Edition,”” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge admitted, “”[We] realized that some of the information that we acted upon … from time to time does not prove to be as accurate as we thought it was … one of the problems associated with the intelligence community is you don’t always have easy access to the sources of information you are acting on.”” Indeed. So the DHS’s policy is articulated as such: Raise the terror level now and ask questions later, because evoking fear in the American public is apparently as easy as raising the terror alert.

    While the president and the media tell us to “”go about your lives normally,”” they want us to do anything but; for to live life normally would be to revert back to the pre-Sept. 11 world, when Americans were skeptical of the president and were hungering for substantive, unbiased news. But people are easily controlled by fear, and fear is now easy to come by. Controlling people with fear is a lot easier than doing so with ingenuity, cleverness, leadership or substance.

    The American public has a right to know when it is in danger. That is a given. But when bogus terror alerts are spread by people who have a vested interest in keeping Americans as scared a possible, then the whole principle of “”knowledge is power”” is defeated. With the admittance that the orange terror alert was bogus, all future terror alerts are delegitimized. Terrorists aren’t stupid — they also read the news and realize that the American government is doing their work for them by keeping the American public in a constant state of fear. So fight terrorism, fight fear, and quit hoarding the gas masks and duct tape.

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