Why make such a big deal about terrorism?

I was driving to town the other day about 11:00 AM, following another truck and a car was following me. We were moving along at a good clip about 60 mph, hey i was an open country road. All of a sudden, a car going the other way veered into our lane. The truck in front of me ran off of the road so that it wouldn’t be hit. I was thinking, “That car almost hit that truck!” Then it occured to me, “It’s about to hit me!”. So I ran off of the road, too. I could have reached out and touched the other car. I looked in the mirror and it hit the car that was behind me. The driver of that car did not survive. The bad driver has been charged with felony DUI. I have concluded that it is more likely that I will die due to somone drinking and driving than in a terrorist attack. There hasn’t been a terrorist attack in three years but people die drinking and driving every day. Does the “War on Terror” just make better news for the politicians?

Sure, compared to other preventable causes of death the threat of terrorism is rather minimal and it would make logical sense to pay more attention to those things. But a War on Terrorism makes better soundbites for politicians than a War on Heart Disease.

The Skeptical Inquirer did an interesting article on what you’re talking about: the grossly disproportionate reaction to the deaths of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism.

Here’s a particularly egregious example of our misplaced priorities:

Good article.

I have friends in Israel, where terrorism is a pretty serious practical matter. They tell me most people go about their daily lives and generally don’t worry about it. However that’s not to say they put themselves in areas of risk, or have their heads in the sand.

My friends’ attitudes are that if it happens it happens. They feel the security measures there are pretty realistic, but realize nothing can assure 100% safety. So they live their lives normally and don’t trouble themselves past common sense precautions.

Wish we had more of that attitude here. Seems to me that Americans want and expect some sort of guarantee of our safety. Although that’s impossible, I think we’ve gone way overboard in pursuit of this mythical goal.

There are going to be more terrorist attacks. It’s inevitable. We can scan peoples’ bags, wand their bodies, and search them. But we have no reliable instrument capable of peering into a person’s thoughts and intentions. We can stop some, maybe most of the people with harmful intentions. But not all.

What really bothers me is the false sense of security we’re building. Lots of attention paid to aviation, but not as much attention to other areas. The ports are very difficult to secure. Last I recall, lots of these bombings use rental trucks, and I don’t read anything about stepped up security for them. A friend of a friend who works on a railroad says the security is laughable. And when was the last time you went through security to go into say, a shopping mall? Sooner or later, someone is going to figure this out and conduct a mideast-style suicide bombing. And then everyone is going act SURPRISED at this!

I don’t think we need to go lockdown on rental trucks, railroads, and shopping malls. Rather, we need to take some practical and sensible precautions, and then change our attitude. Safety can’t be assured. It’s going to happen again, but let’s not ruin our lives preparing for it.

Yeah, my attitude exactly.

I have a friend who interviewed for a job at Citibank. The day of her inteview, the tabloids were shrieking that that specific building, the bit Citicorps center on 53rd & Lex, had been targeted by The Terrorists. I teased her and asked if the job interview involved her holding a big bullseye target and standing on the roof.

Life goes on. After September and October of 2001 came and went and it became increasingly obvious that Al Qaeda or other parties responsible for the events of 9/11 were in no condition to hit us up with follow-up attacks any time soon, everyone I know stopped worrying about The Terrorists and started worrying about Those Blithering Idiots in Washington (or Albany, or In The Corporate Headquarters of My Company for that matter) – the real threats to our freedom and safety!

Terrorism? Meh. Wake me up when the next hit happens.

That’s an excellent analysis of Israeli attitudes, Mach Tuck.

We know that there are terrorists out there. We also know that the security services (army, police, Shin Bet) are doing their utmost to stop them. And because so many of us were also once in these security services, we know that their ultimate goal is not only to keep us alive, but to allow us to live normal lives. So we live normal lives.

Having your bag checked at the entrance to every mall, bank or train station can be annoying - especially during peak hours - but you get used to it, and after a while you barely notice it anymore. Occasionally the police will report a heightened alert, like you guys had in NY, but it never lasts more than a few hours. If we allow ourselves to worry too much we only hurt ourselves, and that’s what those who would hurt us want.

Why make such a big deal about terrorism?


America got its reality check on 9/11 and anyone who doesn’t cast a wary eye since then is foolish, to say the least.

But certain politicos would like to scare you and use this fear as an excuse to do almost anything they want to do.

Level Orange…gee, I should be more afraid now than I was yesterday? Not.

It is not so much the proverbial “crying wolf” that pisses me off, as it is the cynical way it is presented. One side of the politico mouth is saying, “Don’t let the terrorists win, go on with your lives and do what you normally do!” and the other side of the mouth is saying, “but let’s forget about a few of those silly things in the Constitution and let us take care of things…otherwise, WE WILL ALL DIE!”

I think there’s a bit of a difference when a dozen guys kill 3,000 people intentionally and when 3,000 individual people kill 3,000 people unintentionally.

What exactly is the difference? Why should we spend more money and effort to prevent one than the other?

IMHO the response is primarily emotional; people are offended by the idea of foreigners infiltrating their countries and attacking their citizens from within.

You can’t bomb preventable diseases. Politicians are interested in headlines and interviews, bombinbg things gets headlines and interviews.

And if you want someone to blame, look around you. The voting public ignores these issues because they don’t produce cool shiny video, they ignore results because that requires thinking and thinking makes their head hurt. Haven’t you heard that commercial, “I’d love a clean environment, but that’s like asking someone to give up chocolate?” This is the mindset that checks off the ballots.

Um, that’s why it’s called terrorism.

Terrorism is a political tool whose goal is to hurt far more than the 3,000 actually killed. *That’s *why a dozen people intentionally killing 3,000 is far different from 3,000 preventable accidental deaths.

So, to make sure I have this straight… we should make a bigger deal about terrorism, because terrorists want us to make a bigger deal about terrorism?

I’d be happy to respond to a good faith request for clarification, but since you know damn well that’s not what I’m suggesting, I’ll just let it lie.

Just to give you the numbers for perspective: Those ~3000 deaths were the equivalent to about 1 month worth of carnage on our roads in the U.S. (The figure I always have in my head is ~40,000 motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. every year.) And, of course, that doesn’t even count the much higher number of serious injuries that go along with motor vehicle accidents.

That said, I must admit that the possibilities for death and destruction are much greater if terrorists, say, get their hands on a nuclear weapon. So, I do think it is something we must put resources into. But, I also think it is important to keep things into perspective. That lack of perspective becomes particularly irksome when some Americans seem to believe that those 3000 deaths gives us the right to project our awesome military might with essentially no restrictions (such as restrictions on whether the nation in question had anything to do with 9/11 or poses a clear and imminent danger to us). When your a little mouse, it doesn’t matter too much if you lose your perspective because you can’t do too much damage to others or yourself; but when you are a big bull in a china shop, it is a different story altogether. When the greatest military might the world has ever known starts acting in many ways like a petulant child, it is no wonder that much of the rest of the world treats us with a combination of fear and derision.

I meant to get to this earlier, but then I got distracted with other threads.

I’m sorry. I was being a smartass. I knew it as I wrote it, but I posted it anyway. I should have stopped and counted to ten or something. (Aside: Have you ever noticed how hard it is to sound sincere on a message board? I’m seriously not trying to be sarcastic here.) I honestly don’t like to mock people on these boards or anything like that; it just distracts from the debate, which is what we’re supposed to be doing here.

This is something I’ve been discussing with a friend lately, so I kinda went off. I think we put entirely too much focus on terrorism. Yes, of course security at likely targets should be stepped up. Yes, intelligence agencies should coordinate efforts, etc. But telling Americans to buy duct tape to protect themselves from chemical and biological attacks is ridiculous, and the time and money spent on such campaigns would be far better spent on, well, just about any of the numerous other things that are far more likely to kill an American.

An individual murder or an accidental death stops there. A terrorist act is an act not only of murder but of extortion. It’s a game of power, not individual lives. The sentiments expressed in the OP and by Jon go a long way to explaining why Spain and the Phillipines have made things even worse than George Bush has.

Who was the American presidential candidate who said: “It’s all about the economy, stooopid!” ?

Essentially, traffic accidents are tolerated at the level they are at (in the US as in Israel), because they no longer have much of a psychological effect on the economy. To be completely cold and callous about it, economically: one person killed = one fewer people in the workforce, benefits to next of kin, and that’s about it. The administrations really have no incentive to come up with new, innovative and probably expensive and restrictive solutions to the traffic accident problem, because the population, on the whole, would probably not be willing to pay the price anyway (would you pay $1000 more for every new car if it guaranteed 10% fewer traffic fatalities every year? I know Israelis would not)

In that sense, terrorism can already be said to have failed vis-a-vis Israel - we do what we can to stop and avoid it, within reason; and still sometimes it happens. When it does, those who must pick up the pieces the best they can, and we move on. We pretty much treat a terrorism event like a traffic accident. There are no economic ramifications way beyond the immediate cost because of people demanding unrealistic security measures or staying at home and not going to work because they’re afraid of leaving their homes.

From what I gather from my reading, most of the American population feels pretty much the same way; but the administration is trying to make an issue of terrorism because it thinks it is perceived as “more anti-terror” than the opposition. Not a pretty sight, but all incumbents everywhere take whatever advantage they can get during an election year - this on its own does not make the Bush admin better or worse than any other, IMHO (also, I am not about to get involved in an internal American hot-button issue… ;)). And, FWIW, I think this is the (mundane and unsatisfying) answer to the OP.

Actually, in our current economic condition, I shiver to think what unemployment stats would look like without the legion of Security Guards standing at the enterance to every bank, mall and post-office… so until we can offer everyone “real” jobs, I suppose the heightened security here might be considered as something of a “New Deal” type employment plan (and I suspect the government knows this and encourages this market for this very reason)


To be clear (and this time I’m not being a smartass)… are you implying that my sentiments are in agreement with the way Spain and the Phillipines acted, or opposed? Because I very much think we shouldn’t do what terrorists want us to do, I just think “worrying about dying in a terrorist attack more than we worry about dying in a car accident” is one of the things terrorists want us to do.

I read a quote from the Dalai Lama a few years ago (before 9/11), and it sums up my personal philosophy on this perfectly: “If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. … It is more sensible to spend the energy focusing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no way out, no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you can’t do anything about it anyway.” Again, we should do the things that will protect us against terrorism when possible, such as securing the ports and increasing cooperation between the CIA and FBI… but when my uncle on a farm in Michigan is ironing his mail before opening it (as he was during the anthrax scare following 9/11), when he has a much better chance of catching anthrax on the farm itself, we’ve gone to far. We’re focusing on worrying about the problem, rather than doing what we can to fix the problem.

Well, that’s the key to the OP right there.

Drunk driving is far more serious a day-to-day problem than terrorism, but each tragedy resulting from drunk driving has a very small reach , whereas each terrorist tragedy has a larger one.

In addition, the remedies to drunk driving are fairly well figured out at this point, and it’s pretty clear what people can do to minimize them.

Terrorism, not so much.

By your logic, why make a big deal about anything? More people were probably killed in swimming pools last year than in the war in Iraq. Maybe we should start targeting cruise missles against backyard pools?