Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 2004 / 9 Kislev, 5765
Is terror all it's cracked up to be?
Why are we so petrified about the risk of terrorism?
Why has America fought two wars, spent uncountable billions of dollars on homeland security and given up some of our basic freedoms for more security from the terrorist thugs who'd harm us and our children?
Because we're all nuts.
That's pretty much the conclusion, if not exactly the formal phraseology, that Ohio State professor John Mueller reaches in "A False Sense of Insecurity," his excellent cover story in Regulation magazine that looks at how irrational Americans are about the microscopic risk of being hurt by an act of terrorism.
Regulation, a quarterly put out by the Cato Institute think tank, is guaranteed not to be found at your corner newsstand. But in its fall issue, which is online at cato.org/pubs/regulation, Mueller puts terrorism into the reasonable context it deserves but virtually never gets:
Terrorism "generally does not do too much damage," and its greatest costs "are often the result of hasty, ill-considered and overwrought reactions."
We constantly hear warnings about deadly chemical and biological attacks and dirty-bomb doomsdays that threaten our country's very existence. Yet Mueller contends each is extremely unlikely, hard to pull off and not nearly as dangerous or damaging as portrayed.
Yes, 9/11 was catastrophic, he says. And it did demand a "focused and dedicated" counterattack on international terrorism.
But 9/11 also was an aberration unlikely to ever be repeated, for many reasons. And Mueller argues that politicians, safety officials and the media should communicate that statistical reality and stop "playing into the hands of the terrorists" by unnecessarily frightening the public.
We rarely hear this perspective from media or politicians, he says, because both groups benefit more from fanning fear and hysteria. Sen. John McCain is one of the few pols who've publicly urged Americans to suck it up, put it into perspective and live their daily lives without fear.
But Mueller says the few voices of reason are drowned out by "the cosmic alarmism" and a well-funded anti-terrorism industry that keeps us shaking in our flip-flops at airports.
Mueller's piece should be read by everyone, especially if you still think airplanes are less safe than cars, which killed 3 million Americans last century and 100,000 since 9/11, or still lose sleep over terror warnings from Tom Ridge.
Unfortunately, it's more likely to be read by about the same number of Americans who'll drown in bathtubs this year which, Mueller points out, happens to be about how many people die worldwide most years at the hands of terrorists.
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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald