Saturday, a mere four days from now, will mark the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks that killed 3,000 people. Meanwhile, today is the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Blitz, Germany’s eight-month-long bombing campaign against Britain, which included 76 straight nights of attacks on London that wrecked the city and killed over 20,000 citizens. The way the two countries reacted to those respective attacks tells us things we probably don’t want to know.
The Brits mourned their dead, and essentially, brushed themselves off and got on with their lives, refusing to let the German attacks change who they were. We Americans, on the other hand, basically panicked after 9/11. Suddenly we thought terrorists lurked around every corner, ready to kill us all. The news media led the panicky charge, while the White House, as we now know, went to pieces. The Bush administration and Congress subsequently founded a zillion new “intelligence-gathering” groups; rammed through the grossly intrusive, and frankly un-American, Patriot Act; and, as only persons who had gone over the edge could do, took the nation to war against a country that had absolutely zero to do with the 9/11 attacks.
Nine years later, many Americans are still fearful and freaking out, seeing alien-like enemies in the White House, fearing death by a terrorist attack, and believing that Islam itself, not just a tiny minority within it, is a menace. Meanwhile, more Americans die each year in bathtub drownings than are killed worldwide by terrorist attacks outside war zones. According to the National Safety Council, you are more likely to die from a lightning strike than a terrorist attack. But, still, the low-level panic continues.
Maybe all the fear-mongering seems ridiculous to me because I grew up hearing my Belgian mother and her family members talk about World War II. Stories in which everyone heard the air-raid sirens and hurried down to the bomb shelter for awhile, then went back upstairs to finish their night’s sleep. Or Mom's memories of actually getting used to German V2 rockets flying overhead, knowing that if the rocket's noise didn’t stop as it passed over, she could keep walking to school and not have to dash into the nearest doorway for cover. Growing up with those kinds of true stories came to mind after 9/11, which may be why America's reaction to the WTC attacks has often struck me as, well, kind of wuss-y. I don't mean that in some silly, "You're not tough enough," macho way. What I mean is, "Settle down, friends, and get a grip — this is no time to freak out. And it’s certainly not a sensible way to live."