If running scared was an Olympic sport, America would get the gold. Hands down.
In stark contrast to the pioneering spirit that built this country — taking risk and enduring danger — living in fear has now become our nation’s favorite pastime.
Nowhere was that on bigger display than leading up to the Olympics in Sochi. From the government to the media, the fear-mongers were out in force, many of whom urged Americans to stay home from Games — with some all but guaranteeing catastrophic terrorist attacks.
Congressman Peter King, R-N.Y., relying on the ever-so-convenient "I can’t tell you what I know" line thrown out whenever a claim can’t be substantiated, stated, "I would not go myself. If I were an athlete, that’s one thing, but just as a spectator, I don’t think it’s worth the risk." Incomprehensibly, though, he then said, "Odds are nothing is going to happen."
Well, if odds are nothing will happen, why shoot your mouth off at all? It instills fear needlessly — and angers a powerful nation.
Likewise, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, stated, "I would not go, and I don’t think I would send my family."
Really? When did we become such wimps? It’s bad enough that some leaders are afraid to live, but to broadcast their fears is inexcusable. Without question, doing so handed every terrorist in the world a huge moral victory. The message? Make threats and watch America flee with its tail between its legs.
There would be nothing better than to see the ultimate cold warrior Vladimir Putin pull off an attack-free Olympics to show the world that the way to defeat terrorism is to take the fight right to them. Never back down, and never live in fear.
And so long as we’re keeping score in the other "metal" count — Olympic bombings — Russia still has zero, one fewer than America. And in that game, low score wins.
Kind of ironic that, despite the immense doom-and-gloom heaped upon the supposedly unsafe confines of Sochi, the only bombing deliberately targeting the Olympics occurred at the Atlanta Games in 1996, killing one and injuring more than 100.
So much for being "risk-free" in America, a point sorely lost on our leaders. Despite their attempt to sanitize everything, pretending that we can be 100 percent safe, there is, and always will be, risk. From walking out the front door to attending Olympic Games, risk goes with the territory as an everyday part of life. We can mitigate it to the best of our ability, but risk, in its infinite forms, is our lifelong companion.
It’s how we deal with risk that defines our courage and character.
Let’s look at several points regarding the Sochi fear factor:
1) Has the region around Sochi seen its share of terrorism? Yes, but there have been plenty of Olympic venues where terrorism was a potential threat. The separatist group ETA had a history of bombings in Spain, yet Barcelona hosted in 1992. China clearly had issues with terrorism, yet the 2008 Games were played. And who could forget the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and a German police officer during the 1972 Olympics in Munich?
America endured bombings in Oklahoma City (1995) and Atlanta, got walloped on 9/11, and has seen countless other attacks, from the Times Square bomber to mall and school shootings — despite the best intelligence in the world. Does that mean we should never host again? Of course not. But the constant fear-hyping — especially by those who live in glass houses — takes the magic out of the Games.
2) Let’s be honest: Much of the government’s fear-mongering was politically motivated. It was payback to make Russia look bad due to major policy differences, such as its alliance with Syria, its stance on gay rights, and, most significantly, its harboring of Edward Snowden, who leaked the NSA’s spying secrets — an extreme embarrassment to the United States.
The U.S. also overstepped its bounds in criticizing Russia over its preparedness, even questioning whether it would be ready to host the Games. Well guess what? It’s been flawless. Too bad we didn’t learn from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s major gaffe four years ago when he criticized the Brits in exactly the same way and was roundly chastised on both sides of the Atlantic. No wonder he had trouble getting foreign policy photo-ops for his campaign.
Democratic President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, followed by the Soviets’ embargo of L.A. four years later (encompassing 15 nations), were horrendous decisions. They accomplished nothing except to showcase the stupidity of shortsighted leaders while victimizing their own athletes (many of whom missed their only Olympic opportunity) and millions of fans. You want to be at odds with your adversaries? Fine. That’s life. But leave the purity of sport out of it. Stop politicizing Sochi.
3) The best security plan is the one you don’t broadcast. So, was it really necessary to tell the world (and the terrorists themselves) that our Navy moved ships into the Black Sea to help evacuate athletes and spectators in case of an attack? It has a counter-productive effect, as people start believing that an attack must be imminent given the immense preparations. The security freaks love showing off their toys, but our leaders should know better. They’d be a whole lot better off adopting former Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s "speak softly and carry a big stick" approach rather than scaring the bejesus out of people.
Americans’ history of courage has been exceptional. Our Founding Fathers risked (and many lost) everything, when they could have done nothing. Americans engaged in wars to save the world from tyranny, yet never flinched. Civil rights leaders, at risk to life and limb, overcame unimaginable hurdles to achieve freedom and justice.
How have we lost such a legacy?
The real world doesn’t change. It’s always been, and always will be, filled with risk and danger. Coping with this without being a prisoner of fear is the only way for a nation, and a people, to prosper.
With the only vision that matters, Helen Keller said, "Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold."
In that spirit, let’s leave our fears behind and return to what made America great — always going for the gold.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wedndsday. He can be reached at [email protected]