The only thing we have to fear is fear itself ...
by J. Neil Schulman
September 19, 2001
A lot of people whose only exposure to history is from soundbytes are
familiar with the phrase "the only thing we have to fear is fear
itself," and they know that these words were spoken by President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt. They probably think FDR originated this statement in one of
his speeches during World War Two. But he said it during his first inaugural
address on Saturday, March 4, 1933, six years before the beginning of World War
II and over eight years before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United
States into that war. The cause of the fear FDR was referring to was the
economic depression America was in when he took office. Roosevelt was warning
America not to let the economy be paralyzed by their fears. As a libertarian I
may disagree with his solution, but FDR's warning was valid.
It struck me that President George W. Bush has told us that America is now in
a war against Terrorism. What is terrorism if not the goal of producing a
And nowhere has fear been more effective in creating paralysis than in the
American airline industry.
On the day of the attack, when terrorists seized and caused the destruction
of four American passenger jetliners and successfully used three of them as
weapons of mass destruction, the FAA grounded all American aviation. Airports
were shut down. Flights into the United States were sent back or diverted to
Canada. Foreign airlines were told not to attempt to land in the United States.
It was several days before there was another commercial flight. By that time,
one financially troubled American airline company, Midway, had already declared
bankruptcy. Americans who couldn't travel in their own cars were using any other
means of transportation possible to avoid flying: trains, busses, rental cars,
And no wonder! New airport security regulations have made even a flight
without a terrorist a nightmare. At Los Angeles International Airport it is now
forbidden for private automobiles to pick up or drop off passengers at a
terminal. The Skycaps are now jobless since all baggage must go through
additional inspections. The electronic ticketing that had become so popular and
had simplified boarding procedures is now as cumbersome as the old paper
The average wait at a ticket counter before one may even proceed to one's
flight is averaging between two and three hours for domestic flights and up to
six hours for international flights. Then one must proceed through security
checkpoints where the possibility of a full body cavity search is possible if
one is found to be carrying a forgotten nail file or a plastic letter opener.
Carry on baggage is being eliminated from many flights, requiring that upon
arrival one must go through the incredible hassles of retrieving one's bags from
the carousels, with even more time delays and all the well-known problems of
lost, stolen, and damaged bags worse than ever.
Virtually no one contemplating these facts is choosing to travel for
pleasure, and many businesses are instituting new policies reducing or
eliminating the necessity of their employees flying on company business. Some
corporations have even instituted a policy that exempts any employee who chooses
from flying on company business, period.
Only a week after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, all the
commercial American airline companies are within weeks of declaring bankruptcy
themselves. They have cut back on scheduled flights by 20 percent already, and
have begun layoffs of airline employees that may top 100,000 jobs eliminated
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Missouri) has called for
Americans to save the airlines by boarding planes again. He is, in essence,
suggesting that Americans suck it up and forget their fears of terrorist attacks
in order to save the American airline industry.
But it is not the fear of the American people that is destroying the American
airline companies. We have learned about the heroic passengers of United
Airlines Flight 93, disarmed by longstanding Federal Aviation Administration
policy but having heard what other hijacked airliners were being used for, make
an unarmed attack on the only person who knew how to fly the plane -- the
pilot-hijacker who had already murdered the United flight crew -- in order to
prevent the passenger jetliner they were on from being crashed into buildings
and murdering thousands of their countrymen.
Nowadays there is an agreement between the terrorists who capture jetliners
to use them as weapons of mass destruction, and those who are calling for
sealing airline pilots into their cockpits no matter what happens in the
passenger compartment. That agreement between the terrorists and the
counter-terrorists is that the passengers, the reason for the existence of the
jetliner itself, are as expendable as dumping jet fuel. The metal is now more
important than the flesh.
It is not only at airports where "fear itself" is going to paralyze
us. We already fear, and will fear more, taking our loved ones to concerts,
sporting events, high-rise buildings, theme parks, government buildings, and
many other places that are tempting targets for terrorist reprisals, once the
armed forces of the United States engage the enemy overseas. We fear that public
gatherings could turn deadly from terrorists with bombs or strategically placed
machine guns. We fear that the enemy is already among us with horrific weapons
of mass destruction including biological agents, chemical weapons, or even
President Bush was correct when he told us we must get back to work.
Congressman Gephardt is right when he tells us to suck it up.
But it is not the fear of the American people that is the threat to our
economic and community life. It is the fear of our policy makers, including
Congressman Gephardt, that is the main problem.
We all remember the grade-school teacher who, hit by a spitball while writing
on the blackboard, punished the whole class because she didn't know whom the
perpetrator was. Our leaders are acting like that teacher.
Because there are a few -- very few -- terrorists among us, and our
government's investigators don't know who they all are, our policy makers are
punishing all of us. They are treating all of us like terrorists. Our leaders
are terrified of the American people and in their fear it is they who are
paralyzing our national life and our economy.
It's time we told them they have to trust us again.
If anyone needs to suck it up, it's them.
For years I have spoken about the necessity of restoring the Second Amendment
to its intended purpose of regarding the armed citizen as an asset, rather than
a liability, in the struggle against crime and terrorism. During peacetime my
words have largely succeeded in rousing only the choir. I am hoping that now we
are at war against an enemy within us, my words will have impact among those of
my countrymen who have thought them unwise.
Americans with guns can prevent many, but of course not all, of the scenarios
by which terrorists can damage us further. It can prevent the terrorist taking
over of subway cars and busses. It can provide an effective means of stopping
the machine gunning of crowds before mass casualties occur. It can prevent a
truck stop, or a tanker truck carrying flammable liquids or hazardous materials,
from being turned into an enemy asset. It might prevent the takeover of
tollbooths at a bridge or a tunnel.
And yes, as I have said repeatedly this past week, letting airline passengers
with badges and licenses carry concealed firearms onboard with their guns,
checked only for the proper ammunition that will not cause critical damage to
airliner control surfaces, can make sure that the next time passengers need to
take on hijackers, they might be able to avoid having to crash the plane in
order to save those still on the ground. They might be able to land safely
themselves and get medical help for the casualties.
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
President Bush, his cabinet, our governors and mayors, our legislators and
city councils, and the ladies and gentlemen who serve in our civil services: we
are your countrymen. If you can't stop being afraid of us, if you can't trust us
with a gun when our enemies can take over a critical asset with a box cutter,
then how can you ever expect us to stop being afraid and return our country to
J. Neil Schulman
September 19, 2001
You may reach Congressman Richard A. Gephardt on the following web pages:
"The other rain is sunshine."
--J. Neil Schulman, July 21, 2000
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