Is America still the home of the brave?
Collectively, America seems to have become a people addicted to fear, whether it's about the economy, the weather, or children on the way to school. Once again, the nation needs to remember that 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'
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But Americans’ great angst antedated 9/11 and its politicians who created airport absurdities like “code yellow,” “code orange,” and “code red” – needlessly fanning public fears that justified their own jobs.Skip to next paragraph
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Too often fear is grounded in ignorance. I suspect an earlier generation of Americans might have been far less fearful of the Soviet nuclear menace if at the same time they had been made aware of Russia’s appalling backwardness. We easily might have tempered our paranoia of the Soviets with the realization that outside Moscow, there were virtually no other cities in the Soviet Union with potable drinking water. Many rural Russians lived in conditions little different than those of the 19th century. Texas had more miles of paved roads than the entire Soviet Union.
Overblown fear about the Soviets
Now, as then, there was profit in scaring the American people senseless. During the cold war, the Pentagon and defense contractors profited from pumping up the Soviet threat. More recently, after 9/11, a huge domestic security industry has burgeoned in airports and public buildings.
Cable networks like The Weather Channel and the television networks – not least among them Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News – rake in millions of dollars in advertising revenues by frequently frightening their audiences.
SOUND OFF on Facebook: Has our national obsession with comfort and 'security risks' become a national failing?
Americans already have shining examples of leadership and courage. Consider Apple’s Steve Jobs, for instance. Alas, too often in this economy we hear other business moguls whining about a paucity of national leadership. As my former CNN boss, Ted Turner, used to tell the weak-kneed, “lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
Here is a simple test for all Americans, from individuals to political leaders. Pause and ask yourselves, “Am I acting out of wisdom and knowledge, or am I letting fear dictate my decisions?” Risk-taking is indispensable to capitalism. There is nothing wrong with adventure within the limits of law. Economies seize up when people shrink from risk.
As a people, we should take to heart the words of 19th-century Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle, who counseled: “The First Duty of man is to conquer fear; he must get rid of it. He cannot act till then.”
Of late, our national obsession with comfort and “security” risks becoming a national failing. Barbarians have ever been at the gates of civilization. What we most need now is to again be reminded that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” coupled with a healthy dose of what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “self-reliance.”
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.