The Dagley Dagley Daily  

By Janet Dagley Dagley
Covering the world from the waterfront in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA

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A casual comment about fear

Today's post is a reply to the comment made by a person identified only as "casual" in response to yesterday's post, which ended with these questions:

What difference is there, if any, between terror and fear of terror? And if people who cause terror are called terrorists, then what do we call people who cause fear of terror?

Here's Casual's comment:

"Here might be an answer to your ( rhetorical) question:

As you can see, what you are fighting is people who seem to think that the Vietnam war was justified- how are you gonna argue with people like that? Fear mongering is acceptable during times of war, because it's in our best interest. "

Hi, Casual. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

My questions weren't rhetorical: I'm asking sincerely: does the fear caused by terrorism feel any different to the person experiencing it than fear caused by fear of terrorism? I believe both fears feel pretty much the same to the people who are afraid.

Today, some new questions, every bit as sincere: is fear mongering EVER acceptable? Is it ever helpful?

Casual, I'm assuming we don't know each other, which is easy to do since I don't know your name. Since we aren't acquainted, you probably don't know that I am a former volunteer firefighter. When I was being trained to deal with fires and other emergencies, never ONCE did our instructors tell us that generating panic in an emergency would be helpful. On the contrary, they taught us how to deal not only with the public's fears, but with our own. Later, when I was responding to emergencies as a firefighter, I never, ever encountered a situation in which it would have been helpful to frighten everyone -- or even a single person -- on the scene. I don't know any firefighter, police officer, emergency medical technician or any other emergency response personnel who ever felt that generating fear was the least bit helpful.

In non-emergencies, I worked with several fire departments on fire prevention programs, advising families to install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, to hold household fire drills, to establish a rendezvous point outside the home. I never, ever advised them to panic. I don't know any fire department anywhere that does.

If you've been reading this blog frequently during the past year, you may have learned that I am a veteran journalist. As a reporter in California, I put together a special newspaper section on earthquake preparedness. I recommended that readers stock up on bottled water, make sure they had flashlights, batteries, and emergency provisions. But I did not tell them, "Hey, there may be an earthquake any minute, but if you get really, really afraid, that'll prevent it."

And if you're a regular visitor here, then you know that I've posted photo after photo of low-flying helicopters and airplanes over Manhattan, and expressed concern about them. So really: I'm not surprised that helicopters and limos and boats are a threat. I'm surprised that the government seems so surprised, nearly 3 years after the 9/11 attacks. Is it just now occurring to them, thanks to the information they got from the secret agent they arrested and outed? Now THAT'S scary.

As a former first-responder, I wish that instead of telling everybody to be afraid, the government would help all of us prepare for whatever emergencies may come our way, whether terror attacks, earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, accidents or plagues. We should all know more first aid. We should all learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which can in some cases raise the [clinically] dead). Maybe everybody doesn't need to know how to improvise a Class D fire extinguisher (use dirt), but everybody who works or lives in a high-rise needs to practice getting out in an emergency. OK, we're at war with terror. But if all we do is experience terror, then that war is lost. In World War II, we got busy and we got organized. Every neighborhood had an air-raid warden. Shouldn't our 21st Century neighborhoods prepare for emergencies as well, even if those emergencies aren't likely to require us to black out all our windows? In WWII, people recycled every scrap of useful metal, and grew as much of their own food as possible in Victory Gardens. Why aren't we making that same kind of effort now? One reason we're in this situation is our dependence on foreign oil. So why not conserve petroleum products like they saved aluminum foil 60 years ago? Back then, some things were rationed, to help the war effort. Are we cutting back on anything to fight the war on terror, except funding for first-responders? Yes, we are cutting back on one other thing: taxes for the rich, but not for ordinary working people.

As for this:

what you are fighting is people who seem to think that the Vietnam war was justified

Huh? Is there anybody left who thinks the Vietnam war was justified?

While that war was going on, I was -- not fighting, but arguing with -- people who thought that war was justified. I felt then and I feel now that my work against that war was a service to my country.

Now we're fighting a very different kind of war. For one thing, it's not exactly the war on terror: it's terror's war on us, since the nebulous, nationless terrorists invaded and attacked us first. We've invaded and attacked a couple of nations since then, one of which was connected to those attacks, the other of which wasn't. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are still active in Afghanistan, and Iraq -- just look at the headlines. Terror is still at war with us, and it's time we got serious about our response to it. We need regular evacuation drills in high-rise buildings. We all need to become at least minimally qualified as first responders, because you never know when you'll become one. We need a plan, not a color-coded panic chart.

Thanks again for your comment, Casual. Let's keep talking: that's the only way we'll ever get back to a red, white and blue America, instead of red states and blue states. We're all in this together.

  posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @5:40 PM


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