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Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2001 / 9 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Bob Greene

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'Move along, folks, there's nothing to see' -- HAVE you ever been in a crowd on a sidewalk next to the scene of a terrible crime -- murder, or another act of violence?

If you have, you know that two things inevitably happen.

First, more and more people begin to gather, drawn by the murmur of shaken voices, and by the growing size of the crowd itself.

Second, a police officer almost always approaches the crowd and says some variation of:

"Go on home, folks. There's nothing to see here -- there's nothing going on. Please move along -- there's nothing to see."

The worse the crime, the more adamant is the police officer assigned to tell the crowd to keep moving. "There's nothing to see here." The crowds are usually told this when what there is to see is especially disturbing.

You can't blame the police officer who tells the people to move on -- in order for the investigation to continue, and for there to be a reduction in confusion, it's important to keep the area clear. The last thing the police need is for a panicked mob scene to form. "There's nothing to see here" is not exactly the truth -- but it's necessary to say it.

Now the United States government has, in essence, taken on the role of that police officer at the murder scene. "There's nothing to see here," the American people are being told. "Go on home. Go about your business. There's nothing to see."

But of course there is -- and of course, as in the case of the police officer on the sidewalk, the government should not be too harshly criticized for telling us not to stand and gawk. We know that what is going on today is very bad -- and our government, from the president on down, knows that we know it. Our government is telling us to go about our business, because to say anything else would not be especially helpful. We, like the people on the sidewalk, are willing to move along -- but we also know the truth.

The anthrax letters are a case in point. For years now, the unleashing of anthrax by terrorists has been held up as the ultimate example of just how awful things might conceivably get. The anthrax scenario has long been presented to make us understand how high the stakes are. No one really talked in terms of it actually happening.

Now that it has -- now that, evidently, anthrax has been delivered to Americans by the U.S. Postal Service -- we are suddenly being given the bioterrorism version of "There's nothing to see here, folks -- just go about your business." Now that anthrax is here, we are being told: Oh, that's mostly just cutaneous anthrax -- not the really bad kind. Oh, anthrax is easily treated with a plentifully manufactured antibiotic -- people who develop anthrax will be just as good as new in no time. Anthrax? It's not as serious as you think.

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

We should not be angry at the government for trying to keep us calm. What are they supposed to do -- advise us to hyperventilate and tremble?

But there is, in fact, something to see here. And we shouldn't pretend otherwise.

At first, when some of the cable networks continued to show the planes crashing into the World Trade Center as promo footage for their newscasts -- the planes hitting the buildings over and over, with theme music -- I thought that was as close to pornography as anything could ever be. Using the airplane footage in that way -- it struck me as appallingly callous, and disrespectful to the people who died on the planes and in the buildings.

But now I'm beginning to think we should see that footage on a fairly regular basis. Just so that we don't begin to let it fade away. Right now, we are seeing video footage of pain and suffering on the ground in Afghanistan, the result of the American bombing. Enough of that footage, and it might push what happened Sept. 11-- and everything since, including the anthrax -- out of the forefront of our thoughts.

We should see the footage from the ground in Afghanistan. But we should also see -- forever -- what happened in New York, and in Washington, and in Pennsylvania. "There's nothing to see here, folks. Move along."

We'll move along, as our government asks us to. But we know what we've seen.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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