Keeping Terrorism in Perspective


Last night’s Republican Presidential debate was dominated by discussions about  terrorism and national security. Yet while Paris and San Bernardino have captivated U.S. news coverage recently, it may be useful to take a moment to keep these events in perspective.

But we give terrorists too much credit when we react to a handful of deaths as if the sky were falling.

Thousands of people died during 9/11 and two iconic American structures, the buildings of the World Trade Center, came crashing down. But that tragedy occurred more than a decade ago, and the subsequent attacks have been more than minor in comparison.

Your chance of being decimated by a terrorist attack is approximately the same as being hit by lightning, and while the shooting in San Bernardino was a tragedy, when you compare it to the geographical and population of the entire United States, it is just a blip on the map.

That’s not to say that the lives needlessly lost are not worth troubling about. It’s just that if this is the best the terrorists can do, we should not obsess about it.

The United States does remain vulnerable to terrorist attack, and we must thwart these criminals wherever they wish to strike. And there are indeed other more horrible scenarios to contemplate, generally concerning germ or chemical warfare, or even God forbid, a nuclear weapon. But when we overreact to minor strikes, we can lose the focus we need to maintain on these true vulnerabilities.

Cyber warfare remains a major concern, especially concerning our electrical infrastructure, and nuclear power plants could be another source of trouble, especially when located near population centers such as Indian Point and New York City. But we give terrorists too much credit when we react to a handful of deaths as if the sky were falling.

Consider the Boston Marathon bombings. An entire city was paralyzed by an act of violence perpetrated by a small bomb, and one that was not even very effective at that. Yes, let’s fight terrorism, but let’s not give more credit to the terrorists than is there due.