Jewish World Review June 17, 2005 / 10 Sivan,
The polio fallacy
The disappearance of an American teenager in Aruba has been more
than a tragedy for her and for her family. It is the latest of many
tragedies to strike trusting people who have long been sheltered from
dangers and who have acted as if there were no dangers.
Not only individuals but whole nations have lost their sense of
danger after having been protected from those dangers.
After the devastating disease of polio was finally conquered by
vaccines, back in the 1960s, the number of people afflicted declined almost
to the vanishing point. Some people then began to see no need to take the
vaccine, since apparently no one was getting polio any more, so who was
there to catch it from?
The result was a needless resurgence of crippling and death from
this terrible disease.
The kind of thinking involved in the polio fallacy has appeared
in many other contexts. When some public disorder gets underway and a
massive arrival of police on the scene brings everything under control
immediately, many in the media and in politics deplore such "over-reaction"
on the part of the police to a minor disturbance.
It never occurs to such people that it was precisely the arrival
of huge numbers of cops on the scene that brought the disturbance to a
screeching halt without having to use force.
During the Cold War, Communist expansionism around the world
somehow never struck Western Europe, which was protected by the American
nuclear umbrella and which often accused the United States of unnecessary
militarism. American military power was like the polio vaccine that was
The latest version of the polio fallacy is the demonizing of the
Patriot Act. Some people are yelling louder than ever that they have been
silenced, that we have had our freedom destroyed, all as a result of the
Let us go back to square one, to the terrorist attacks of 9/11,
which were the reason for passage of the Patriot Act.
Do you remember how long every major public event the World
Series, Christmas celebrations, the Super Bowl was a time of fear of a
new terrorist attack? Do you remember all the advice to stock up on
medicines or food, so that we could ride out any new terrorist onslaught?
Do you remember all the places that terrorists were expected to
strike? The different colors of national alerts being announced regularly?
Now, after years have passed without any of these feared
disasters actually happening, the eroding of a sense of danger has led many
to repeat the polio fallacy and act as if the dangers from which we have
been protected did not exist and that the enhanced protection is
The many crackdowns on domestic terrorists under the Patriot
Act, as well as the ability to intercept and disrupt their communications
under the powers of that Act, receive little or no credit for the fact that
there has been no repetition of anything like 9/11.
Like the police who arrive in large numbers to quell
disturbances and are then accused of "over-reacting," the Patriot Act has
been depicted as an over-reaction to terrorist activity. Indeed, the very
word "terrorist" has been banned in much of the politically correct media.
The Patriot Act is no closer to perfection than anything else
human. It has costs, as every benefit has had costs, hard as it is for many
among the intelligentsia to accept anything less than "win-win" situations.
"I have a real problem with fascism," as one lady in a trendy
California bookstore said fiercely, when discussing the Patriot Act.
She was aghast when I replied, "I hadn't noticed any fascism."
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