|By A.D. Freudenheim||
1 December 2002
In the days following the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, I remember feeling many things - anger, sadness, and shock most notably. I tried to write down a bit of what I was thinking at the time, and posted a column just five days after the attacks exploring my feelings. What I distinctly remember not feeling was fear: I did not feel personally threatened or under attack; I made no moves to leave New York City; and while I acknowledged then - and acknowledge now - that New Yorkers or other Americans could be victims of another, even more deadly terrorist attack, I generally kept a sense of perspective. The Towers and the Pentagon were clearly targets, and not indiscriminately chosen. As upsetting and shocking as it was, I was not there, my life had not been in danger except in the most abstract fashion. And while I have sympathy for the victims and their families, but refused to live in fear for my life.
Weeks and months later, these feelings cemented themselves ever more firmly - but my lack of fear made the subject a difficult one to discuss with others. So many of the people I know or met were more than just stunned; they seemed shaken to the core. While I can think of only a handful of people who actually left New York City or made other drastic changes to their lives in the wake of the attacks, many others responded emotionally, dramatically, and made it clear that they felt themselves to have been the targets of the attack. I continued to resist the urge to be afraid, to resist the constant, whining, emotional paranoia of so many others; I just did not want to live that way. If I feared for anything, it was for what America might do to the world in lashing out, seeking revenge.
Last week, I saw Michael Moore's amazing new documentary "Bowling for Columbine," and something clicked, something I had been feeling but unable to articulate for the last 14 months. One of Moore's principal theses (in a movie that makes many points) is that Americans are too dosed up on fear - that we are constantly reminded of the dangers that lurk around us, whether these are as basic as having our house robbed or as complex as being attacked by hijacked airplanes. Our news media is the primary driver for all of this fear, though we seem to do a good job of keeping our anxious edge by ourselves and with the help of our politicians. Moore contrasts this sensibility with that of the Canadians, a country where the per capita gun ownership is as high as ours and yet the number of violent, gun-related incidents is drastically (shockingly!) lower. In the movie, he talks to a few Canadians who say that they have been burgled, but that these things have been mild moments in their lives and that they have never been threatened with bodily harm. And he shows clips from the evening television news in Windsor, Ontario, where they seem more interested in reporting life-related stories than news that focuses on death.
Anyone who wants to chip away at Moore's movie should feel free to do so. There is no denying that he has an axe to grind, and depending on your perspective he either does an effective job or not in making his various points. But what he said about Americans living in fear resonated with me; it was the sudden realization what had been holding me back after the attacks was the desire not to feel manipulated by outside forces: by the President and his Wise Men making pronouncements about who perpetrated these attacks, and what we would do to them in return; by the members of Congress running around like headless chickens, simultaneously proclaiming their belief in our safety while evacuating their own offices after mishandling the anthrax attacks; and by the global news media, filling us up with irrelevant details about invisible networks spread hither and yon, and the dangers that lurked in every envelope of mail arriving on our doorstep. (And here I admit that I was afraid: the completely unexplained nature of the anthrax scare still seems much more frightening than the further likelihood of attacks by American airliners.)
We are a lucky nation, there is no doubt. By and large, we have wealth and opportunity beyond what many nations can imagine, and even some of our closest (and most economically developed) allies envy our attitudes, our behavior, and ultimately our lives. America has also been isolated from terrorist attacks at home, while other countries around the world have suffered on their own turf for more than a century in some cases. Furthermore, much has been said and written since 11 September 2001 about the glory that is America and the amazing freedoms and liberties we enjoy, and that these same liberties are the reasons for our existence as a global target. Much less discussed is the prison in which we place ourselves, the way in which we construct barriers - physical barriers as much as legal and social barriers - out of the fear that something else might happen to us.
I could write more about fear and its influence, but maybe it's better for you to go see the movie instead. What I know now, what I knew before but could not articulate, was that I refuse to live in fear for my life, particularly of things I cannot control. That is just no way to live.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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