I must admit that I miss Rudy Giuliani’s run for President. Without his constant reminders, I often forget that there are terrorists who want to kill me and, presumably, my pets as well.
Obviously, the threat of terrorism is real-people are killed by terrorists. However, there is an important question that often goes unanswered: how much of a threat do terrorists present?
In terms of the numbers, terrorists cannot hope to even match automobiles in raw killing power. After all, about 43,000 Americans die each year in automobile related events (many of which involve alcohol as well). In terms of injuries, terrorists also fall behind toilets (in 1996 43,687 people were injured by toilets), pruning (36,000 in 1996), and even buckets (10,000 injured in 1996). They are, however, well ahead of sharks (about 11 attacks per year in the US). Terrorists also cannot hope to compete with natural dangers such as extreme weather and illness.
Given the numbers, it would seem that terrorists are but a minor threat. Yes, even a single death is significant-but if we applied that sort of justification across the board we would also need have massive wars on everything that harms people-things ranging from swimming pools to fatty foods.
Obviously, the war on terror is not motivated primarily by the desire to protect people-we could save more lives by having wars on things that kill far more people (like a lack of health insurance). The main motivations are the usual things. A war on terror allows money to be funneled to the allies and friends of the politicians, it allows the government to justify numerous evil misdeeds (spying, torture, violating rights and so on), and it allows the government to shore up its power by generating fear.
It might be countered that although terrorists do not kill that many people each year, they would if they could. Plus, it is just a matter of time before they get WMDs and go on to kills vast numbers of people.
In reply, it certainly seems that terrorists could kill more people if there was, in fact, a terrorist threat that actually matches the hype put forth by the Republicans.
First, the American borders are a sieve. As the Republicans constantly warn us, illegal immigrants are swarming across the borders. If average folks from Mexico can cross the border and get into the United States with little difficulty, so could terrorists. Yet, there have been no attacks.
Second, America is extremely vulnerable and our defenses are rather ill-prepared. Right now, we have gang problems, problems with crime, vulnerable infrastructure and so on. If people can go on shooting sprees, if gangs can run parts of America cities, and if traffic accidents can tie things up for days, then terrorists should have an easy time of it here. Yet, they don’t seem to be doing anything.
Based on the evidence, it seems that the terrorist threat is vastly overstated. Yes, terrorism is a serious matter-but it is not a threat of the magnitude that some Republicans claim. It certainly does not justify the expenditure of billions of dollars, the systematic violation of rights, and the use of evil deeds like torture.
That said, we should be on guard on against terrorists-but to the degree that they pose a threat. Our priorities should be based on the degree of danger and there are far more serious dangers than the bugbear of terrorism.