Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Leon Hadar, "Fears of Terrorism Are Unjustified," Reprinted from Singapore Business Times in, January 12, 2006.

"The number of people worldwide who die as a result of terrorism is generally only a few hundred a year – tiny compared to the numbers who die in car accidents--and is closer to the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States" (Hadar Jan 12 06).

" this point in history, biological weapons have killed almost no one, and the notion that large numbers of people would perish if a small number of chemical weapons were to be set off is highly questionable. After all, the 1995 chemical attacks launched in Tokyo by the well-funded Aum Shinrikyo managed to kill only 12 people."

"Terrorism is rather rare and – in appropriate, comparative context – not a very destructive phenomenon. Moreover, the costs of terrorism very often are the result of hasty, ill-considered and overwrought reactions.

"In a way, terrorists force us to redirect resources from sensible programs and future growth in order to pursue unachievable but politically popular levels of domestic security. From that perspective, the terrorists have won an important victory that mortgaged our future. For example, measures that delay airline passengers by half an hour could cost the American economy $15 billion a year."

"How can measures such as strengthening the public health system, which provide much broader benefits that [sic] those against terrorism, get the attention they deserve?"

See also John Mueller, A False Sense of Insecurity, Regulation, vol. 27, no. 3, Fall 2004. [pdf, 5pp]

"If, as some purported experts repeatedly claim, chemical and biological attacks are so easy and attractive to terrorists, it is impressive that none have so far been used in Israel (where four times as many people die from automobile accidents as from terrorism)" (Mueller Fall 04).

"The shock and tragedy of September 11 does demand a focused and dedicated program to confront international terrorism and to attempt to prevent a repeat. But it seems sensible to suggest that part of this reaction should include an effort by politicians, officials, and the media to inform the public reasonably and realistically about the terrorist context instead of playing into the hands of terrorists by frightening the public."

"University of Michigan transportation researchers Michael Sivak and Michael Flannagan, in an article last year in American Scientist,...calculate that an American’s chance of being killed in one nonstop airline flight is about one in 13 million (even taking the September 11 crashes into account). To reach that same level of risk when driving on America’s safest roads — rural interstate highways — one would have to travel a mere 11.2 miles."

As terrorism expert Brian Jenkins notes, “Terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead.”

Mueller also raises the almost completely unaddressed but patently obvious observation that, in the words of risk analyst David Banks, “It seems impossible that the United States will ever again experience takeovers of commercial flights that are then turned into weapons — no pilot will relinquish control, and passengers will fight."

Still, Banks observes, “enormous resources are being invested to prevent this remote contingency.” There is a distinction, he argues, “between realistic reactions to plausible threats and hyperbolic overreaction to improbable contingencies.”

Mueller suggests that since a "dirty bomb" would "simply raise radiation levels somewhat above normal background levels in a small area, a common recommendation from nuclear scientists and engineers is that those exposed should calmly walk away. But this bit of advice has not been advanced prominently by those in charge. Effectively, therefore, they encourage panic. As one nuclear engineer points out, 'If you keep telling them you expect them to panic, they will oblige you. And that’s what we’re doing.'"

"...Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was telling a television audience that if terrorists were able to engineer a catastrophic event that killed 10,000 people, they would successfully “do away with our way of life.” The sudden deaths of that many Americans — although representing less than four-thousandths of one percent of the population — would indeed be horrifying and tragic, but the only way it could “do away with our way of life” would be if we did that to ourselves in reaction" (Mueller Fall 04).
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