Fear seems insurmountable for Americans

by Erin Ghere

Since the United States began bombing Afghanistan over a week ago, I have heard many television and radio commentators asking experts if Americans are scared. The answer is obvious – of course we are.

With one fell swoop, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took away Americans’ confidence in the safety of their day-to-day lives. Prior to the attacks, we felt secure in our homes, at our workplaces, in shopping malls and on vacations. Unsafe areas were thought to be obvious – the crime-ridden parts of town or dark alleys. But after that fateful Tuesday, it is difficult to feel secure no matter where we are.

As news programs air video from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network, which promises continued attacks against innocent American civilians until the United States stops its bombing raids, President George W. Bush and other government officials are telling citizens to get back to their daily lives, go about their business and boost the economy by taking airline flights. This is a challenge Americans cannot be expected to live up to. With images of the initial attacks still very fresh in our minds, and terrorists threatening future attacks, Americans are rightly taking a better-safe-than-sorry perspective on decisions.

A new Federal Airport Administration report released Friday revealed many airports are not fully complying with new FAA safety regulations since the attacks. Newspapers commonly report stories of journalists passing knives, laptop computers, microphones, and other electronic devices through airport security without being detected.

Flights are often cancelled, diverted or landed with F-16 escorts after security breaches or passenger disruptions. There are armed National Guard members stationed at airports throughout the country. The FBI announced Friday the Mall of America was looked at as a possible target by the terrorists, along with Disney World and Disneyland theme parks. And cases of anthrax are popping up all over the United States at media organizations and, most recently, a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada.

How do government officials expect us to feel safe? We can’t feel secure when every day we find more reasons to feel scared. The nation’s citizens and law enforcement officials are reacting strongly to every incident, from the Science Museum of Minnesota closing for two days because of a suspicious briefcase and jelly-like substance, to bomb squads and health officials being called in to inspect suspicious packages at businesses and residences across the nation. While necessary, the massive responses to small incidents heighten the public’s fear for their safety.

If the president and other officials want Americans to feel secure again, they need to start taking real action to make sure we truly are safe. A Band-Aid cannot fix this situation. Airports and other large public facilities that could attract terrorists’ attention need to be safe, and they are not.

I have two plane trips in my near future. The sight of armed soldiers at airports does nothing to calm my nerves. Although President Bush thought it would boost confidence in air travel, it does not encourage me; it makes me feel like I live in another part of the world, where there is constant civil war or restricted freedoms, not the United States of America.

And even with these unnerving institutions of supposed protection, airports are still not secure. No airline employee can tell me absolutely when I step onto a plane there will not be another person with a weapon on board. Despite increased security and armed guards, New York Daily News reporters were able to get a variety of dangerous items past security at 10 major airports last week.

An article in the New York Daily reports, “One news reporter carried a razor-blade cutter, similar to the weapons used in the Sept. 11 hijackings, aboard a flight from LaGuardia to Washington. Another News reporter cleared security at Newark Airport toting pepper spray, a utility knife and scissors. Guards at Kennedy Airport failed to catch a camping knife with a 2 1/2-inch steel blade.”

To bring it a little closer to home, local newspapers recently reported only three airports nationally are worse than the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport at finding bombs before they are brought onto airplanes. I would rather wait in line for two hours at the airport than seriously risk my life each time I get on a plane.

But it is not only flying on airplanes that makes me nervous. Since U.S. military officials have “credible evidence” there will likely be more terrorist attacks against Americans or our foreign interests, I’ve continued to question my safety on the ground. I haven’t gone crazy – there are no gas masks or anthrax antibiotics in my house. But the events of Sept. 11 have made me question for the first time if I’m safe living in a metropolitan area. I’m hoping there are other more obvious targets than the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, but even that doesn’t give me much comfort. I have friends and relatives living in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and London – all the cities that could rank high on the list for the next terrorist attack.

The government cannot cure the fear Americans have by simply making us more confident in air travel. A psychological mark has been seared on this country’s psyche. We are fearful of an enemy we can’t see, who plots attacks while living on our own soil, and who strikes at us in the places we feel the safest. How do we overcome that?


Erin Ghere’s column usually appears alternate Mondays. She welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]