America’s skewed perception of threats

The Washington Post reports: There’s one foreign policy fact that President Obama and Mitt Romney dare not mention this election season. No American general will speak of it. Nor will it displace the usual hot topics at Washington’s myriad foreign policy think tanks.

Measured by most relevant statistics, the United States — and the world — have never been safer.

Obama says terrorist networks remain the greatest threat to the United States. “We have to remain vigilant,” he warned recently. But global terrorism has barely touched most Americans in the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, with 238 U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks, mostly in war zones, according to the National Counterterrorism Center’s annual reports. By comparison, the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that 293Americans were crushed during the same stretch by falling furniture or televisions.

Beyond the United States, global statistics point undeniably toward progress in achieving greater peace and stability. There are fewer wars now than at any time in decades. The number of people killed as a result of armed violence worldwide is plunging as well — down to about 526,000 in 2011 from about 740,000 in 2008, according to the United Nations.

The candidates’ rhetoric, however, suggests that the globe is ablaze. “The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic,” Romney said this summer in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Nevada. Obama, though less apocalyptic than his Republican challenger, routinely talks about the critical need for “tested and proven” leadership in a “world of new threats and new challenges.”

It’s always useful to be reminded that the average American is more at risk of being crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist, but there’s a gaping hole in this report’s analysis of a world that is supposedly becoming safer: it looks at threats purely in terms of those involving human violence.

It’s quite possible that there will never be another attack on America comparable with 9/11, but as for the risk of this nation getting pummeled by another Sandy — that’s not a question of if but when.

To the extent that an effective defense can be mounted, neither the Pentagon nor the defense industry are likely to contribute much to that effort.

What serves the interests of both the defense and oil industries is to sustain the idea that the dangers America faces all come from overseas instead of recognizing that the greatest threat we face comes from our own self-destructive way of living.

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4 thoughts on “America’s skewed perception of threats

  1. hquain

    It’s also worth remembering that the ‘terrorist threat’ was always negligible and that it was only through an amazing, self-reinforcing web of incompetence and stupidity that it achieved any kind of realization.

    Its effects also could have been negligible, but were similarly multiplied to an all-encompassing, nation-crippling level. AQ invested a few hundred thousand dollars and inspired a splurge of literally trillions: scrawl on the back of envelope and discover that the ratio is something like 10,000,000:1. Ten million to one, far beyond human comprehension.

    We’ve witnessed a national suicide attempt on a historic level. And it’s inconceivable that anything like the squandered resources of the last decade could be expended on securing our infrastructure against what Woodward observes is a certain assault.

  2. rosemerry

    So many of the US “threats”, like international communism were vastly overblown. The response eg mcCarthyism, was always far more draconian than the danger, and no effort is ever made to understand any other point of view. On the other hand, climate change, pollution of air and water, fracking, monocultures, soil erosion, nuclear war,which in past times were known to be potential problems, have now been cast aside by corporatised power brokers who pretend we are threatened by a small group of “islamic militants”, which they encourage in some circumstances then demonise.

  3. Norman

    Thank you Paul for your sober assessment of the situation facing America today. Not to sound flippant about this, but I’ve always believed that the T.V. was more dangerous, along with those obscene triple dressers that used to grace the bedrooms from the 50’s. You have made my day.

  4. DE Teodoru

    Surviving American bombing of Bucharest towards the end of the war is an experience whose effect I cannot cognate at this late date in life. A decades of experiences involving the Vietnam War, however, are seared in my mind. Exposed to both sides at both high and low level, I got to learn how intelligent intelligence can but how very dumb it can also be. But at its wost it cannot match academic historians for self-serving reckless BS. Nevertheless, a retirement supposed to be devoted to writing a history of the Vietnam War based on the historic perspectives of both sides, was put on h old whe? n picking up an order of new Cold War books at the World trade Center’s Borders Bookstore on the morning of 9/11.

    The experience was more discombobulating than traumatic. Nothing made sense. However, the attempt to make sense of the experience called for a sudden halt on my dedicated life’s mission at Vietnam History. From 9/11 forward I desperately sought to understand WHY? Why could this happen? I had been in Afghanistan and in the Red Bloc at a time when I could see this so called “Islamic Terrorism” taking shape under Red Bloc incubation. But neither its Red Bloc nursemaids nor the evolving suicide terrorists (Shahids) ever seemed like they would amount to much, certainly never comparable to Israel’s Mossad high tech, no cost too great, assassins. Now a book, 500DAYS…, one of many is exposing us to the mental midget and psychopathic giants that ruled our response to 9/11 since. One need only spend one afternoon in Wash DC to see what idiots every “intelligence” killer thinks of every other in that highly overpaid profession of unbalanced people. To paraphrase Poggo: “WE HAVE MET THE TERRORISTS AND HE IS US”– as in United States, most sick and violent for fun and profit. Their only alternative would have been a car wash or dish-washing, but the undocumented Latin Americans have already cornered those professions. And so, a President unique in his ability to match them for utter dumbness has created massive bureaucracies in order to line them up behind him rather than, as Mr. Karik did, embarrass him for not seeing them for what they are. Since 2003 we have squandered mom and dad soldiers– half of them reservists who had been promised when they enlisted that they would only be called up if the nation were invaded– pretending that 9/11 was “state sponsored terrorism” when in fact, elements known well to our intelligence community and thoroughly infiltrated by Mossad, in no way connected with Iraq became an open license for American mass-drone-murder from the air. 500 DAYS, like so many other books, slips to you the evidence of how criminally insane and retarded was the Bush Era…and why not, they were fabulously paid for it. Former Reds turned , Cold War profiteers had nowhere to go with the USSR’s self-implosion. And so they suddenly put on a Zionist mantle and went to work, paid by the Military Industrial Complex that so feared a peace dividend at its expense, to find a new USSR boogyman. Never before were these neocons devout Zionists; but now common cause and common cash brought them to this dual master: Israel and the Military Industry (our only industry as the auto industry was failing). They cared little for either, having developed pubic hair as Leftist Internationalists, but their Upper West Side apartments and lavish way of life required a solid cash source to replace their, now dried up, CIA funded anti-Soviet “intellect.” And so, they took advantage of a chink in America’s flabby armor and projected profligate American wealth against the Muslim World, calling it, oh so conveniently, WORLD WAR IV!!!

    They are too old to be called to account. I don’t believe in trials of gaga geriatrics like Demnunyik, so it’s too late to prosecute them for fraud and profiteering, but it is time to realize that most of the Latino gangs in East LA can do us just as much damage as alQaeda can. The real threat to the nation is this massive intel-military corporatism that is running our economy into the ground. So growth hungry is it that it now seeks to turn our guns on Russia and China in case the remnants of “Muslim Terror” (sic) proves no longer profitable. So it is full circle as Americans become increasingly under-educated and incompetent, looking for a scapegoat for why they’re so unnecessary in this modern era. Soon it will be UFOs….anything will do when the voters are nothing but stampeding dumb cattle!

    What’s the point of a Vietnam analysis when no lesson is ever learned and only the name of the “enemy” changes?

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