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Why are Americans so afraid?

AArmed and ready!mericans are a fearful bunch. Our swagger is unmatched when it comes to bragging about our nation’s wealth and power, but when it comes down to a more personal level, we’re afraid of…of what?

In 1995 and 1996, my wife Claire and I rode a tandem bicycle 14,000 miles around America. We wanted to experience an adventure and to discover what our fellow Americans were really like. During our travels we met hundreds of caring, sharing people who made us proud to be Americans.

We also discovered that many of them are fearful - and sometimes, because of that fear, they dislike each other. Fear seems to breed antipathy, even hate.

People thought we were either brave or stupid to try to undertake such a journey. We figured it was a little of both – but it was our choice.  As Americans we are blessed to have the freedom to do with our lives as we please. After nearly forty thousand miles of pedaling around the world, we’ve learned that many others are not so fortunate. They do not have the freedom to even learn about their own culture, let alone travel the world and learn about other lifestyles.

As thousands of miles passed under our wheels, we were driven by our increasingly powerful muscles and sharper, more questioning minds - and we wondered why so many Americans seemed so afraid. What was causing their fear?

In rural Washington state we passed a sign on a driveway that said, “WARNING: Don’t Come Around Here After Dark, Or You’ll Be Found Here In The Morning.” We realized that locking one’s door is not necessarily being fearful, just prudent. But what was it that would motivate someone to threaten everyone passing his house?

A retired fighter pilot in Texas, an Hispanic trucker in Nevada, a pickup-driving cowboy in Montana, a Cajun sheriff’s deputy - along with many other folks of all colors with their own political and religious persuasions – all asked us: “What do you carry for protection?”

We settled on a vague answer: “We don’t talk about that.” Our response seemed to satisfy most everyone except the Cajun deputy sheriff who insisted I take his heavy-duty pepper spray.

We were invited for dinner and a bed by a wonderful couple we met in Indiana. They were curious as to why we would do such a dangerous thing as riding a bicycle around America.Our hosts - a couple afraid They were followers of a preacher who told them Armageddon would come in the year 2000. They owned weapons and their house had bars on the windows and several locks on the doors. They couldn’t explain to us how any of this would help them during the great conflagration that we are told will come with Armageddon.

I respect other’s religious beliefs as long as they respect my lack thereof. But I found it to be strange that their god did not give them comfort, but fear. We explained to them that we had no fear because we were living our dream; if something were to happen to us, we would have fulfilled our lives. I hope our positive attitude about the dangers of our trip made them question their own excessive fears.

Mind you, none of these people had ever been attacked by anyone - or had even personally known someone who had been attacked – but they still felt the need for protection. This was years before 9/11; our government had not yet created within us the constant fear of terrorists and violent crimes were actually declining throughout most of the country.A lady shooting a .45 pistol

I can only conclude that we Americans are fearful because it is in someone’s interest to keep us that way. Gun and ammunition manufacturers certainly gain, as do locksmiths and home security companies. But what about psychologists and ministers? And Hollywood movies and TV shows?

I’m not suggesting that these particular entities, or any other businesses or individuals, are engaged in a conspiracy to make us all fearful. But where are the voices speaking out for the opposing viewpoint, that we really have very little to fear in this country?

The obvious answer is that there’s no profit in helping Americans to feel secure, but plenty of money to be made by making us afraid.

The big downside is this: Fear breeds a distrust for those who are not like us, and that fact could eventually lead to the breakdown of our cohesiveness as a nation.

Isn’t that exactly what our enemies want – for Americans to be afraid? Could our fearfulness really be our worst enemy?



Click on photo to read Bob and Claire Rogers’ account of their exciting 14,000 mile journey around the U.S. on their tandem bicycle.
Claire Rogers with tandem bicycle during 14,000 mile USA ride.

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Comments

  1. Sebastian says:

    What a great tale. How cool that you and your lady could have the energy, money and time to travel by bycicle across America. I wonder how you did it! I looked at your story on your web pages and it looks very good. Why don’t you write a book or may be you already have? I see you wrote that book Nomber 44 but that isn’t about your trip is it? Anyway I think you and your Claire must be really great people to do such a thing. How did you get so many people to talk to you and share their home with you? Its to bad that they believe in the end of the World is coming and are fearful. I see the bycicles in the picture with the lady with the gun, is that your wife? It doesn’t look like her on the other web pages, so I guess not, but it looks like she could do a lot of damage with that gun. I think I would want to carry one with me if I was out by myself or just with my wife on the road alone. You guys are really brave I think. I guess I must be one of those people who is afraid like you said.

  2. Richard E. Kelly Richard E. Kelly says:

    Bob & Claire, we must tell you that we have never met anyone like you two. Reliving your story thru this post is fantastic. For those who do not know Bob and Claire, they are the real deal. Some of us live our lives vicariously thru their journeys. Love you both. – Dick & Helen

  3. Eric Rush says:

    Thought-provoking piece, Bob.
    It would be interesting to see a breakdown, if one exists, indicatiing whether or not there is a correlation between fearfulness and armament, and, if there is, to what degree.
    Not all gun nuts are fearful, and I’m sure not all fearful people own guns.
    It would, I think, be perhaps more interesting to see if there is a correlation between religious faith and fearfulness. It’s been my limited observation that those of us without religious faith are less afraid of dying than are our religious brethern.

  4. Craig Bieber Craig Bieber says:

    Nice story Bob. Unfortunately, I believe the fear that many Americans feel is simply a reaction to the reality that surrounds us…a reality that is all too visible in a world that inundates us with media images of the horrors and random acts of violence that are happening all over America. We didn’t get bombarded in the same way years ago when you and Claire made your marvelous trip, but it was still there on the evening news every day. The current spate of senseless killings that range from groups of policemen to rooms full of immigrants sends the message to everyone that they need to be prepared, because it can happen to anyone at any time. All of that makes it obvious to me why people who are less adventurous than you and Claire would believe that you are vulnerable on a bicycle trip like you took.

  5. bob rogers says:

    Originally Posted By Eric RushThought-provoking piece, Bob.
    It would be interesting to see a breakdown, if one exists, indicatiing whether or not there is a correlation between fearfulness and armament, and, if there is, to what degree.
    Not all gun nuts are fearful, and I’m sure not all fearful people own guns.
    It would, I think, be perhaps more interesting to see if there is a correlation between religious faith and fearfulness. It’s been my limited observation that those of us without religious faith are less afraid of dying than are our religious brethern.

    I doubt there is a direct correlation. I wasn’t talking about gun nuts, as you say, just people who thought we should have a gun. Having a gun is not always the answer to threats, or perceived threats. A police officer once told me he won’t ready his gun unless he is prepared to take a life. That is a sobering thought.

    I agree with you that religious people seem more afraid of death. It doesn’t make sense considering the promise of afterlife that is central to most faiths.

  6. bob rogers says:

    @Craig Bieber -
    Indeed, heavy media coverage of violent acts helps create the perceived reality of America as a very dangerous place. There has always been violence, and recent senseless killings are nothing new. As for the argument that we all should be armed: The next time you go out in public, look at the people around you and imagine each of them having a semi-automatic on their person. Are you a quick draw? The next time you accidently cut someone off on the highway, would you rather a middle finger, or a 45 slug come at you? It doesn’t seem to be a practical answer.

    I think it is our seeming vulnerability that may protect us. We pose no threat, and little opportunity for the bad guys. How many bicycle jackings have you heard of? They want your valuable car and the gun in the glove box, not our sleeping bag and tent. And don’t discount the kindness of strangers: In Turkey, in the middle of the Iraq war, I saw people calm a yelling young man who did seem to hate America. The others knew that a man and a woman on a tandem bicycle did not hate them, or we would not have made ourselves so vulnerable to them. Jesus got it right. It was the establishment who killed him, not random violence.

    By the way, I support the Second Amendment. I do believe the First Amendment is more powerful, and better represents America to the world.

  7. John Hoyle says:

    I have to agree with the majority of the above comments that religion does seem to play a part in how people handle fear and anticipate danger around them. When I lived in Texas between 1985 and 1994, I worked with many people of all faiths. The big gun owners tended to be Baptists or members of the more evangelical Protestant religions. I did not know of one Jewish person or any belonging to the more orthodox faiths that owned a gun, other than perhaps a hunting rifle.

    Owning a gun does not really offer you any more safety from the typical criminal than not having one. Are you going to drive around with a pistol in your lap – just in case you might be car-jacked? Are you going to carry one into the local Walgreens – in anticipation of a possible raid by whacked out druggies? Are you going to take one to your child’s school, just in case a kidnapper or pervert happens to be roaming the schoolyard? Would you carry one in a holster or in your pocket all day in your own home, just in case the postman (you know their history) or pizza delivery guy (mostly ex-cons and crazy teenagers) decide to ring your bell and then bust through your door?

    I think the Constitutional right to bear arms has been settled. We have that right to own a gun – for any valid personal purpose and self-protection. On the other hand, I see no reason at all why AK-47s and M-16s are being sold over-the-counter at gun shops and flea markets. Why would any citizen not involved with law enforcement or the military need armor piercing bullets? If I owned any of these weapons I would be in constant FEAR that someone WOULD break into my house to steal my guns or that one of my grandchildren would come for visit and decide to go target shooting in the backyard. Or even worse – what if I really pissed off my wife?

    Let’s face it: Having a gun was no advantage to anyone during the 9/11 attacks. There were armed guards and military police on duty at the Pentagon when it was hit. They had no advantage over their unarmed co-workers. More often than not, 7-11 clerks who are armed get shot more often during a robbery than those who aren’t.

    It is true that when the state of Florida modified their concealed weapon laws to allow average citizens to carry guns, certain types of crimes did go down. But criminals are a smart bunch, so they simply changed their approach to their job of robbing homes or mugging people. So crime went back up again almost immediately – but now the poor and elderly were the prime targets. The state’s drug dealers, most of who already carried guns – license or no – continued to die at a growing rate.

    And bars on windows? Any determined burglar can get past them, but in case of a fire, homeowners and their children can’t. But they do serve one good purpose: Doors and windows with bars will drive down property values faster than any recession can.

  8. bob rogers says:

    Here is a new song by one of my young talented facebook friends on her myspace page http://www.myspace.com/liztoussaint entitled If I Had A Gun. It is an interesting musical opinion from a different agegroup, and perhaps race, from most of our readers. She’s from Chicago. Check it out.

  9. bob rogers says:

    @bob rogers -
    That’s “intitled”! and age group

  10. Craig Bieber Craig Bieber says:

    I guess I am destined to be misunderstood. I didn’t make any kind of argument or suggestion that everybody should be armed. I simply stated why I believe people are full of fear. It’s what I believe, and I’m sticking to it.

  11. bob rogers says:

    Originally Posted By Craig BieberNice story Bob. Unfortunately, I believe the fear that many Americans feel is simply a reaction to the reality that surrounds us…a reality that is all too visible in a world that inundates us with media images of the horrors and random acts of violence that are happening all over America. We didn’t get bombarded in the same way years ago when you and Claire made your marvelous trip, but it was still there on the evening news every day. The current spate of senseless killings that range from groups of policemen to rooms full of immigrants sends the message to everyone that they need to be prepared, because it can happen to anyone at any time. All of that makes it obvious to me why people who are less adventurous than you and Claire would believe that you are vulnerable on a bicycle trip like you took.

    Sorry Craig. I did misunderstand. I took the “…need to be prepared because it can happen to anyone at any time.” to mean be prepared to defend ourselves.

  12. Randy Graham says:

    A Couple of Thoughts on Fear and Guns for You to Ponder

    A friend of my wife’s was at our house the other day and the topic of conversation shifted from the the normal women BS to the concerns of what the current administration was planning to do about our gun laws. The friend asked me if I had a gun in our house to which I said, I certainly do! Several as a matter of fact. She asked me if they were loaded. I said of course they’re loaded, they can’t work unless there loaded.with bullets. She then asked if I was afraid if someone was going to break into our house. I said no I wasn’t afraid of that happening, no more than I’m afraid of my house burning down but I keep a loaded fire extinguisher in the house too, just in case.

    She then said you know guns kill people. I then said is that so? and I quoted something I once heard along time ago that has stuck with me for years. I replied, If guns kill people then pencils misspell words, cars make people drive drunk and spoons made Rosie O’Donnell fat! She sulled up like an opossum and dropped the subject.

    Jeeze, I’ve had guns around forever. I got my first one when I was 8 years old for Christmas and too this day I have not pointed them at anybody but, if i need too I will for the protection of my family or my possessions. It works alot better than pointing my finger and saying stop or I’ll crap my pants!

    To me guns are a sporting tool just like a baseball bat or a football. It’s kind of hard to enjoy the sport if your not properly outfitted for it.

    Bob, this is another excellent post. Keep up the thought provoking work!

  13. bob rogers says:

    Good responses, but don’t assume I don’t have a gun in my home. I would rather criminals not know than to advertise that I do, and have them break in to get my gun(s). A lot of B&Es here in AZ are to steal guns and amo, so they are less traceable. So my opinion is that it’s best to leave ‘em guessing. The fire extinguisher is an interesting analogy, but a criminal can’t kill you with your own fire extinguisher.

    There are issues with guns: do you lock them up, and risk not being able to get to them in time, but also risk a young or stupid visitor playing with them and shooting somebody, or criminal getting to them before you do… A gun sport, and gun activist, friend of mine was shot accidentialy by his son at a firing range; a seemingly safe situation (it was small cal. and single shot and he healed) Familiarity is important with guns, but when does familiarity lead to lack of safety? What is the protocol for gun use? Does the woman know how to shoot, would she? Would the teen “borrow” your guns, and who would he try to impress? All these are questions that need to be answered, and I’m not sure everyone who owns guns want to think about all this. They should.

  14. -dan z- says:

    John Hoyle wrote “Let’s face it: Having a gun was no advantage to anyone during the 9/11 attacks. There were armed guards and military police on duty at the Pentagon when it was hit. They had no advantage over their unarmed co-workers.”

    Now that is ridiculous, John. I doubt you will find a single person anywhere who feels a weapon suitable for concealed carry is suitable for defense against planes or bombs. Firearms are also not useful against fires, automobile crashes and sinking ships. Firearms ARE useful for self defense. According to the best study available, in the US they are suitable for that about two million times a year.

    John also wrote: ” More often than not, 7-11 clerks who are armed get shot more often during a robbery than those who aren’t.”

    OK, let’s see your source for that sound bite. Did you know that 7-11 forbids their employees bringing weapons to work?

    Those who fear firearms often make up “facts” because the real facts oppose their ideas. For example, you mentioned Florida. Florida has just enjoyed the lowest crime rate it has had since records have been kept.

    I don’t mind if you oppose firearms. It is your choice. Just don’t try to make it MY choice.

    -dan z-

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