"Many, including one of the senators today, used the analogy of a fire burning out of control to describe this unprecedented outbreak. Indeed it is a fire. It is a fire straight from the pit of hell. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking the vast moat of the Atlantic Ocean will protect us from the flames of this fire. Instead we must move quickly and immediately to deliver the promises made and to be open to practical innovative interventions. This is the only way to keep entire nations from being reduced to ashes."
-- Ebola survivor Kenneth Brantly in congressional remarks
When we learned about the Ebola case in Dallas on Tuesday, it was hard not to think of a line from the film "Jurassic Park" spoken by actor Jeff Goldblum. He plays a chaos-theory expert who is dubious to all assurances that reconstituted dinosaurs cannot reproduce.
"I'm simply saying that life, uh, finds a way," Goldblum warns. And later in the film, of course, he is proven correct. Life finds a way.
The movie line springs to mind because the Ebola virus is a living thing, too. It seeks to reproduce as vivaciously as a "Jurassic Park" velociraptor or any spring rabbit. Indeed, despite all assurances from government officials in recent weeks that Ebola wouldn't reach American shores organically, here it is in all its perniciousness -- at least in one man. (Two other Ebola victims were previously flown to the United States under strict quarantine for treatment.)
A second thing that springs to mind at news of the U.S. Ebola case is Daniel Defoe's "A Journal of the Plague Year." The 1722 classic is a fictionalized daily account of 1665 London as it was ravaged by the Great Plague. Defoe spends as much time in "Plague Year" describing the fatalism and panic amid the populace as he does discussing the plague itself:
"While the fears of the people were young, they were increased strangely by several odd accidents which, put altogether, it was really a wonder the whole body of the people did not rise as one man and abandon their dwellings . . . I shall name but a few of these things; but sure they were so many, and so many wizards and cunning people propagating them, that I have often wondered there was any (women especially) left behind."
I was amazed Tuesday night to see how quickly the conspiracists and blame-gamers got to work in the comment sections of online news stories on Ebola. Within three hours of the Dallas case being reported, accusations were flying as to the people responsible for this case landing on U.S. soil. Doomsday predictions of all varieties were proffered. I suppose that's natural to some extent; it's where the mind goes when there's fear in the air. I confess to worrying in 1983 about mosquitoes transmitting the blood-borne virus that would later become known as HIV. I know I wasn't alone.
It's too early to know what will become of the Ebola infection in Dallas. With any luck, it will remain an isolated case; the people with whom the victim interacted will be found and tested and we will have dodged a bullet. But if a second and a third case are discovered in the United States -- or if there is an outbreak in Canada or Central America -- it's going to be tough to rein in the fear. Americans are going to need information and a firm hand at the tiller.
President Barack Obama should begin providing that today. America has enough problems right now. A pandemic of fear cannot be allowed to occur.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant who is working on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.