Anthrax threat must be overcome

So this is bioterrorism. Though we don’t know who sent the string of anthrax-infected letters finding their way to governors, Congress and newspapers, the perpetrators can only be classified as terrorists. They target political leaders because they know such public figures make for big headlines and they target media organizations because they want real fear to transfer through the stories. And, to an extent, it’s working. The House of Representatives shut down for five days. The headlines paint worrisome pictures. Many across the nation fear opening their mail.

But as New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani said several days after the Sept. 11 attacks, only continuing our lives as normally as possible will beat this. If we stand paralyzed in our tracks or open our letters at arms length, eyes squeezed shut, we make that 34-cent stamp a priceless investment.

What’s more, we would be doing so for no good reason. Nothing short of locking yourself in a bomb shelter to cut off all outside contact will keep you completely safe. Living in fear of that which you cannot control isn’t living; it’s hiding. This is the world in which we now live. We didn’t choose it, but here it is, nonetheless. However, we can still decide on the manner in which we live.

Americans need to make adjustments, true, but reason and logic call for progression, not fear. Coming to terms with the uncertainties will present the greatest challenges. Instead of stopping our daily routines, however, we should change how we carry them out. At best, al-Qaida is carrying out these attacks. If that is the case, we’re lucky. Bioterrorism can be a fearsome thing, much worse than well-researched livestock diseases treatable with antibiotics. If al-Qaida is behind this, their regression to such pedestrian tactics is actually encouraging. At worst, foolish, disgruntled Americans lashing out at a nation they do not understand are perpetrating these attacks. Either way, the situation could be much worse and, regardless of the terrorists’ affiliation, our course of action should remain steady. We cannot afford to hide from letters.

The media have been criticized by some for their coverage of these attacks. Detractors say the stories and their prominent placing – particularly in newspapers – serves only to spread panic unnecessarily. Though coverage has been prominent, the media is providing a necessary service, given the situation’s gravity. It could even be argued the coverage has been restrained. If someone had shot at Sen. Tom Daschle, D-SD, instead of sending an anthrax-infected letter to his office, the headlines would have been much larger, though the intent would be the same.

Also, keeping the spotlight on this threat fosters discourse. Knowing more about the dangers better prepares us to deal with them. For instance, so far the attacks have been piecemeal, giving emergency response teams the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the situation. If the attacks grow in intensity and frequency, experts will be able to approach the situation with at least some experience.

Strangely, these attacks seem almost tailored to prepare us for large-scale bioterrorism, which must not have been the terrorists’ intent. But though we can’t yet determine the reason behind the attacks, we can decide their effect. If this is how they choose to fight a war, winning can be as easy as checking the mail.