To Live Without Fear in the Age of Terrorism
We can rebuild the New York City skyline, but the question for a nation that has for two centuries felt safe at home is how we rebuild our sense of security. We are painfully realizing that the fears and anxieties terrorism is designed to arouse may be not of a moment but the harbinger of a whole new era. We can fight the Taliban, but how to fight a ghost army that went to war with us before we were at war with it, an army that has injected its menace even into the everyday routine of opening a letter?
It has not helped that the government has been unable to answer basic questions. Is it safe to open mail? Is the anthrax of domestic or foreign origin? How many letters were contaminated? Who sent them?
Immediate answers to all these questions are hard. But that's precisely why the first lesson for the new era is to trust the people with the truth as far as it is known. Anthrax may not be contagious, but fear is, and the key to avoiding panic is to shun spin control. If fear of alarming people was the reason we were misled about the lethal nature of the powder in the envelope to Sen. Tom Daschle(CNN), it was a blunder. National morale will depend on clear and effective public communication along the lines set by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani(Phoenix) and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Both met the challenge, because both have a command presence and speak the language of common sense as they level with the American public. They are not afraid to say, "I don't know." This is what will enable American citizens, like the citizens of Israel, not just to live with terrorism and fear but to channel their fears productively and, finally, to transcend them.
Our public officials have to understand that in the new era anxiety is magnified by a pervasiveness of media we have never had before. Round-the-clock repetitive news coverage requires, first and foremost, round-the-clock responsibility among the editors in language and sourcing. It would be all too easy to have a repetition of the Orson Welles 1938 broadcast, which caused thousands to flee their homes. Radio listeners who missed the beginning of the program missed the disclaimer that the report of invading Martians gassing New York and New Jersey was a dramatization of the H. G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds.
Second, the new era requires public officials to use great care in this business of issuing frequent, unspecific warnings. It's no wonder the public fears more terror attacks. A poll published in USA Today found that up to 83 percent of Americans expect a terrorist attack of some sort in the next 12 months. This is the fear...