Coastal Post Online


December 2001

Living With Terrorism

By Alex Horvath

On the morning of September 11, and for two weeks after, I was without a television.

Maybe it's because of this, and because I didn't watch a single moment of the World Trade Center disaster, I don't have the same feeling of gloom as the rest of the country. Instead, I possess a restless cynicism.

A pall was cast over the nation with the images of jet planes full of people crashing into and demolishing buildings, people jumping out of skyscrapers and bloodied victims being pulled from the scene. Instead of running to a neighbors TV after the initial reports, I knew that I didn't need to see what was happening to be able to weigh in on how bad it was. I intentionally did not seek out TV.

Yes, I did read news reports and couldn't avoid the stills in the paper for days after of the disastrous scene. And I did read some initial articles: the story of the stewardess on Flight 11 having her throat slit, and of another stewardess on a cell phone, being asked by someone at the airlines about what she could see outside the windows. Her reply "Buildings."

I saw one distant clip on the Internet, mostly out of a morbid curiosity. But again, after being a news junkie most of my life and seeing many of the major events of the last twenty-years unfold on live television; I instinctively knew that my witnessing any of this wouldn't help the situation or my psyche.

After two months, I've followed the news and some anxiety has crept into my little world of denial. And each time I see an American flag, my heart beats a little faster, not so much from a feeling of patriotism as it is from a wish that the world would go back to where it was before September 11th, when flags only were sold in stores right before Fourth of July and Flag day, and while we are all Americans, people kept their patriotism to themselves. In my Sonoma County neighborhood, immediately after the attacks, cars and trucks would speed down the street, attempting to make the flags they had hung from their vehicles wave in the wind. Some had both the American flag and the Confederate flag. Do they realize what they are saying?

Anthrax is a scary thought and it has worked its way into the fear factor of the country. As of this morning's paper, the FBI thinks it is more likely a homegrown culprit doing all of the mailings, ala the Unabomber, much more than it is a Middle Eastern whacko. Makes you feel just a little better, doesn't it?

Scary also is the thought of having waterways polluted with biological terrorism. A news crew from a television station did an piece about how easy it would be to get into a reservoir and pollute the waterways in spite of stepped up patrols. The reporter showed that in less than a few minutes, he was able to crawl under a fence and wander freely about the reservoir. There were no stepped up patrols to be seen. Too bad for the reporter, it was later revealed, that they were reporting live from a sewage treatment facility.

Then there is the whole Governor Davis and the protection of the California bridges fiasco. Ridership on the ferries increased that week, many people chose to telecommute instead of crossing the bridges, and some took extended weekends. But it turned out the reports were not credible in the first place, most of the officials knew that. and all the Governor did was lose face and decrease his chances of re-election in the upcoming race.

The scariest thing about the whole terrorism thing remains that President Bush has gone from the status of "brainless boob" in the minds of many to "brilliant leader," almost overnight. Meanwhile, civil liberties are being tinkered with, information is being withheld and a new spirit of patriotism has taken over the country. Gaining in ratings are right-wing talk radio hosts, who spew hatred and family values that many would have winced at on September 10th. People are afraid and looking for something to believe in.

Why did it happen? America got soft and wasn't looking, is one answer. In a population more concerned with the plot of "Friends" than it is with civil rights or terrorism in other countries, or even our own, what else could we expect? In a nation more concerned with contracting security at airports to the lowest bidder, in some way, weren't we waiting for an accident to happen?

Bin Laden and his cronies are the banana peel America slipped on. The pundits and the president say that America will never be the same. I say that if we are lucky, it won't happen again.

My assessment of terrorism in the US is basically this: The mood of the public seems very reminiscent of AIDS back in the late 1980's. Everyone is afraid-but no one is quite sure what to be afraid of. And no one wants to talk about being afraid. There is so much information and disinformation going around that it perpetuates the fear. One might sometimes wonder, is Ashcroft on the Al Quaeda payroll?

Folks with AIDS hate the distinction of being "sick with AIDS," or "dying of AIDS." They find more strength in saying they are "Living with AIDS." I think the same is true for the terrorists and terrorism. It's here - and we are living with it.

Only thing is, the emphasis is on the word "Living."


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