In the 1951 sci-fi classic, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a reporter blankets a restless crowd looking for responses to the frightful alien landing. A disguised and pragmatic Klaatu offers the reporter his thoughts after being asked if he is afraid. He responds, “I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.”
The quote feels as profoundly relevant today as it did at the height of the Cold War. Of course, if one were to wonder at the cost of such fears, one wouldn’t need to look very far. Our own nation, in so many ways, knowingly and unknowingly thrives upon it. I mean, there’s a reason we harbor more than half the world’s private gun supply. In our recent escalation of tensions with Iran, I watched and listened to regular and irregular Americans alike, speaking in dire and anxious tones about “imminent attacks” and “long-range outcomes.” These were seemingly rational people seated 5,000 miles and an ocean away from the nearest Middle Eastern battlefield. They were genuinely terrorized by the thought of dropping bombs and advancing soldiers. I can only imagine how the middle-class shopkeeper in downtown Tehran must have felt.
Myself? I never considered the initial strike or the Iranian response anything close to earthshattering news. I mean, this is what you get when strongman leaders practice strong-arm diplomacy. It’s nothing more than a schoolyard tussle on a slightly grander scale. A game of bluff resulting in 30-foot craters. Of course, many have questioned the timing and legitimacy of the strike against Soleimani, a singularly ruthless man. I mean, it’s hard to avoid the notion of our less-than-honorable president deciding on the strike as a way to divert attention (or perhaps gather favor) before his upcoming impeachment. Who’s to know? To be honest, it’s almost impossible to know why anybody does anything anymore.
As for the cost of fear? On Jan. 8, a Ukrainian airliner (strange coincidence) was shot from the sky by Iranian forces, no doubt on edge and expecting further U.S. strikes to their besieged homeland. One hundred seventy-six innocent Iranian, Ukrainian, and Canadian lives were lost in one unintentional moment. Unintended, in hindsight, by those firing into the early morning sky and I’m sure, unintended by those leaders who’d knowingly elevated those same unnecessary fears. If I take a moment to think about it, I can imagine the enormous pressures put upon those Iranian missile batteries – fearing for their families, fearing for themselves, fearing for the nation they were dedicated to protect. The very same fear we would feel if we weren’t 5,000 miles and an ocean away, but instead, knee-deep in the darkened battlefield. If truth be told, armed conflict never goes as it is intended to. Never. No one ever seems to learn that. Only the soldiers who suffer the miscalculations of their generals, or the citizens caught unnecessarily in the crossfire.
In the coming weeks, there will be those who will say America won this confrontation, reasserting our dominance without any loss of life or limb. But they will be wrong. There are always costs to fear. This time there were 176 of them. I wish it weren’t so. I dearly wish it weren’t so.
PAUL WHEELER grew up in Oak Lawn and now lives with his wife in the Ottawa area. He is a paraeducator in Ottawa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.