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Time to lead by example

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted October, 22, 2001

Authorities are advising Americans not to panic or exaggerate the risks from the dissemination of anthrax spores through the mails. Indeed, a sense of proportion is called for.

Though no innocent death should be dismissed as unimportant, the fact remains that only tabloid photo editor Bob Stevens at Florida-based American Media, Inc. has died as a result of this (to date) puny terror campaign -- in part because he had the misfortune to be the first infected, before health workers knew what to watch for.

Petri dish with a culture of anthrax
Petri dish with a culture of anthrax

As of this writing, a grand total of six more Americans are now confirmed as having been infected [That total number of exposed is now 13 - editor]. But Anthrax -- an animal disease not usually contagious between humans -- is easily treated with antibiotics in its early stages, and fears of any large numbers of deaths are, so far, inappropriate. All those currently infected are expected to make a full recovery.

That's not to say sensible caution and watchfulness aren't in order. Unfortunately, the terrorists (whoever they may be) have already achieved one of their major goals. New precautions for handling mail -- steps which will be costly and time-consuming and which will inevitably leave America a somewhat less open and trusting society -- are now likely to be adopted at the offices of political figures, the news media, and other institutions which reasonably consider themselves to be high-visibility targets.

But what is needed now is for those who are calling on the public to remain calm and proceed with our normal lives, to demonstrate the courage necessary to do just that, themselves.

Leadership does not require absurd bravado and risk-taking, but it always has involved a willingness to maintain aplomb in the face of a certain degree of physical hazard, if only to set a good example. Commanders from Alexander to George Washington to Douglas MacArthur were legends in their time for maintaining their calm under fire. Their strategic genius would have been undimmed had they sent forth their orders while cowering in some bunker in the rear, but somehow the effect on their men would just not have been the same.

Did Mr. Churchill and King George and the mother of the current queen attempt to run their wartime affairs from some safe sanctuary in Scotland or Nova Scotia? They did not. By and large, they endured the blitz with the common Londoner, instilling pride, courage, and resolve by their quiet example.

The U.S. Capitol building is seen cordoned off behind a police barricade in Washington on October 19
The U.S. Capitol building is seen cordoned off behind a police barricade in Washington on October 19

So, what does our House of Representatives do while advising the common American to buck up, stand tall, show a stiff upper lip and continue heir daily tasks undaunted? They squawk in terror at news that a few dozen mailroom employees have apparently been exposed to anthrax spores from a single envelope, gather up their briefcases, throw their interns over their shoulders, and head for the hills, giving more than 5,000 employees a two-day paid holiday while their building is disinfected.

Did I mention that the mailroom where the spores were discovered was the Senate mailroom, and that the Senate remains in session, while the lower house gallops out of town like Ichabod Crane, or the damsels with their parasols careening back across the Potomac after First Bull Run?

Meantime, the American Medical Association urged Americans on October 17 to quit prescribing or stockpiling unnecessary Cipro; only people who have actually been exposed to anthrax are supposed to take the 60-day course to prevent infection. Surgeon General David Satcher urged Americans not to start knocking back prophylactic doses of Cipro, to "understand the harm that can be done if people hoard antibiotics and use them inappropriately so that we develop more resistant strains" ...

... while public officials like New York's Gov. George Pataki, apparently targeted by the terrorists but who (so far as we're being told) has not actually been exposed to the disease, admit they've already started their courses of the specialized antibiotic.

The American public are indeed maintaining an admirable degree of calm in this unsettling battle with a faceless, cowardly enemy that seeks to demoralize and sap the energies of a proud, free nation whose achievements they and their squalid, repressive homelands cannot match.

(So pathetic are these goons that they send their children to America for decent educations and medical care, paying with money happily earned on our stock markets ... even while inciting their ill-informed, propagandized followers to celebrate each underhanded blow against "the Great Satan," blaming all their own failures on the intricate plottings of the omnipotent "International Jew.")

While police and intelligence agencies are doubtless working 'round the clock to identify and nab our tormentors, our leaders must be frustrated at their revealed inability to solve such problems overnight.

But no one expects that. What the American public does demand -- and does have a right to expect -- is to be told the truth; for our leaders to practice those same courses of action which they recommend for us (flying commercial, for instance, without their armed bodyguards ... until they see fit to allow us to carry our own arms); and most of all that they screw their courage to the sticking place, accepting some reasonable measure of risk when necessary in order to get on with the task of hand ... if nothing else, to set a good example for the children.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter by sending $72 to Privacy Alert, 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503 -- or dialing 775-348-8591.

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