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Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2001 / 20 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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What it will take to win -- THIS is hardly the world in which we expected to raise our children. We can rebuild our skyline, but the question for a nation that has for two centuries felt safe at home is how we rebuild our sense of security. We are painfully realizing that the fears and anxieties terrorism is designed to arouse may be not of a moment but the harbinger of a whole new era. We can fight the Taliban, but how to fight a ghost army that went to war with us before we were at war with it, an army that has injected its menace even into the everyday routine of opening a letter?

It has not helped that the government has been unable to answer basic questions. Is it safe to open mail? Is the anthrax of domestic or foreign origin? How many letters were contaminated? Who sent them?

Immediate answers to all these questions are hard. But that's precisely why the first lesson for the new era is to trust the people with the truth as far as it is known. Anthrax may not be contagious, but fear is, and the key to avoiding panic is to shun spin control. If fear of alarming people was the reason we were misled about the lethal nature of the powder in the envelope to Sen. Tom Daschle, it was a blunder. National morale will depend on clear and effective public communication along the lines set by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Both met the challenge, because both have a command presence and speak the language of common sense as they level with the American public. They are not afraid to say, "I don't know." This is what will enable American citizens, like the citizens of Israel, not just to live with terrorism and fear but to channel their fears productively and, finally, to transcend them.

Vigilance, confidence. Our public officials have to understand that in the new era anxiety is magnified by a pervasiveness of media we have never had before. Round-the-clock repetitive news coverage requires, first and foremost, round-the-clock responsibility among the editors in language and sourcing. It would be all too easy to have a repetition of the Orson Welles 1938 broadcast, which caused thousands to flee their homes. Radio listeners who missed the beginning of the program missed the disclaimer that the report of invading Martians gassing New York and New Jersey was a dramatization of the H. G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds.

Second, the new era requires public officials to use great care in this business of issuing frequent, unspecific warnings. It's no wonder the public fears more terror attacks. A poll published in USA Today found that up to 83 percent of Americans expect a terrorist attack of some sort in the next 12 months. This is the fear below the surface that is gnawing at all of us. We are all ready to brace ourselves, take precautions, be vigilant. But how can ordinary citizens deal with invisible microscopic bacteria delivered in the most innocuous way? Willy-nilly, we must look to government.

And government must do much, much better-and not just in public relations. We must spare no cost to decontaminate all mail by the best techniques available. Clamp down on immigration and on our porous borders. Raise the inspection of ship and road traffic to an entirely new level. Watch the hiring of private planes. Protect the pilots of private cargo planes. We must assume the worst-that those responsible for the anthrax mailings are foreign terrorists. Of course, we must investigate domestic enemies within, the fringe of right-wing conspirators we glimpsed in the Oklahoma City bombing. But foreign terrorism seems far more likely, given the scale, complexity, and the timing of these mailings. If that is so, we must expect more attacks from abroad.

The anthrax attacks have intensified the willingness of Americans to fight, even if we suffer heavy casualties on the road to victory. Public-opinion polls have firmed up and still show overwhelming confidence in the government, notwithstanding the shortcomings. The whole country is resolved and ready because it knows there is no choice but to fight.

It is heartening that our fellow citizens have responded on every level, giving blood, giving money, cheering on our armed forces. The resurgence of patriotism, the response to the words of the national anthem and of "G-d Bless America," and the universal prevalence of the flag show a totality of resolve not seen in decades. Patriotism has triumphed over gloom. We are demonstrating, once again, our national will.

We support the institutions that fight for us and defend us: the military, the FBI, the CIA, the uniformed services in each of our communities. We support whatever they may have to do in order to win this war, including taking on morally ambiguous and hazardous actions against a ruthless enemy who seeks to destroy our values and our civil order.

We do all this because we all feel we are a part of a country unique for its qualities of freedom and liberty. And we draw from the power of a free society to commit ourselves to this mission of prevailing against evil. Our goal is humane and simple: to return to a normal life-to live without fear.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman