Terror Mars the American Psyche – Now We Fear Death

Dealing with death, accepting its inevitability, is relatively easy. For the most part we don’t dwell, much less, obsess about it. Instead, we become distracted, or I should say, we purposefully ignore death through our determination to live. Being alive drives us to concentrate on the desires and impositions of living, whether raising families, getting an education, earning a living, or simply enjoying retirement. Even if being marginalized, ill, unemployed, or alone, we instinctively override any possible feeling of happiness that death can bring.

Through the act of living we avoid having to think about death on a daily basis. We have, indeed, learned to live while being surrounded by death; and surrounded we are nowadays. Largely on account of widespread communications we are constantly reminded of death, unless we choose to divert our attention from local, national, and world affairs in favor or Seinfeld reruns, Reality Housewives, or sport events. Consider these facts in the US: – Over 35,000 will die in a motor vehicle accident in 2015. – Nearly 600,000 cancer deaths are projected in 2015. – Over 600,000 will die of a heart attack in 2015. – If numbers hold, there will be over 1 million victims of violent crime in 2015. And yet, it is doubtful that even a very low percentage of the population is concerned that we will become part of these statistics. We simply have learned to adapt to this reality, including crime.

In the September 11, 2001 attacks 2977 innocent people lost their lives. The nation’s conscience was shaken because we had been invaded (legally) by terrorists. There was no time to be afraid, and the reaction was swift: the American people and its representatives responded by going to war against Al-Qaeda. In April 2013, during the Boston Marathon bombing, three persons were killed and hundreds injured. In unity with “Boston Strong,” we were briefly reminded of 9/11. Again, the public’s reaction was mostly one of defiance. Runners have not stopped competing. In October 2015, a Russian passenger plane was downed by a bomb over Egyptian territory resulting in 224 fatalities. ISIS claimed responsibility. Our fear of flying has not diminished.

Then, the Paris attacks took place. On November 13, 2015 130 innocent people were massacred and over 300 were injured. It appears that one, possibly two, members of an ISIS cell had entered the country among the hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly Muslims, who were fleeing Muslim terrorists. Overnight, the American psyche had been violated and this time the response was somewhat unsettling. No longer would we stoically be unconcerned with death and fight back. Now we would become afraid. How un-American!

The nation that courageously had saved Europe twice in world wars is now recoiling. We are being paralyzed by fear: In what seems to be a partisan chant Republicans aspiring to the White House want the government to slam the door on Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Some are demanding religious tests; one of the candidates suggested we place American Muslims in a database; another one compares Muslims to rabid dogs while forgetting that several Muslim countries are among our allies; a fourth one practically insinuates that being afraid of terrorists is very American. And, the House of Representatives, feeling the support of the American people, passed a bill—without discussing it–to protect the nation … from fear. Once critical of the French for not supporting the US 2003 invasion of Iraq, those same voices are now putting an arm’s length between the two nations, even as France proceeds to allow Muslim refugees into the country.

No one is suggesting that we allow anyone who wishes to enter the US to do so without proper vetting. Compassion and charity ought to go hand in hand with prudence. But fear is insidiously attacking the American psyche; it is requesting absolute guarantees that nothing will happen to us once we admit these refugees. This is like asking the local police force, Homeland Security, the CIA, the FBI, and the military to provide us with the same level of assurance that no physical harm will come to us, ever.

At times, fear leads to absurdity. Evoking FDR’s famous line–the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself—would seem to lack authority after he himself succumbed to fear years after through the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans in detention camps, likely the most shameful episode of his administration. Nonetheless, part of the rest of his line is without doubt behaviorally accurate; terror, even when justified in some degree as it may be today, can paralyze a nation. Fear makes us forget our virtues; courage, compassion, and honor take a back seat to “wanting to feel” secured. The lessons of heroic policemen and firefighters who rushed to save victims inside the Twin Towers are forgotten. Continuing to live in the comfort of our homes becomes more important than helping those in need.

And such behavior does not even elicit a sense of shame. Interesting that many of these people insist on calling ours a Christian nation. Could there be more behind our attitudes than just fear? Could it be that those wanting to come to our shores are different from us? Is fear making us forget that we are a true melting pot? Is it a coincidence that those who are mostly against accepting these refugees are the same ones who express discomfort and contempt toward passing legislation to deal with illegal immigrants? Do we realize that being xenophobic does not make us an exceptional nation? In the end, we must remember that we cannot expunge our actions from our history; we have to live with the dishonor.  

To contact the author copy and paste my e-mail address RicardoPlanas@reasonandpolitics.com