I've got a little ranting to do about the media and current events. First of all, they're hyping this anthrax in the mail thing like it's the most frightening health and security crisis since the outbreak of HIV/AIDS. Maria Shriver has been filling in for Katie Couric on the Today show this week, and on the morning of October 10th she was the quintessential nasty bitch reporter. She had the Postmaster General on that morning, and she demanded of him, "But what are you telling the American people, who are terrified of opening their mail? The letter to Tom Brokaw had no return address; the letter to Tom Daschle had a return address. Should people open mail with no return address or not? Are you just making up guidelines as you go along?" If I had been that guy, I'd have given her the finger and walked off the set. But that's me.
Instead, he calmly reviewed the facts. There have been 4 incidents of anthrax in the mail, out of a total of 20 billion pieces of mail handled by the USPS in the last month. The victims have been very high profile individuals or workers at a controversial media outlet (I'm referring to the tabloid company, though some might include NBC, as well). For these reasons, I might have forgiven Maria Shriver if she had admitted that SHE was terrified of opening her mail, but I've got to tell you: I'm NOT.
Second, last week I heard a call-in show about "sacrifices during wartime." The point of the program was to debate what kinds of sacrifices Americans should be willing to make during this crisis time in our nation. I was interested at first because I thought an interesting discussion of civil liberties might ensue. After all, I think the only reason most people aren't totally freaked out about a lot of the new anti-terror measures enacted recently by our government is that (for the most part) we trust our government. We'll see how long the trust lasts if/when any abuses are uncovered.
As it turned out, the program was a forum for people with political bones to pick with the Bush administration. The main guest was calling for a repeal of all tax cuts, increases in other taxes, and he kept quoting FDR! The program even aired a segment of a nationwide broadcast FDR made the night before the D-Day invasion. Let's not compare apples and oranges, all right?
By the time the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August of 1945, there were some 14 million men and women in the US Armed Services. For nearly 4 years our troops had fought major foes on two disparate fronts. Major material sacrifices were demanded of our civilian population because our soldiers needed to be clothed, fed, and well-supplied.
What comparison can be made with our current "war on terrorism?" Militarily, I doubt we'll ever have more than a few thousand troops in Afghanistan (or elsewhere) at any one time. The terrorists are not the Germans or the Japanese, either, meaning they won't be very capable of mounting major offensives, cutting off supply lines, or disrupting production. So why do I feel like some people think I should start buying "Liberty Bonds" and only eat meat once a week and collect old pots and pans for salvage?
In fact, this is the best time to trim government waste and reduce taxes. Free up as much of the taxpayers' money as possible so we can invest, save, and consume. Instead, Congress and even the Republican president have started spending our tax money like crazy and justifying it all in the name of "homeland defense." Just one of the more egregious examples is the $15 billion dollar handout to the nation's airlines, $5 billion of which is cash. The ridiculous thing is that the airlines say they lost only $1.36 billion in revenues during the federally-mandated shutdown. The rest of the money is just gravy. Now, I agree that the government can pay the airlines for lost revenues during the FAA-mandated shutdown. But even if I thought it was OK to offset the loss of revenue caused by decreased air travel since September 11th and the subsequent shutdown (and I don't), then I would demand that they maintain their service at pre-September 11th levels. That's not happening, though. Instead, the airlines are cancelling hundreds of flights and laying off thousands of workers--all in order to save even more money.
Airlines ought to be doing what the nation's automakers are doing--offering incentives (read: slashed fares) to travellers to entice them to fly. After all, this country is full of businesses that have been detrimentally affected by the terrorist attacks and the resulting economic anxiety and malaise. Where are their billions from the government?
Clearly there will be a monetary cost to measures that strengthen security--not only in airports, but in many areas and sectors of our society--but most of the costs that we will have to pay will be less tangible ones, like time, convenience, and individual liberty.
Third, I heard a sportswriter on the radio this week say that "many people feel" that the US shouldn't be "playing games" in a time like this, meaning that sporting events should be indefinitely postponed. I personally haven't met anyone who has voiced such opinions, but assuming these people are out there, I must ask why.
Security concerns are one thing, but if someone is offended that Americans continue to seek out entertainment in the wake of the September 11th tragedies, then he or she needs to try to put this in some historical perspective.
It's precisely in times like this that entertainment is most needed. People need to have escape from their fears and anxieties. The Great Depression and WW2 were boon times for musicians, Vaudeville players, and Hollywood moviemakers. In an effort to appear more-somber-than-thou, some Americans and members of the press are giving the terrorists exactly what they want (and this is turning into a cliche, as well).
Let's not forget that 45,000 Americans die every year in automobile accidents, 20,000 or more Americans die every year from the flu, and as many as 400,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses every year. If we can just take a deep breath and reflect honestly on our present circumstances, we'll realize that the chances of being blown up by a terrorist or receiving a horrible disease in the mail are incredibly small.
If you have ever travelled to other places in the world, even Europe, you already know that the US is not entering into some brave new world. We are not the first, nor will we be the last, nation to face extremists hellbent on our destruction. When I lived in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, police and soldiers had checkpoints all over and stopped cars at random. If you didn't have ID and sometimes a little cash, there was hell to pay. When I lived in Taiwan, occasionally I saw squads of armed soldiers marching through the streets. Policemen carried M-16s. When I was in China, I actually never saw any armed guards, but I'm sure there were plenty of secret police around when I was in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The problem is that we deluded ourselves into a false sense of security--hell, false sense of invulnerability--and now we have to face facts. This feeling of vulnerability is unfamiliar, but it should not be paralyzing. It's simply a taste of the reality that most peoples of our world live with. And many peoples' realities are much, much harsher. Let's face this situation like the nation we keep claiming to be--the greatest, strongest on earth--and be mindful of our civil liberties. With luck and perserverance, we'll emerge from this crisis even stronger.