Are We Finally Thinking Sensibly About Terrorism?
This article wonders if we are:
Yet for pretty much the first time there has been a considerable amount of media commentary seeking to put terrorism in context—commentary that concludes, as a Doyle McManus article in the Los Angeles Times put it a day after the attack, “We’re safer than we think.”
Similar tunes were sung by Tom Friedman of the New York Times, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, David Rothkopf writing for CNN.com, Josh Barro at Bloomberg, John Cassidy at the New Yorker, and Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, even as the Washington Post told us “why terrorism is not scary” and published statistics on its rarity. Bruce Schneier, who has been making these arguments for over a decade, got 360,000 hits doing so for The Atlantic. Even neoconservative Max Boot, a strong advocate of the war in Iraq as a response to 9/11, argues in the Wall Street Journal, “we must do our best to make sure that the terrorists don’t achieve their objective—to terrorize us.”
James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation noted in a radio interview that “the odds of you being killed by a terrorist are less than you being hit by a meteorite.” Carafano’s odds may be a bit off, but his basic point isn’t. At present rates, an American’s chance of being killed by a terrorist is about one in 3.5 million per year—compared, for example, to a yearly chance of dying in an automobile crash of one in 8,200. That could change, of course, if terrorists suddenly become vastly more capable of inflicting damage—as much commentary on terrorism has predicted over the past decade. But we’re not hearing much of that anymore.
In a 60 Minutes interview a decade ago filmmaker Michael Moore noted, “The chances of any of us dying in a terrorist incident is very, very, very small.” Bob Simon, his interlocutor, responded, “No one sees the world like that.”
Both statements were pretty much true then. However, the unprecedented set of articles projecting a more restrained, and broader, perspective suggests that Simon’s wisdom may need some updating, and that Moore is beginning to have some company.
And, of course, President Obama himself declared that “Americans refuse to be terrorized.”