By Andy Schmookler For Congress
For many people, 9/11 "changed everything." They discovered that the world was a lot more dangerous place than they'd believed.
It didn't change everything for me. During the decade before, I'd been hired by the U.S. Army to help with a project whose purpose was the prevention of biological terrorism. How great are the dangers that lurk in the world was not news to me. I was stunned but not surprised; I grieved the loss of lives, but not the loss of my own innocence.
What changed the world for me was not 9/11 itself, but its aftermath. In the years after the terrorists struck, that terrible day became the justification for major changes in the American system. Federal laws were swept aside in the conduct of surveillance and in the treatment of prisoners. Habeus corpus was disregarded. The role of "commander in chief," given scant treatment in the Constitution, became inflated into a license to upset the constitutional system of checks and balances.
For all that in this American nation that I love--I was not prepared. That scared me more than anything the terrorists might do, short of their possessing a nuclear arsenal.
I was born in the immediate aftermath of World War II, and so was raised in a nation that was still processing that traumatic and heroic struggle. Practically every family, every community, every part of the American demographic bore its share of the burden and the danger of that worldwide struggle against very dark forces threatening to take over the world. Almost a half million Americans died in that effort, and many millions more bore scars both physical and otherwise.
But we got through that most dangerous time without indulging our fears. Indeed, the leadership of that time was of the courageous sort that had declared in the years prior to the war that we had "nothing to fear but fear itself."
In the wake of 9/11, however, it was quite different. Instead of "nothing to fear," our leaders' message was "Be afraid." Terror alerts were issued, even though there was nothing the citizenry could do with them except become more afraid. The mantra of the era was "the war on terror."
In these two historical periods, we see leadership operating in two different spirits. The one cultivates fear in the people, and uses it at their expense. The other reassures the people, relying on their buoyancy to bring out their best to meet the challenges of adversity.
Psychology has shown that fear makes people's intellectual and emotional processes more primitive, less governed by reason. History shows that leaders that work to magnify the fears of their people are not serving their followers but using them.
As we honor the 10th anniversary of 9/11 , with new dangers apparently lurking, our goal as a people should be to be vigilant but not fearful. This is, after all, the home of the brave.