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The Avalanche Threat
“Someday soon, you might wake up to the call to prayer from a Muslim muezzin. Millions of Europeans already do. And liberals will still tell you that 'diversity is our strength' – while Talibanic enforcers cruise our cities burning books and barber shops... the Supreme Court decides sharia law doesn't violate the 'separation of church and state' ... and the Hollywood Left gives up gay rights in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.”
- Promotional text for Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It.
9/11 really changed everything. Before, the news covered some events of genuine importance. Now, Americans are subjected to a constant deluge of "holy crap"-style terrorism coverage. Our heightened anxiety over 9/11 has been cultivated and stretched out over the past six years, to the point now that any event which even superficially resembles a terrorist attack, no matter how briefly, gets week-long national coverage. A steam pipe blows in New York? It's “especially frightening, considering what happened on 9/11.” Some rich douchebag crashes his helicopter into an apartment building? “A chilling reminder of the events that took place on 9/11.” We're so pathetically traumatized that an entire city can now be brought to its knees by an ad for Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It hardly speaks of America as the proud, tough nation it imagines itself to be.
Of course, we're all a little tense, having been waiting, vigilant, muscles clenched, for the next inevitable strike. Any day, now, any minute, and... BLAMMO! It could happen to you, we're told repeatedly. It could happen anywhere. But really, how serious is the threat of domestic terrorism?
More Americans have been killed in the war in Iraq than have ever been killed by terrorism in the history of the country. A San Francisco Chronicle piece puts the odds of being killed by terrorism as slightly lower than dying in an avalanche. How much are we spending on avalanche prevention? Why is there no counter-avalanche czar? How many news stories have you seen about the threat of avalanches? Think about it: “Avalanches: Are we safer than we were?” Or “Democrats: Soft on avalanches?” Why does the liberal media ignore the avalanche threat?
You get the idea. From a purely rational perspective, we are spending a ridiculously disproportionate amount of time, money and attention on what amounts to a tiny threat. Not only that, but we have failed miserably in even reducing that threat, despite the astounding scope of our backwards approach to it.
It's truly amazing: we spend more on defense and security than the entire rest of the world, and the enemy is a shabby assemblage of repressed losers. Yet somehow the media manages to effectively convey the feeling that the country is some soft, white, utterly vulnerable blob of flesh, a giant, defenseless belly with no arms or legs, practically begging to be punctured and devoured by a teeming mass of impossibly disciplined super-criminals.
In fact, looking at the attacks that have occurred and the plans that have been discovered, there's been a marked downward trend in terrorist competence since 9/11. The last few have almost been comical: Four guys concoct a plan to attack an army base dressed as pizza guys (and hadn't even gotten any weapons by the time they were busted), another handful entertain physically impossible fantasies of blowing up an airport by lighting a pipeline miles away, and two doctors in England set themselves on fire and crash their car into a wall. We're not dealing with Bond villains here.
The truth, when it comes to what motivates suicide bombers, is a lot easier to understand than you think: sexual frustration. In the harsher varieties of Sunni Islam, polygamy and strictly observed rules against extramarital sex combine to produce grown men who have never touched a girl (and possibly never even beaten off, thanks to rules against masturbation). They are total losers in the game of life. This is, for any multicellular organism, an intolerable condition, and frankly inhumane. Let's not forget that the mainly adolescent American males who shoot up their schools usually aren't big winners with the ladies either. Add to this smoldering frustration the promise of an eternal super-orgy upon death, and anyone dumb enough to believe their local radical mullah would be itching for a shortcut to paradise.
Obviously, there's some serious resentment of the West involved, but again, these guys have never been laid. If I go more than a week without some kind of orgasm, I'm fantasizing about killing people who drive a little slower than I do, and none of them bombed my village. Scoff if you like, but to me this explanation makes a lot more sense than “they hate us for our freedom.” Envy us, maybe. Of course, addressing this aspect of the terrorist problem would require that we acknowledge some universal truths about human biology that American society isn't adult enough to face, so we're going with the “mindless alien zombie” theory of terrorism. Sensationalism beats reason once again.
But if what we're led to believe is true, that many millions of people are dedicated to causing mayhem, loosely networked in a clever array of independent cells with access to massive funding and bomb-making expertise and equipment, and many of them are in America as we speak, salivating at the thought of our destruction, then what the hell are they waiting for? The unpopular fact is that no matter how much money you spend or panic you foment, there is just no way to protect against this scenario. With the advance of affordable weapons technology, the ability of any motivated individual to kill others has irrevocably grown. A few centuries ago, all one murderous psychopath could do was whip out a sword and start hacking people—dramatic, but not very effective. How many people could you kill before a crowd took you down? Two or three maybe? Nowadays, any skinny loser can buy a gun or build a bomb and wipe out a whole crowd before they can get out of their chairs. This is a hard truth to swallow, but you really can't prevent terrorism through government ass-kicking, no matter how lavishly funded. You just can't watch everyone all the time. If there are even twenty people right now in America plotting different attacks, at least a couple will be successful.
There are two choices in the face of such threats: Address the terrorists' stated grievances—in other words, leave the Middle East alone, a highly unlikely scenario—or resign yourself to the occasional massacre. Obviously, you don't give up trying to catch people, but let's not pretend Bush has made it impossible to blow things up in America. If nothing has blown up, it only stands to reason that there aren't many people trying. In fact, the FBI said in 2005 that there were “no signs” of terror cells in the US. Didn't hear much about that on the news.
There are many more serious threats than terrorism. From 2001 to 2005, less than three thousand Americans died as a result of terrorism, virtually all of them in one day. In the same span of time, 102,000 died from drunk driving. 108,000 died from lack of health care, while another 264,000 died from medical errors. Nearly half a million died from diabetes. 2.3 million died from cancer. Over 3 million more from heart disease. Guns kill 32,000 a year. Cigarettes kill as many Americans as 9/11 did every week.
These are just a few examples. If I listed every cause of death that presents a bigger threat to the average American than terrorism, there'd be no room for me to write anything else. Seriously: car crashes, wet floors, food poisoning, binge drinking, fireworks, et cetera. So why aren't we spending those untold billions on better health care, or food safety standards, or gun control?
Of course, most would say we have no choice, that if we let up for a second in spending obscene sums “fighting terror” at home and abroad, the terrorists would... what? Really, what would they do? Let's look at what most would call a worst-case security scenario: We surrender. The US pulls all of its troops out of all military engagements around the world, stops funding Israel, shuts down the DHS and reverses all security measures taken since 9/11. What would really happen? Would an Islamofascist horde really emerge from the ocean and occupy the nation? Of course not. We're talking about a few thousand bearded dicks on the other side of the world. What might happen is that every once in a great while, someone blows up a Pizza Hut. That would suck, but if we were spending all that money addressing problems that actually kill large numbers of people, we could more than make up the difference. Not to mention that if we really did these politically impossible things, Islamic terrorists would no longer have a reason to attack us.
The British, who have some experience with weathering the occasional bombing, are showing signs of stepping back from the threat-hyping practices which have become quasi-religious rituals in America. In April, they announced they were shelving the exquisitely Orwellian phrase “war on terror,” in part because it strengthens terrorists. As International Development Secretary Hilary Benn said, “We do not use the phrase 'war on terror' because we can’t win by military means alone, and because this isn’t us against one organized enemy with a clear identity and a coherent set of objectives. It is the vast majority of the people in the world—of all nationalities and faiths—against a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world and their idea of being part of something bigger.” That is, by overestimating the threat of terrorism, we make terrorists feel more powerful than they are, and make joining their ranks more alluring for disgruntled Muslims. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pretend they're powerful, and eventually they will be.
There is one truly dangerous possibility I'm leaving out, of course—the mushroom cloud. But the idea of al Qaeda as a tech-savvy, sophisticated operation is overblown. Their most clever attack to date involved flight school and box cutters. It was a stunning success, but a far cry from acquiring, smuggling and detonating a nuke. As far as dirty bombs go, they don't actually work—look it up—and judging by the “sophistication” of the enemy, they'd probably die of radiation poisoning before they finished making one. “Cyberterrorism” is purely an invention of the media, on a par with Y2K as a legitimate threat.
Still, the one significant way in which terrorism could really threaten this county would be a nuke. So how do we deal with that threat—the only threat that warrants serious national anxiety? Well, one way would be to spend a lot on nonproliferation programs—from coordinated efforts with other countries to secure vulnerable nukes and fissile materials, to simply buying black market nuclear technology outright. But the Bush administration has refused to sign an international nuclear nonproliferation treaty and is cutting back funding on these programs, which were already only in the millions, not billions, over strong objections of people in the field. Obviously, they don't think the threat is very serious, and they'd rather spend the cash on invading countries which don't contain any terrorists, as well as continuing to keep you freaked the hell out. The actual terrorists who committed the crimes of 9/11 remain ensconced in Pakistan, don't forget. Apparently, they're such powerful geniuses that we just can't catch them, no matter how many Iraqis we kill.
The reality is that, by inflaming our fears and exaggerating the threat, the government and the media are exacerbating the real damage of terrorism: the terror itself. Few of us have died, but boy are we scared. That fear is exactly the effect intended by the terrorists, and it's also pretty useful to a president who flouts constitutional law.
But the fear is completely out of proportion with the threat. We're doing Osama's job for him. So we subject ourselves to more and more outrageous security measures, surrendering our rights, our reputation and our dignity for precious little real gain, and putting other policy issues, which are in reality more important, on the back burner “until the threat is defeated” —in other words, forever. We're like a promiscuous junkie who shuns condoms and clean needles, but spends all his time engaged in elaborate plans to avoid being hit at random by a falling piano. It's just plain dumb.
The press could do the nation a real service if they confronted the simple mathematical folly of our terror obsession. But rational analysis doesn't get good ratings; sensationalism does. You'll watch CNN more if they manage to scare the shit out of you. It's what the White House wants, anyway—a win/win. So if Barack Obama or Mitt Romney stepped on stage today and said, “We would do a lot more good for the country if we shut down the Homeland Security Department and used the money to fund quality universal healthcare,” they'd be angrily shouted out of the mainstream, if not killed by a mob. At this point, after years of shock propaganda, telling the truth about the paltry terror threat is just not an option.
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