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Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2001 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Learning to be a good generation -- ATTORNEY GENERAL John Ashcroft has told Americans to be on a heightened state of "alert" because of potentially new terrorist threats. But considering I'm already on the very top rung of that ladder, I'm not sure where I go from here.

We're supposed to go about our daily business and activities, but with "extra caution" they say. In other words, keep opening your mail just as you normally would, don't worry about a thing, just handle it with gloves and OK maybe a surgical mask, too, just in case it's been cross-contaminated with oh, say, anthrax for example. We're told to be extra careful and "suspicious." But I'm already suspicious of everything - I am the mother of four, after all - so what am I supposed to do with that suggestion? I won't let my kids so much as have fruity soda that's not pasteurized. How do you get more suspicious than that? Maybe this is just the "new normalcy" everyone talks about. But here's one of the worst parts about it (besides worrying about a "suitcase" nuclear bomb going off at the mall at the same time I just HAVE to run in for a new pair of shoes): It's all that information that scrolls at the bottom of the screen on the news shows. I can't take my eyes off of it.

Only, when I'm watching the shows I inevitably do have to take my eyes off the scrolling for a moment or two (perhaps to make sure the kids haven't gotten into anything unpasteurized) and that's where I get into trouble. "Because of terrorist threat officials order planes not to fly within eleven miles of nuclear reactors" becomes, after I catch only bits of it, "terrorist planes hit eleven nuclear reactors."

Then there are things like "breaking news: America's top law enforcement officials announce. . . what? what did they announce? I turn to stir the spaghetti sauce, and I'm completely out of the loop. I figure everybody else in America right now is prepared for something big, and all I've got is stirred sauce. So then I rivet my eyes to the screen vowing not to blink until the scrolling "loop" brings the message around again, and I just about get another chance to figure out what to prepare for. . .and the station goes to a commercial.

Or I find that just when I come to grips with one kind of threat, another seems to present itself. It's kind of like that kid's game in which every time they bop one peg with a hammer another peg comes up somewhere else. Anthrax is scary, but officials are about to start decontaminating all our mail so that should soon be far less of a concern. One "peg" down. But wait - what about the smallpox "peg"? Well, I was relieved to hear experts say that smallpox is not considered to be contagious until a person is quite obviously sick with it, and that in fact a case did turn up in New York in the 1940s but it was so quickly handled with vaccine and quarantine that only a dozen or so people got ill.

Great, that's another "peg" down. But now there's evidence that the Bin Laden folks may have radioactive material, may even have smuggled it into the United States. Now that's quite a "peg" to have to bop - and anyway, what's going to pop up to take its place if it does get bopped down?

I guess what it comes down to is that what's new and strange isn't really living with these fears. It's living without them. During the early days of World War II, there was a very real fear that the Germans or the Japanese might invade the U.S, or at least carpet bomb its coastal cities. During periods of the Cold War, my parents lived with the fear that at any moment the Soviets might launch a nuclear strike. In fact, since the beginning of time people have had to worry about wars and the threat of war and the devastation it could bring, even in the West and even quite recently. That's normal. What's abnormal is the peace and prosperity my generation, just post "boomer," has enjoyed. So, it turns out this "new normalcy" may be a lot like the "old normalcy." Now my generation might not end up being the "greatest generation," but if we can reorient ourselves a bit and learn to handle these new threats with aplomb and resolve, we could prove to be a pretty darn good generation after all.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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