- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

We're watching history in the making. Bar none, this is our nation's single greatest mass hysteria. It's the reaction to the 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast times 1,000. Nobody, it seems, wants to be the last kid on the block to call 911 to report a suspicious powder.
The hysteria is grounding airplanes and emptying out subways, office buildings and even police stations.
The passengers and crew of one commercial jet were detained for three hours because one passenger said a man had dispersed a powdery substance in the ventilation system. The "powder" was confetti from a greeting card.
Pudding mix, powder from a doughnut, and even dirt on lettuce have brought in the hazmat teams.
Across North America, police departments, fire departments, and official health authorities are working around the clock to deal with false threats, while real crimes occur and real buildings burn.
If you depicted the U.S. in a painting right now, it wouldn't be American Gothic, it would be Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
And regardless of whomever has been mailing the real anthrax, be they domestic or foreign, you can bet Osama bin Laden is laughing his evil head off.
Time out. We need a moratorium on histrionics. We need a bit of perspective and a bit of information.
Here's some perspective.
Each week about 800 Americans die in motor vehicle accidents. About a fourth of those would have survived had they merely thought to buckle their safety belts.
This winter, about 20,000 Americans will die of flu that they would have survived had they merely gone to a clinic or even grocery store to receive a $15 vaccination.
Now here's a bit of information.
There has, as of this writing, been apparently three anthrax deaths, about a dozen additional infections, and perhaps three dozen additional exposures.
"Exposure" may mean nothing more than a single anthrax spore swabbed from nasal hairs. It takes thousands of those spores to penetrate the lungs to kill.
But let's assume you a receive a letter in the mail with powder. It's almost certainly a very unfunny hoax. All the anthrax-laden letters so far have been mailed to those in high-profile positions or handled by them. No offense, but you probably don't qualify.
Some of the hoaxers, predictably and pathetically, have actually been sending powder to themselves to get the 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol promised them.
But let's assume the powder in your letter is indeed anthrax. You don't know that yet, but you've called poison control and while they test the substance they put you on antibiotics just in case. Despite what you've probably heard, this need not be scarce Cipro. Many antibiotics will work fine.
Further, infection with anthrax isn't like receiving a cobra bite. You've got about 48 hours to start taking antibiotics.
Now your chance of sickness, much less death, is practically nil.
In fact, if you contract the disease in the most common way, though a small cut, you'd have an 80 percent chance of survival even without taking those antibiotics.
That's it. That's your risk. That's why we're all running around doing the headless chicken routine. Or so it seems.
Actually, polls show that despite the media's 24/7 blasts of fear, which are somewhat understandable since by and large they are the intended targets, most of us aren't as worried as we're being told we are.
Most of us are going about living our lives and are not throwing away our mail willy-nilly because we're convinced an al Qaeda operative forged Aunt Martha's handwriting.
Nonetheless, for this hysteria to start to die down we need a heavy dose not of Cipro but of perspective and facts. On average, it takes about three reassuring stories to counter each scary one.
We also need assurance from public health authorities from the top of the federal government down to community clinics.
And we need it from our elected leaders.
Yet it is they who provided us one of the most shameful episodes of the entire hysteria by closing down the House of Representatives after receiving a single letter with anthrax.
Contrast that with Prime Minister Winston Churchill's reaction to very real threat of German invasion in 1940.
With each word, with each syllable, with each breath he reassured a frightened nation, calling on them to display their best qualities and not their worst.
"We shall go on to the end," he declared. "We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
Today, America is threatened. And whereas the Germans offered Britain a negotiated peace, none is available to us. We are locked in a struggle with an enemy that has stated clearly its aim. It seeks to terrify us, and to kill us. Our enemy is cunning, but actually possesses few weapons other than terror itself.
Whatever the messages our media and our Congress send, we the people must act with the resolve that Churchill saw in his people and is characteristic of our people.
Like Britons in 1940, we possess a steely resolve. It's time to show it. It's time to show that we must not and will not give our enemies precisely what they seek.

Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. where he specializes in health and safety issues. He's completing a book titled "BioEvolution: How Biotechnology Is Changing our World."

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