A False Sense of Insecurity? How Does the Risk of Terrorism Measure Up against Everyday Dangers?

By Mueller, John | Regulation, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

A False Sense of Insecurity? How Does the Risk of Terrorism Measure Up against Everyday Dangers?


Mueller, John, Regulation


DETERMINING HOW TO RESPOND TO the terrorist challenge has become a major public policy issue in the United States over the last three years. It has been discussed endlessly, many lives have been changed, a couple of wars have been waged, and huge sums of money have been spent--often after little contemplation--to deal with the problem.

Throughout all this, there is a perspective on terrorism that has been very substantially ignored. It can be summarized, somewhat crudely, as follows:

* Assessed in broad but reasonable context, terrorism generally does not do much damage.

* The costs of terrorism very often are the result of hasty, ill-considered, and overwrought reactions.

A sensible policy approach to the problem might be to stress that any damage terrorists are able to accomplish likely can be absorbed, however grimly. While judicious protective and policing measures are sensible, extensive fear and anxiety over what may at base prove to be a rather limited problem are misplaced, unjustified, and counterproductive.

TERRORISM'S DAMAGE

For all the attention it evokes, terrorism actually causes rather little damage and the likelihood that any individual will become a victim in most places is microscopic. Those adept at hyperbole like to proclaim that we live in "the age of terror." However, while obviously deeply tragic for those directly involved, the number of people worldwide who die as a result of international terrorism is generally only a few hundred a year, tiny compared to the numbers who die in most civil wars or from automobile accidents. In fact, in almost all years, the total number of people worldwide who die at the hands of international terrorists anywhere in the world is not much more than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States.

Until 2001, far fewer Americans were killed in any grouping of years by all forms of international terrorism than were killed by lightning, and almost none of those terrorist deaths occurred within the United States itself. Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.

Some of this is definitional. When terrorism becomes really extensive, we generally no longer call it terrorism, but war. But Americans seem to be concerned mainly about random terror, not sustained warfare. Moreover, even using an expansive definition of terrorism and including domestic terrorism in the mix, it is likely that far fewer people were killed by terrorists in the entire world over the last 100 years than died in any number of unnoticed civil wars during the century.

Obviously, this condition could change if international terrorists are able to assemble sufficient weaponry or devise new tactics to kill masses of people, and if they come to do so routinely. That, of course, is the central fear. As during the Cold War, commentators are adept at spinning out elaborate doomsday and worst-case scenarios. However, although not impossible, it would take massive efforts and even more stupendous luck for terrorists regularly to visit substantial destruction upon the United States.

HISTORICAL RECORD It should be kept in mind that September 11 continues to stand out as an extreme event. Until then, and since then, no more than 329 people have ever been killed in a single terrorist attack (in a 1985 Air India explosion). And extreme events often remain exactly that--aberrations, rather than harbingers.

A bomb planted in a piece of checked luggage was responsible for the explosion that caused a Pan Am jet to crash into Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. Since that time, hundreds of billions of pieces of luggage have been transported on American carriers and none have exploded to down an aircraft. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A False Sense of Insecurity? How Does the Risk of Terrorism Measure Up against Everyday Dangers?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.