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March 6, 2003


To the editor:

Recently Pitt and UPJ have added Homeland Security information to their web sites. The differences in substance and style between them are striking, but both reveal their own and the government’s insincere attempts at terrorism preparedness and do little more than promote the new politics of fear. Bradford, Greensburg and Titusville opted not to post information about the Code Orange Threat Level on the web.

At the time of the alert, the Pittsburgh campus police site indicated “Pitt Police response to elevation of Homeland Security Advisory System to ‘High Security Risk’” and was accessible via This low-profile site announced that the University has “instituted a number of heightened security measures” including communication with the FBI, increased patrols, and a review of “response procedures.”

UPJ, by contrast, added the color-coded “Homeland Security Advisory System” emblem to the front of its site on Feb. 21. Clicking on the emblem linked to another page where the color bar was larger still, and the “High Risk of Terrorist Attack” button flashed orange. The page contained no information about UPJ’s preparedness for a “terrorist attack,” or advice about how the community should respond to one. It said simply, “We are committed to communicate levels of threat to our campus community,” and carried links to government web sites. Earlier, on Feb. 11, UPJ sent a memorandum to the University community stating that “a plan is in place in the unlikely event of an incident on campus,” but it provided no hint of what that plan might be, or how the community should respond.

Whereas the Pittsburgh campus has taken some token steps to soothe anxious parents and the University community, UPJ is feeding the politics of fear. While both institutions do warn their communities, neither appears to be sufficiently preparing for the“threat” they identify. Have either conducted preparedness drills, or considered their institutional role in a regional response? Without providing information on how to respond, UPJ’s current flashing alert only encourages a climate of fear. Such “alerts” without practical preparedness guidelines are socially irresponsible, and we object to them.

During the Cold War, the U.S. government used fear to sell Americans the policy of “Containment of Communism” by telling them they could survive nuclear attack with bomb shelters, ducking and covering, or seeking refuge in fall-out shelters. Today, the government is using fear again to sell the policy of “Pre-emption of Terrorism” by instructing people to buy duct tape, plastic sheeting and provisions, and to prepare an insulated, terror-proof room. Intelligent people should know that none of this will protect them from “dirty bombs,” anthrax, smallpox, ricin, or nerve gas.

The Office of Homeland Security has created this advisory system but, like the Pittsburgh and Johnstown campuses, it has done little to prepare the people for terrorists’ use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Where are the plans for the evacuation of Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia? Have we in the mountains and beyond been prepared to house, feed, clothe and medicate the millions from the Megalopolis next door when they flee west across I-80, I-76 and I-70? None of this has been planned. The reality is that the HSAS is a micro-thin veil of security covering the government’s true face of fear mongering for the purpose of preparing the American people to support its policy of pre-emption.

This is fear mongering not security, and no university, no rational, intelligent, or august academic institution should play a part in it. Similar hysteria in the 1940s and 1950s eventually led to loyalty oaths, FBI investigations and the purging of university faculty who questioned conformity to government policy. We wonder, as we write this, if in a few months or years from now, if the government deems anyone who questions homeland security to be aiding and abetting terrorism, if then Pitt or UPJ will name names, and if ours will be first? Supporting simple fear mongering has led to witch-hunts in the recent past and there is no reason to think it cannot do so again. If we want to flash the orange alert, then let’s spend the time and the money that is necessary to really prepare ourselves for disaster. But in the meantime, let’s not support the politics of fear.

Paul Douglas Newman, history

Daniel Santoro, sociology

Jon Darling, sociology

Reinhard Heinisch, political science

William Lochstet, emeritus, physics

John Mullenix, psychology

James Scofield, English

Richard Ulsh, chemistry

(The writers are UPJ faculty.)

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