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FIRST-PERSON: Sept. 11’s subsequent uncertainty no reason for debilitating fear

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Just over a month has passed since the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The smoke and chaos that followed the terror have long since dissipated. However, the fear introduced to America on Sept. 11 lingers like fine fog.

Anxiety is nothing new to the American psyche. My parents’ generation, aptly dubbed the greatest by news anchor Tom Brokaw, endured a fiscal fear brought on by the stock market meltdown of 1929 and subsequent depression. Economic anxiety soon gave way to the foreboding of fascism brought about by Nazi Germany.

In the aftermath of World War II, the possibility of a nuclear holocaust invaded the thoughts of a majority of Americans. As the Berlin Wall became rubble, a myriad of fears began to dominate. Anxiety fueled by concern for the environment led the way. In recent days, fear for the future of health care as well as Social Security have many concerned, and an increasing number of Americans possess an angst concerning the trustworthiness of those leading the government.

Fear grows well in the humus of doubt and uncertainty. In the past, anxiety has been dispelled by action. People worked hard and became frugal in order to survive the Depression. America came together in collective sacrifice and joined other nations to defeat Hitler. During the Cold War, the enemy of communism was clearly defined. The threat was known and countered via the flexing of military muscle. Most recently, activists of every stripe have allayed their fears through programs of action and education.

It remains to be seen how America will deal with the new fear of terrorism. In the days since the attacks, the mood has been similar to the gentleman being treated for anxiety by a psychiatrist. The doctor gently pointed out that most of the things the man was anxious about never actually came to pass. “I know,” admitted the patient, “but then I worry about why they didn’t happen.”

Even as flags waved and patriotic songs reverberated after Sept. 11, doubt and uncertainty were ever-present. When would we strike back? How will the terrorists respond? Will chemical or biological weapons be introduced? Have they already been used? How long will the conflict continue? Is this the beginning of a third world war? Could this be the final chapter in mankind’s history?

The temptation to allow fear to dominate in uncertain times is great. President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood this well when he stated, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

William Faulkner once wrote, “Be scared. You can’t help that. But don’t be afraid.” Being “scared” of the reality of terrorism and taking cautionary steps is wisdom in action. However, we must not allow fear to keep us from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The threat of terrorism on U.S. soil has been realized. A fine fog of fear now shrouds the future in uncertainty. While its presence is annoying, it does not have to be debilitating. The threats of more terrorist attacks are very real, but they needn’t grind our way of life to a screeching halt. Navigating in fog takes care and cautious deliberation, but it can be done — and at times it must be done. This is one of those times. So, onward through the fog!

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs