Panic attacks: Fear in the air as terror concern rises : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


PANIC ATTACKS: Fear in the air as concern rises over biochemical attacks

Andrew Sullivan, Washington The last words of America's national anthem invoke the land of the free and the home of the brave. But these days, it seems, Americans are close to panic. Well, wouldn't you be? On Thursday the entire country was informed by its government that there were credible threats of terrorist attacks in the next several days. They gave us no details. They just scared the bejeezus out of us.

Everyone has a story. Walking through Washington, I saw two dead pigeons in the street. Another bird was in spasm. My immediate thought was not: has the city finally got its pest control working? It was: is this a biochemical attack in which birds die first? I'm not the only one with the jitters. In Washington a man dropped a bottle of liquid during an altercation with police. A month ago you wouldn't have thought twice about it. This time the subway was closed and 21 people were quarantined as the emergency services hurtled in, suited up like spacemen against biochemical weapons. Sure, the liquid turned out to be nothing more hazardous than cleaning fluid - but you just don't know.

In Florida a man died apparently from opening a letter. Deadly anthrax spores were found on his office computer keyboard and in the mailroom. Another man and a woman at American Media, where the victim worked, were infected, and one had worked in the mailroom. Last night, a letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada, tested positive for anthrax. Random death by postcode is not something anyone is prepared for. Try as the authorities might to convince people there was no link to the terrorist attacks of September 11, the sheer nagging amorphous threat set nerves jangling. Sightings of strange powders and liquids, previously not worth a second glance, sparked panic. At a clinic in Palm Beach, Florida, it turned out to be plaster dust. At the University of Florida it was talcum powder. In a town called Davie it was fire extinguisher residue. Rumours about weird deaths in remote cities keep circulating - strange envelopes in the hallway, dead rats in the alleys. Friends working in skyscrapers are looking for new jobs. One, who used to keep his window open at night, now keeps it sealed for fear of terrorist crop-dusters.

Airport queues are endless and my laptop was detained by security for days last week. In the Dulles airport departure lounge, surrounded by military guards, I felt ashamed to be nervously watching a turbaned man fumble through his case. He was looking for his cellphone. Thousands of people are buying Cipro, the antibiotic that may or may not work against anthrax. Chemists have sold out in Washington. It doesn't seem to matter that by the time you find out you've been poisoned by anthrax it's too late for Cipro.

Even staffers at my magazine, The New Republic, are jumpy. Nobody wants to work in the mailroom. Maybe, just maybe, they have a point. Friday brought news that a woman at NBC News had been infected on her skin with a milder but still unnerving form of anthrax. The envelope containing the powder, postmarked September 18 from Trenton, New Jersey, was addressed to Tom Brokaw, NBC's news anchor, and contained traces of anthrax. A second letter to him postmarked from Florida on September 20 proved harmless. Seemingly just as disturbing were mysterious envelopes with substances in them delivered to the State Department and The New York Times. The latter's envelope was sent to Judith Miller, a writer who has fearlessly chronicled the Islamic fundamentalist threat. For hours the building was closed down as tests were made for biochemical agents. It proved to be harmless.

None of this is rational, of course. The chances of any random American dying in the next year from a terrorist attack is far smaller than his or her likelihood of dying in a car accident or from a heart attack. Biochemical warfare is extremely difficult to carry out on a large scale; and, so far as we know, Al-Qaeda does not yet have nuclear weapons.

The world's worst terrorist attack was horrific, but it murdered only 0.002% of the American population. But the point of terrorism, of course, is not rational. Its intent is to instil irrational fear and paralyse societies by random terror. The terrorists succeed when people stop travelling freely, or shopping, or believing that terrorism cannot be defeated. They succeed when fear depresses economies, creativity and humour and all other aspects of a free society that terrorists loathe. So far this hasn't happened in America. But the country is on a knife edge. Americans aren't like Britons. They have a long history of requiring almost risk-free living, which is why this is the land of the trial lawyer and the damages suit.

A country that came up with a tort for the accidental spilling of hot coffee will no doubt have some difficulty acclimatising to a world where the deliberate spilling of anthrax spores is a real danger. On a deeper scale, Americans have little experience of living with homeland terrorism and have never had a war visited on their continent that they didn't start themselves. The last time there was a physical threat to the White House was at the dawn of the 19th century. This amazing legacy of security leads inexorably to a lack of experience with stoicism. Stoicism isn't the same thing as fortitude or nerve. Americans have plenty of those qualities. Faint-hearted people don't venture into a new continent with nothing but a few wagons and shotguns. Nervous types don't storm the beaches at Normandy. Stoicism is another matter. It's the endurance of things you cannot immediately fix or alter. It's the stiff upper lip of the British. Americans aren't used to this. It's not a failing. They see a problem and their first response is not to endure it but to fix it. This refusal to accept the enemy's terms might be called naive. But it certainly isn't defeatist.

In the face of a seemingly intractable problem, it is almost part of the American psyche to keep tackling it. For this reason, perhaps, Americans are already adjusting. The papers are full of burly men saying they will overwhelm any terrorist who tries it on in an aeroplane. And by all accounts that's exactly what happened on one of the suicide flights when it dawned on some passengers that they had become a guided missile. Above all, the quintessential American response to the problem - fixing it - is being conducted in the mountains of Afghanistan and beyond.

But there's a nervous edge to this ebullience. What if there really is another strike? It would transform America perhaps more than the first one. It would result in a popular demand that whatever war is now being conducted be extended and pursued with an aggression we have yet to see.

Stoicism, remember, is a response to helplessness. And although they may be scared, Americans are not used to feeling helpless. They have no intention of starting now.

Next page: False alarms Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd., United Kingdom, Fair Use for Educational and Research Purposes Only

-- Robert Riggs (, October 14, 2001


Oh BOO HOO! When we go JIHAD on their asses, they gonna be the one's showin' the panic. First afgistan, then irak, then cyria....line them up. One by one, or all at a time. WE will wipe them off the face of the earth; and you will see these little ants scurry in a panic. These PUNKS, SHOULD NOT HAVE FUCKED AROUND! RIP-NOT TERRORISTS

-- jimmie-the-weed (, October 14, 2001.

If you're going to recommend mass murder of several countries populations, it would help if you learn how to spell the English names that we generally use for these places.

This comment assumes that you're an adult, although it's possible that you're an eight year old whose view of the world is shaped through TV and Hollywood.

I recommend the movies "BEING THERE" "WAG THE DOG" "BRAZIL" "BOB ROBERTS"

-- ignorance (, October 14, 2001.

Dear Mr. Bin Laden & the Taliban: You challenged us to a good, old-fashioned "game" of whoop-ass. Now that we understand the rule that there are NO rules, we look forward to responding in kind for the first time in many years.

We'll admit that you made an impressive start. However, it's OUR turn now--and, by the way, we'll be playing in YOUR home court. You seem to have forgotten that WE taught you how to fight. You should also know that we learn extremely fast any new techniques YOU might come up with.

Please keep in mind that you sent us a message of hate: that, no matter what we DO or DON'T do, you're still gonna kill us. Thank you for that reminder. Now hear this: God willing, there is no quarter asked and NONE given. Sincerely, The American Public

Dear Mr. Article Writer: You are deeply mistaken about a number of average Americans; but that is understandable: you've never heard from us. I, myself, am the grandchild of pioneers (and Indians) and THEY certainly knew stoicism, bravery, . Many of my neighbors are ranchers, farmers, etc. THEY certainly haven't forgotten these qualities!

1. "A country that came up with a tort for the accidental spilling of hot coffee will no doubt have some difficulty acclimatising to a world where the deliberate terrorism is a real danger." (Please pardon my transformation of your statement.) 2. What if there really is another strike? It would transform America perhaps more than the first one. It would result in a popular demand that whatever war is now being conducted be extended and pursued with an aggression we have yet to see."

My reply to you? This the generation (mine) who shouted "Down with the establishment". Now, they have had their faces shoved in the fact that you CAN'T "reason" with all your enemies. Because of that, the majority of us are going to have to learn the sad truth statement No. 2.

Ignorance--your signature suits you just fine.

-- Boondocks (, October 14, 2001.

Oops, my apologies. No matter how hard I tried to catch all the glitches, my post above contains several typos. In any event, I believe it is still understandable, though a bit of a mess. P.S. This is NOT a "Wag the Dog" situation. Tell THAT to the survivors of the World Trade Center!

-- Boondocks (, October 14, 2001.

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