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Six months is a long time
Jack Balshaw 3/20/02

It's been six months now since the September 11 attacks and then the anthrax scare. These were very significant events which shook many people's confidence and created much anxiety. But, what changed then, seemingly forever, and what has changed since then?

First, I think there were two vastly different experiences and impacts. If you lived in the eastern part of the country, these events were really traumatic. If you lived in the western part, they were significant and moving, but far away. Those who had relatives or friends hurt or killed, no matter where they lived, probably reacted like the easterners.

As long as the story was building, we all shared a common experience, read the same news and watched the same pictures on TV. But once the daily dose of new revelations about details of the disaster, the victims and perpetrators began to dry up, even TV's ability to keep our interest began to wane.

We were diverted by the Enron fiasco and, with that break from the 9/11 focus, began to take interest in other news. There is only so much of one topic the public can take before it looks for other diversions.

We were induced to return to the subject because of "the war in Afghanistan", but lately interest in even this seems to be winding down. Once a problem appears under control we quickly lose interest in "breaking news". We're returning to normal, a new normal, and taking interest in other things again.

I am surprised however how quickly the attention value of the associated anthrax scare has dissipated. We all, easterner or westerner, felt we were potential targets for another round of anthrax letters. The possibility of each of us being an individual future victim took our focus off the deaths of thousands only a month before. The horror movie nature of the anthrax threat had us all thinking about it. And the mundaneness of the fact that death could be personally delivered to your door for 34 cents by the Post Office was a shocker.

Perhaps it was the potentiality of a real threat that caused us to want to forget it. The presumed individual domestic terrorist who sent the anthrax has quietly resumed his normal life after his anonymous brush with infamy. And the potential threat has evaporated, at least from the evening news.

Initially we reacted to the 9/11 disaster with near panic because our lives had been so ordered and secure. Then we joined together to provide a united front against whoever was threatening us. Now we return to a new normal because we realize these events haven't really, personally affected us.

I presume the cable channels need for content in their 24/7 news cycle won't let us resume our previous complacency. There will always be a news update of prior events. There will be stories about some silly rule or restriction associated with air travel or obtaining a drivers license. But these will all only be a part of our new normal lives.

I'm concerned or at least uneasy that we're going to be kept in a state of mild anxiety by our government in order to allow them to operate with less oversight. As long as the word "war" can be associated with any action any government organization wants to do, the impression of being unpatriotic in not going along with it will reduce the general population's influence and control over government actions.

We tend to accept any established procedures as normal and so, as we willingly accept new "temporary" restrictions, we may find ourselves living permanently under such restrictions. The long lasting effect of 9/11 might not be our awareness of our vulnerability to terrorists but our willingness to sacrifice personal freedoms for the illusion of safety.


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