Thursday, August 9, 2007

Author Ponders Our "Overblown" Fear of Terrorists

Overblown, by Ohio State National Security Studies Chair, John Mueller.

It is time to consider the hypothesis that dare not speak its name: we have wildly overreacted. Terrorism has been used by murderous groups for many decades, yet even including 9/11, the odds of an American being killed by international terrorism are microscopic. In general, international terrorism doesn't do much damage when considered in almost any reasonable context.

The capacity of al-Qaeda or of any similar group to do damage in the United States pales in comparison to the capacity other dedicated enemies, particularly international Communism, have possessed in the past. Lashing out at the terrorist threat is frequently an exercise in self-flagellation because it is usually more expensive than the terrorist attack itself and because it gives the terrorists exactly what they are looking for. Much, probably most, of the money and effort expended on counterterrorism since 2001 (and before, for that matter) has been wasted.

The terrorism industry and its allies in the White House and Congress have preyed on our fears and caused enormous damage. It is time to rethink the entire enterprise and spend much smaller amounts on only those things that do matter: intelligence, law enforcement, and disruption of radical groups overseas. Above all, it is time to stop playing into the terrorists' hands, by fear-mongering and helping spread terror itself.
Often I am reminded of an episode of the Simpson's, when a bear wanders down Evergreen Terrace, frightening citizens until it is removed by animal control. The result is the creation of an anti-bear task force, and new taxes for the residents of Springfield. Homer, standing on the front yard with Lisa, compliments the effectiveness of the anti-bear initiatives.

Lisa argues there is no proof of the effectiveness of the expensive new program, since that was the only bear ever sighted, before or since, in Springfield.

Picking up a rock, she says, "It's like me saying this rock is a Tiger deterrent. I mean, do you see any Tigers?"

"I'll give you $10 for the rock!" Homer replies.
Is it possible that there is a simple explanation for the peaceful American homefront? Is it possible that there are no al-Qaeda terrorists here? Is it possible that the war on terror has been a radical overreaction to a rare event? Consider: 80,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants have been subjected to fingerprinting and registration, and more than 5,000 foreign nationals have been imprisoned -- yet there has not been a single conviction for a terrorist crime in America. A handful of plots -- some deadly, some intercepted -- have plagued Europe and elsewhere, and even so, the death toll has been modest.

We have gone to war in two countries and killed tens of thousands of people. We have launched a massive domestic wiretapping program and created vast databases of information once considered private. Politicians and pundits have berated us about national security and patriotic duty, while encroaching our freedoms and sending thousands of young men off to die.


  1. The over-reaction to 9/11 is really a story about leadership. Bush, rather than trying to assuage people's fears, preyed upon them. 9/11 became the incident he needed to restore the imperial presidency.

    While FDR would say, "there is nothing to fear, but fear itself", Bush would say in so many words, "be afraid, be very afraid."

  2. It's funny how many things in life can be explained by a Simpson's analogy.

  3. Misty,

    I have been telling people that for YEARS!