A recent report showed that since Christmas more Americans have died in New Orleans than in Iraq. This was used by some to show that Iraq is not a raging civil war, but is, in-fact, safer than some places in America. Needless to say I did not find much comfort in the comparison. Have we gone from measuring Iraq against ourselves to measuring ourselves against Iraq? This report is indicative, and the facts seem to bear it out: Iraq, the grand front in the war on terror, seems to be a much higher priority than many elements of our own country. It seems to make little sense to do everything we can to protect ourselves from rogue organizations when in the process we end up doing far-more damage than they could ever hope to accomplish.
How terrifying is terrorism? In a recent poll Americans ranked it as a greater threat than global warming. It is already the dominant issue for potential presidential candidates, while we channel trillions of dollars to attempt to fight it. Indeed a widespread dismay and suspicion over terrorism has set in across the country. John Muller’s uses this as the base for his book A False Sense of Insecurity. The book suggests that perhaps we have an inordinate fear of terrorism. To make the point Muller points out terrorism is actually less harmful to Americans than peanut allergies. However, most people understand the inherent difference between death by peanuts, and death by terrorism. And that difference is right where we expect the government to step in: to protect us from people out to kill us. But I think we also expect the government to act to the appropriate degree. Muller’s effort raises a valid question: are we trying too hard in the war on terror?
The terrorists have only one angle and that is to strike fear into as many people as possible. From that perspective the White House has done an incredible job of PR for them. On October 21, 2004 Vice President Dick Cheney told us we were “far better off” fighting in Iraq than “fighting them here in the streets of our own cities.” He uttered the very same statement just three months ago. This type of rhetoric is typical of the administration which has allowed a nervous mind-set to settle in across the country. Such paranoia is no-doubt what prompted Glenn Beck to ask congressman Keith Ellison whether or not he was “working with our enemies.” You see, Ellison, along with being a natural born citizen, is also a Muslim. The enlightened founding fathers never had to fight a war on terror.
And the key strategy in fighting against terror seems to be to terrify citizens and use that fear as the reasoning for invading Iraq, or suspending various civil liberties. In their wildest, terror-filled dreams did the 9/11 planners ever think the United State’s renounce freedom itself? While they succeeded in scaring us, the death of American values has been an unplanned terrorist victory. Today some people are so worked up we are expected to pay any price to fight terror. Perhaps this would explain a recent article which stated even if we loose 6,000 Americans or more in Iraq it will be worth it to avoid another 9/11. On such reasoning our contemporary society flows. President Bush recently painted the war as the “ideological struggle of our generation.” We personify it to a level unimaginable by even the most zealous terrorist. We have currently committed over half a trillion dollars to fight it in Iraq, or about eight times our annual education budget. We fear terrorists much more than uneducated citizens. Sowing irrational concerns to an poorly educated public equals big returns at the polls but it also plays into the wrong hands.
Experts agree that the real threat is not another 9/11, but that a rogue organization will acquire a nuclear weapon and detonate it in a highly populated area. Along those lines how effective has Iraq been? Our own government releases reports saying we have increased the pool of potential candidates who would use WMDs against us. So, while our false sense of insecurity boiled over into the invasion of Iraq, we may not be concerned enough about how ineffective the invasion has been. Terrorism needs to be addressed in the right way, not in an overblown, hyperventilating paranoia. The price we have paid is enormous, not the least of which has been handing over our identity and ignoring the needs inside our country. We vowed we would never allow the terrorists to change us. But have we lost ourselves trying to change the terrorists?