First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror ...
— President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1932 inaugural address
One time, my wife and I went walking near a pasture where nine mares grazed. I knew them all by name. Suddenly and for no obvious reason the herd stampeded, galloping by as if their lives depended upon it. It was a thrilling sight, like being right down on the rail at the race track.
But what were they running from? There are no predators around here capable of harming a horse. As the leaders thundered by, I noticed two fillies at the back getting skeptical. They kept looking behind and catching each other's eye as if to say "What's this about? I don't see anything, do you?"
As the fillies pulled up, the leaders thundered headlong into a run-in shed about 100 yards ahead and stopped. The proximate cause of the stampede had been a fat black horse fly on the boss mare's rump. As soon as she went under the roof, the insect flew off.
It was quite comical, actually.
We Americans didn't used to be like that. We prided ourselves on being a pragmatic, self-confident people — more like the skeptical fillies than the thundering herd. But if you believe a lot of what you read in the news media and see on TV, much of the public currently lives on the edge of panic.
The role of cable TV news channels in stoking hysteria has reached new depths of shamelessness. They do it for the ratings, you know.
And if you don't, the barbaric propagandists of ISIS certainly do.
Typical headlines: "ISIS Threat: Fear of Terror Attack Soars to 9/11 High, NBC News/WSJ Poll Finds." By the ghastly tactic of beheading American and British citizens on TV, Islamic extremists fighting to establish a Sunni fundamentalist "Caliphate" have stampeded the nation.
Millions of Americans who wanted out of Middle Eastern sectarian wars now think the U.S needs to get back in.
If ISIS's goals are insane, so are their tactics. Politically speaking, no U.S. president could have failed to react to the organization's mad provocations. Exactly how President Obama's bombing campaign will end, nobody can say — although that hasn't stopped a thousand propagandists from trying.
Invading Iraq at all was the big mistake, and it says here that getting sucked back in to yet another Middle Eastern ground war would be to repeat it. A big part of the problem is the unreasoning fear, far out of proportion to any actual threat the nation faces.
Although my saying so infuriated certain readers, I once wrote that Osama bin Laden's "deluded followers posed no military threat to the integrity of the United States or any Western nation. At worst they were capable of theatrical acts of mass murder like the 9/11 attacks. And that was sufficient evil indeed. "
But fear made us reckless. I'd say the same about ISIS. For all its ruthlessness, ISIS has no air force, no navy, and a ragtag army incapable of projecting power anywhere but the desert wastes of Iraq and Syria. Helping the Kurds defend themselves against a genocidal massacre is one thing; trying to impose a pax Americana on the entire region quite another.
Quivering in our beds for fear of a terrorist strike should be beneath the American people. It's impossible to respect shameless politicians like Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton, who actually warned viewers on a TV town hall that ISIS terrorists might collaborate with Mexican drug cartels to "infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas."
Armies of Mexican Islamic terrorists descending upon El Dorado and Texarkana! For somebody who comes advertised as brainy, Cotton appears incapable of concealing how dumb he thinks voters are.
Then there's Ebola, which cable TV also shamelessly hypes for ratings. "I've followed cable news for many, many years now," writes The Daily Banter's Bob Cesca "and not since the lead-up to the Iraq War has the American news media behaved with such recklessness."
Among a hundred possible examples, Cesca was aghast at CNN's interviewing novelist Robin Cook, who once wrote a thriller about a conspiracy to spread Ebola foiled by a hero-doctor.
"The real issue here is how quickly it can mutate, and how that's gonna effect the transmission ...," Cook said. "Perhaps this virus cannot live very long in the air. I don't know. But I don't think anybody knows."
Actually, people do know. Every professional health agency in the world agrees that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air. As for mutating, Scientific American reports that there's "almost no historical precedent for any virus to change its basic mode of transmission so radically."
The real thing is bad enough without spreading lurid disinformation.