Finding a Cure For Terrorism

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When I think about the epidemic of violence that now grips our country, I reflect on the reign of terror that marked my childhood in the 1950s. It was called infantile paralysis, or polio, for short. It inflicted more than 100,000 between 1952 and 1954. Parents and children were terrified. It was thought that the disease was spread in public places. We could not go to summer camp, or if we were sent there, it was with enormous trepidation. Movie theaters were shut. Camps and pools were closed. Drinking fountains were abandoned. Community meetings were suspended, as were draft inductions. It was a scourge upon our country that had several waves starting at the turn of the century, but few worse than the epidemic of the 1950s which altered our way of life. Going to the beach, if we were allowed, meant we worried if the air, the sand, the water might be infected. What made the specter so feared was that there was no cure for this viral infection, no way to predict when and where it would strike and how to anticipate a defense. Today, we have a similar wild, unpredictable and dangerous virus called terrorism, for which there is no cure in sight, and which threatens to alter our way of life.

Sometime during this unprecedented, notorious health scare, I remember my parents taking me to the local police precinct for a taste of the Sabin oral vaccine. Taking a trial drug was scary too, but not as scary as the idea of being in an iron lung. More than two million children were involved in this massive testing program and search for a cure, which was followed by the Salk vaccine. It is not incidental that this period of time gave rise to one of the most powerful and successful not-for-profit organizations – the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, or as it was known to all, the March of Dimes. What was so extraordinary was that the “ask” was modest – not dollars, but dimes. The cause rallied citizens from all walks of life. Consider that it might have been the first example of crowd-sourcing. This national organization focused on the afflicted children as a way of funding the care of patients and the scientific research that was ultimately successful in reducing the number of polio cases to a fraction by the mid-sixties. Some criticized its focus on the victims. Yet, it got the job done. Do we now need a global movement to combat terrorism? Can we still, without fear, go to museums and theaters, experience the arts? Take our children to the movies? Now too, is an unprecedented time, when our way of life is being threatened. Let’s hope we can come together to find a cure.

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