Collective fear borders on insanity

Last week, a couple of events highlighted the excessive amount of fear in the minds of Minnesotans. On Tuesday, authorities closed the entire emergency wing of the Unity Hospital in Fridley because of fears that a postal worker – who complained only of nausea and headaches – might have been subjected to a terrorist bio-warfare attack. In response, the hospital diverted ambulances, went on orange alert, called the FBI, effectively quarantined patients and turned on the decontamination showers. All because authorities found a single envelope addressed to a California congressional representative “that had a liquid substance and a foul smell.” Upon examination, the suspicious envelope contained merely a rotten potato slice and a note that read: “Have a French Fry.” Apparently the hospital didn’t get the joke.

One day later in Minneapolis, police shut down both the Third Avenue Bridge and the Stone Arch Bridge for nearly two hours because of fears that terrorists might bomb the nearby Xcel Energy hydroelectric plant. Dogs and policemen searched the 100-year-old milling tunnels under the plant and found, despite their initial concerns, absolutely nothing.

Why such extreme measures? Because an Xcel Energy worker found a broken lock to the tunnels and thought clanking noises were coming from inside. Chief of Police Robert Olson acknowledged that homeless people often break into the tunnels to stay warm. He also said, “If it happened a year ago, they may not have even called us.”

But we live on orange alert now, and it’s safe to say people are a little crazy. Some contend these measures are necessary as the United States simultaneously pursues a “War on Iraq” and a “War on Terror.” But just how far is too far? Advertisements, news programs and presidential directives all feed this climate of terror that is starting to paralyze the American consciousness. We’re told we must stock up on food, duct tape and plastic wrap. It seems that bomb shelters, once thought to be relics of the Cold War past, aren’t so far away anymore.

A quick reality check: Greasy “Freedom Fries” will more likely kill you than a random terror attack. Obesity, cancer and car crashes kill thousands every day. Even in tiny Israel, a country subjected to far more frequent terrorist attacks, twice as many people die from car crashes than die from terrorism.

It is time that Americans, and especially we sheltered Minnesotans, put things in perspective. Minnesotans must be aware of the potential for terrorism but keep that awareness based in reality. Sometimes noises in dark places aren’t lurking terrorists. They’re just noises.