Vice President Cheney's phrase "the new normalcy" may not have the resonance of Franklin Roosevelt's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," but it fits our times as well as FDR's declaration defined his. The unprecedented situation we face today - and may confront for decades - has, indeed, created a new normalcy.
This is a test and a challenge to the American people. And if we're seeking inspiration, all we need do is look back at how the British carried on with their daily lives as Hitler's Luftwaffe rained bombs on London in 1940.
Let's look at the current threat. You have almost no chance of getting anthrax. You're more likely to die from the flu than to cash in from anthrax. Way more likely.
Statistics help provide some reassuring perspective. While just three people have died of anthrax this year, nearly 42,000 died in car accidents last year, while more than 12,000 died from falls and around 2,220 died of the flu. Anyone planning to stop driving, or climbing steps, or breathing? Probably not. Life goes on.
The difference, of course, is that those are familiar threats, known quantities. With the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the apparently limited, but cleverly directed, anthrax campaign, Americans have suddenly stumbled into the territory of the unknown, a dusky place where fears can quickly become enlarged out of proportion. Now, we jump to conclusions we would never before have even considered. We are still getting used to this.
Jumpy as many people are, most of us already have a good sense of how remote the risks are, according to a just-completed Zogby International poll. Asked how worried they were that they or someone they know might contract anthrax, 65 percent said they were either "not worried" or "not too worried." Unfortunately, the remaining people - especially the 11 percent who say they are "very worried" about anthrax - are playing into the hands of the terrorists and, more immediately, overburdening emergency crews from here to Honolulu.
There is a difference between being cautious and being alarmist. A cautious person looks at unexpected mail before opening it. An alarmist dials 911. A cautious person understands that powders are likely to be found on the floor of a janitor's closet. An alarmist forgets that powders existed before Sept. 11.
This is an unfamiliar place for us, but one that free people have confronted before. In addition to the example set by the British, Israelis have lived with the threat of terrorism for decades. We can learn lessons from both countries, but none more important than this: Life goes on. You make what adjustments you must, and live with the rest.
We aren't the first Americans to confront adversity. From Valley Forge to Antietam to the beaches of France, Americans have periodically been forced to show what they are made of. So it is today.
We need to understand that we are not simply enduring a trial, but writing a record and, even more than that, charting a course. Our actions today will influence the lives our great-grandchildren lead a century from now. We should be sure to comport ourselves so that our descendants, when they look back on us and our time, do so with gratitude for our courage, not regrets about our fears.