In the midst of America’s newly declared war on terrorism, we found out this week exactly how ugly the face of 21st century terrorism can be.
Anthrax scares from Florida to Nevada rocked the nation, shutting down major buildings in the country’s financial and political capitals and deepening fear among an already shaken people.
But as of Thursday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed only six cases of infection and told reporters it was investigating less than five other cases.
Despite the relatively low infection rate, a wave of hysteria has swept the country, resulting in throngs of people pre-emptively heading to emergency rooms and a deluge of calls to law enforcement agencies over packages with the slightest of suspicious abnormalities.
False alarms have even struck Yale. The Brewery Street Post Office shut down operations for a portion of the afternoon Monday. A suspicious package last week at Morse College turned out to be an antique iron ordered on e-Bay, and a questionable box at Dunham Lab only a book. University Health Services has been bombarded with calls from frenetic students requesting ciprofloxacin — the antibiotic used to treat anthrax infection.
In the past, civilians have risen to the call of war by expressing support for loved ones in battle or going to work to help the nation’s soldiers. But unlike past wars, this one affects us as individuals in a much more direct way. Now, many of our daily activities — driving to work, boarding planes, even opening letters — present us with real threats to our lives.
Now is a time to take extra precautions but not to ignore common sense. The manner in which we handle these ubiquitous threats will define this war, and it will directly determine whether we defeat the current attack on our security. We must work toward preparation, but we must not veer toward panic.
This policy should guide our leaders. The University has assured us that it is prepared for an anthrax outbreak, and it has suggested precautions we should take to minimize the risk of such a horrible event. The national government is ensuring that security is enforced at the highest level, and pharmaceutical companies are moving to produce a sufficient quantity of drugs to treat whatever may happen.
In return, we must do our part. We must not frivolously call the police or run to the hospital simply out of fear, and we must be judicious in the information we believe and spread about anthrax and other terrorist weapons. Overreacting simply taxes already overburdened law enforcement and medical agencies, and, in the end, will decrease our emergency responders’ capability to act in the event of a real emergency.
An anthrax outbreak could become a major problem, but succumbing to hysteria could prove even worse. Our leaders are ensuring that we have the medicine necessary to treat anthrax — it’s up to us to show that we have the courage to outlast fear.