Apr 21, 2013
Dying from Terrorism Not Really a Danger
Losing Freedoms Is a Real Danger
When the explosions in Boston happened this week my first reaction was to hope no one had been killed and my second reaction was to hope that it was accidental and not a bombing. Since, if there's one thing this country is good at it's overreacting. Because the overreaction to the perception of the threat of terrorism is far more dangerous to the American way of life than terrorism is. I remember barricades going up after 9-11, having my car searched, not being able to go into theme parks without having my bags searched. (Oh look, there's Mickey Mouse waving at you to come in, but first you have to go over to the table and be searched. Great lesson there, Disney, because teaching our children that they have to submit to searches before they can go somewhere is just what we want the younger generation to grow up being used to. But the sad fact is that that's exactly what the American government would like our children to accept as normal.) And with each overreaction, there's more and more of an erosion of civil rights..........rights and freedoms taken away because of the exaggerated perception of threats.
The reality is there are thousands of public events that are opportunities for terrorism in this country every single day. And not only are there not thousands of bombings every day, on the vast majority of days there isn't even a single bombing. Because this is real life, not some fictional TV show like 24 or Burn Notice. Real life where we ought to assess risks based on what actually happens. Yes, rarely, very rarely something like Boston does happen. The last time a successful public street bombing like this happened was an abortion clinic bombing way back in 1998. From 1998 to 2013 is a pretty long stretch of time. There were attempted bombings between 1998 to 2013, but I can't recall a single one of those bombers being caught because of mass searching of the public's bags.
But rational assessments of risks is not something we do well in this country --- if we did, we'd be more concerned about secondhand smoke than guns. No, in this country we go straight to the overreaction part. I don't think it's any coincidence that when I went to the regular Tuesday night beach concert the day after the Boston bombing that, in addition to the normal police presence, there were emergency lights set up on the beach and an ambulance and fire truck parked there. Now, to be fair, the beach concerts are a good potential target here in Pensacola. Frankly, if I were a terrorist and wanted to target something in Pensacola, I'd target the beach: limited ingress & egress hampering emergency response, no searches, nothing suspicious about bringing lots of stuff then setting it down and leaving it. But I wouldn't target the beach concerts. I'd target the Blue Angels airshow as it's the single crowdest day at the beach. (And anyone in Pensacola smart enough to build a bomb is smart enough to have figured out what a target the Blue Angels airshow is.)
But nothing happened at the beach Tuesday night. Or at the ballgame that was also happening on Tuesday night. Nothing happened at any of the thousands of events that happened across the country on Tuesday.
Because the reality is that America is actually a safe country when it comes to the possibility of being killed in a terrorist attack. More people are killed by bad weather because there's a lot more bad weather in the United States than there are terrorist attacks. Bad weather is a regular part of our lives in America, terrorist attacks aren't.
Yes, there are a lot of people in this country frustrated with the government and its actions. Yes, there are people in this country outraged at what big business gets away with. Yes, there are people in this country who are disgusted by the actions taken by certain religious groups. And there are people in this country just as disgusted by the actions taken by people with no religion. But as alienated and as angry and as powerless as this makes people feel (and I include myself in that group), what the vast majority of those people aren't doing is going around bombing the public (and I include myself in that group). The people who would do that are extremely, extremely few in number and the number of people they manage to kill is also extremely few in number. I'd be more worried about dying in a tornado than in a terrorist attack. Superstorm Sandy killed more people than the Boston bombing.
But rational assessment of risk is not something we do well in this country, overreaction is. In the years since 9-11, we've lost a lot of rights. Personally, I've managed to avoid flying since the TSA has lost all touch with commonsense. CISPA is back. Corporations hand over information to the government about our private communication, no warrant, no probable cause required. The federal government claims it can track our cars, no warrant required. Fingerprinting is now routine. We take for granted we're going to be monitored on cameras and accept being searched. Disagreeing with the government can get you listed as a potential threat -- especially if you do it in a group. Indefinite detention without trial is the law of the land. Free speech, the right of assembly all of these are being eroded. The list could go on.
One of the reasons I voted for Obama back in 2008 was I hoped a Democratic president would lead a reversal on some of the Bush era erosions of civil rights. Instead Obama's doubled-down on them. I had higher expectations of a Democrat, but Obama's actions show he's as intent on using the Constitution for toilet paper as any Republican.
At this point the erosions of civil rights feels unstoppable and irreversible. Some people are perfectly willing to surrender their rights as soon as they hear a word that frightens them whether that word is "terrorism" or "gun." More people are apathetic on the issue. And the ones who do care can't seem to do anything about it (unless they're the NRA protecting the Second Amendment --- I wish the other Amendments had protectors as effective).
The United States isn't Iraq or Afghanistan or even Israel (though even in Israel the number of suicide bombings has decreased, according to wikipedia there hasn't been a suicide bombing since 2008). This is the United States of America ------ a place where we are supposed to value our freedoms.
I could appeal with history and remind people that the single most famous phrase from our founding revolution was Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" or bring up that Benjamin Franklin warned "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." But too many people wonder what eighteenth century words have to do with today even though our Constitution is eighteenth century words.
Instead I'll appeal to plain, simple American commonsense and remind people that America is a very safe country when it comes to terrorism. Since 1970, 3400 people were killed in the U.S. by terrorism.1 You have a better chance of dying in a car accident than a terrorist act. So do you really want more of an invasion into your private life, more of your civil rights being eroded to protect you from a threat that isn't much of a threat?
1 From All In with Chris Hayes
Terror Fatalities 1970 - 2011
New York 2,818
Puerto Rico 22
District of Columbia 17
For an accurate assessment of relative threat, read "Guns and Smoking."
For another case of overreaction, read "The Next Doomsday - This Friday, The Mayan Apocalypse Prophecy"
For more on politics, read "Impeach Them All" or look through the Archive for anything marked "Politics."