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Kingdom of Fear: We Didn’t Used to Scare So Easily

Americans, we used to not scare so easily. Fifty years ago the U.S. and Russia had nuclear weapons pointed at each other, ready to go off at a moment’s notice (at least as far as the public was concerned) and the first President to be assassinated since the turn of the 20th century was not even in the ground for a year. In spite of all that, the Civil Rights Bill became law, the U.S. started a war against poverty, and NASA got the first close-up pictures of the moon, almost five full years before Neil Armstrong would take his “small step.”

Today, as war wages across the globe, American elected officials are more worried about uttering the wrong soundbite than saying anything of substance. People are more interested in starting a good hashtag or shoving oak tag signs in the faces of frightened migrant children than waking up to the real problems of the world. Even though we’ve won the cold war and come close to realizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream – and the dreams of activists for all oppressed populations in America – we are terrified.

Surely it began with the attacks against New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001. We rushed into two wars, cheered as many of our rights were stripped from us, and we suspended our own ideals all in the name of safety.

At home our police forces have militarized, geared up with discarded or unused equipment from the war. SWAT teams are called in to serve the most banal of warrants, clad in armor, Kevlar, and facemasks. Almost every day a new video surfaces of police killing a person for doing no more than resisting their orders or objecting to their use of force, all in the name of safety.

Private citizens, aware of all this or disillusioned with government for other reasons, have taken started stockpiling for what they see as a coming war. They stockpile food, weapons, ammunition, and anything else they think will help them survive the collapse of the American economy, race wars, or open war with the U.S. government. They do this all in the name of safety.

Yet, safety is just an illusion. At this very moment, where you sit (or stand or lie) reading this the ground could literally open up and swallow you whole. There is no such thing as perfectly safe. Yet just because 19 zealots with boxcutters showed us this was true in a horrific way 12 years ago, we still keep chasing that ideal. All the while, our elected officials have been trading high-school cafeteria barbs instead of governing and worrying about who is going to win the popularity fundraising contest.

The question remains that even though we’re so scared, do we have it in us – like our forebears fifty years ago – to meet the challenge and surmount it?

(Click for Part II)

Photo by dryhead via Flickr

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.