Terrorism: the Global Bogeyman

The 20th century sure was a terrifying time to be alive. It saw humanity permanately on the brink of utter devastation, be it world wars or nuclear Armageddon. Life sure is much calmer now, don’t you think? WRONG! As 24 hour rolling news will tell you, 21st century America is a bloody, violent and Godless place with suffering and death looming around every corner. This hell-hole is so terrible that we are willing to sacrifice our most basic human rights in the hope that if we sacrifice enough, eventually it will all go away. However, is this mentality really any different to a child’s fear of the bogeyman in their closet?

The PRISM programme exposed by Edward Snowden has provoked interesting reactions from the general public. Many, rather than being appalled by the violation of their constitutionally guaranteed rights, welcomed the NSA’s programme as it would make their world a safer place. A recent Washington Post-Pew Research Centre poll shows that around 56% of the American public support the NSA’s wiretapping programme. Before the PRISM programme was exposed, polls showed how around 7 in 10 Americans were fearful of another terrorist attack. However, there are greater dangers than terrorism that the American public should be far more fearful of – killer toddlers.

In the first five months of this year, more than five times as many Americans were shot dead by toddlers than were killed by terrorists. What I want to know, is how the NSA didn’t stop these murderous tots! They had access to all their emails,  texts  and phones messages, how did this intelligence not prevent these attacks?

Well, it may be because terrorism, despite being the focus of the $80 billion annual US intelligence budget, is one of the least likely causes of death in the Western world.

Maybe we in the west need to revaluate what we are fearful of. The likelihood of being killed in a terrorist attack is roughly one in 20 million, around 4 times less likely than being killed by lightning.

Obesity is the number one cause of death in the United States, with around 400,000 deaths a year. In the 10 years after 9/11, only 55 people were killed in terrorist attacks on US soil. Between 1999 and 2010, 364,483 people were killed by guns in the United States, more than 10 times the figure killed in terrorist attacks. It would appear we are far more at risk of our own greed and anger than any terrorist threat.

Since 2001, the United States has spent more than $1.28 trillion on the so-called War on Terror. It has been calculated that around 2,300 American lives have been saved by this campaign. In other words, each life saved comes at a cost of around $400 million. The human cost as well has been immense. The war on terror has left up to 300,000 people dead, 51% of which being civilian casualties. This means that for every life saved, up to 140 lives are lost.

There are numerous public services in the US that are in dire need of investment. The United States ranks at number 17 in the world for education. The cost of each life saved from terrorism could have paid for over 10,000 teachers salaries. Alternatively, seeing as teachers starting out in the US earn a wage roughly comparable with bartenders, teaching wages could be improved and standards could rise. The US healthcare system currently ranks as 37th globally and there are roughly 50 million Americans without healthcare coverage. Around 45,000 Americans die each year due to lack of healthcare coverage. Perhaps the trillions spent on the war on terror could be more effectively invested in crumbling US public services.

The war on terror has cost trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives and our most essential liberties; what are the benefits? We are far more fearful now than we were before. We place our faith in the instruments of government to protect us, but we are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist. We are generating our own demons and ignoring our self-destructive nature. The Cold War paranoia of an evil enemy constantly plotting our doom persists among those who determine US foreign policy. This perspective is counter-productive and ignores the real issues that are affecting our world today.

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