Notebook, 19 June 2013: The Terror Con
Americans are hysterical. This was evident in the reaction to Chris Hayes’ thoughtful question whether we should be calling American service-people “heroes” in knee-jerk fashion. We neither think straight on many issues nor are we prone to thinking slow and relying on what we know.
This hysteria is just now beginning to be questioned. In The Terror Con, Robert Scheer points out that that the official National Security apparat isn’t populated with dedicated public servants, those “extraordinary professionals” President Obama demands we praise and admire, but career revolving-door bureaucrats intent on keeping the national security gravy-train running full bore. More to the point is the Council on Foreign Relations article pointing out that the chances of any American dying or being injured from an act of terror on US soil is infinitesimally small.
So let’s examine this. As it happens, courtesy of the Global Terrorism Database, we have real data which is easily downloaded from The Guardian (hint: Go to “Spreadsheet View”, then click on “File/Download as . . “). The two far-right columns list the numbers of killed and injured, which I summed separately, then added them together. My manipulations of this spreadsheet consisted solely of resizing column widths, filling in the empty cells in these columns with zeros and performing the addition.
So what do we find? Well, in the 41 year period stretching from 1970 to 2011, a grand total of 8,276 Americans were killed AND injured in terror attacks on American soil. While that’s tragic, is it really that immediate a threat? Let’s compare.
That 8,276 figure of killed and injured over a 41 year period comes in just shy of the 8,593 Americans who were murdered by guns in just 2011 (FBI Statistics of Crime in the US – Expanded Homicide Data Table 8).
That 8,276 figure is way less than the 33,808 Americans who died in auto accidents (xls – Source: census bureau).
Seniors are also at much elevated risk. 20,400 elderly Americans died in just 2009 from falls (Center for Disease Control).
About 2000 – 3000 Seniors are also starving to death in America, and this is nothing short of outrageous.
As I’ve said many times, we must ask ourselves some questions and be honest about the answers. What is the actual threat? Where should our resources go? Now that we know for certain that the surveillance state exists, should we accept the threat to our civil liberties this represents? Is the $5 trillion we spent on the global war on terror as of 2011 anything but a colossal waste of money? A colossal waste of lives and effort?
Washington passed the Patriot Act in October, 2001. Were we fully rational then?
Are we behaving rationally now, or just conning ourselves?