Terrorism: as dangerous as a bathtub

Over-hyping “the threat of terrorism” is one of the more obscene reality-distortions being committed by our current government and its Washington and London counterparts.

This is well-documented. But nowhere is it made more clear than in this statistic:

Excepting a few particularly bad years, the annual number of deaths from terrorism worldwide since the late 1960s, when the [US] State Department started record-keeping, is only about the same as the number of Americans who drown every year in bathtubs.

Now for a quick crash course in how terrorism works…

Louise Richardson has been teaching about terrorism for more than a decade. She’s so annoyed by the Bush response to terrorism that she wrote What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat.

For a very quick summary, read John Naughton’s 12-bullet-point distillation.

For a more elaborate summary, read Max Rodenbeck’s review in The New York Review of Books, which also considers John Mueller’s Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them and by Charles Peña’s Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.

There’s plenty of happy bed-time reading for you!

13 Replies to “Terrorism: as dangerous as a bathtub”

  1. Excellent post, reinforcing the need for rational discussion – not hype – from EVERY part of the political spectrum.

    Maybe not your favourite journo, ideologically, but I’m reminded of what Greg Sheridan wrote about the danger of security policy becoming domestic party politics by another means.

    I hear Colin Powell has a compelling dossier on the bathtub threat.

  2. Ta, Richard. One of my Big Gripes is that so many of our important decisons are made on the basis of myth rather than fact, of spin and manipulation rather than honest and open analysis.

  3. Oh, there’s honest and open analysis out there, but it’s usually got a few codewords in red ink at the top and bottom of the page.

    It’s inevitably sanitised and condensed before it appears in the decision-makers’ in-trays. Nuance is lost, but the decision-makers usually find it ‘irrelevant’ and ‘unprofessional’ if you try to explain the details. Never mind that those ‘irrelevant details’ make a weapon an ICBM rather than an SRBM, with all the strategic consequences.

    Imagine an article in _The Age_ describing, say, the SCA, written by a disinterested journo who’s been advised to ‘keep it short’. You’d see colourful headlines – ‘cultists re-enact an age of violence’ – but it wouldn’t begin to convey what the SCA is really like.

    Well, that’s the calibre of ‘executive summaries’ in the int community. Our hard-pressed pollie would be aware that the SCA exists, but unless he or she has a particular interest, they’ll go into Parliament and make decisions based on a postage-stamp summary.

    And these people swap portfolios more frequently than Britney Spears changes husbands….

  4. Richard, perhaps the most important code words are “new improved flavour” and “20% extra”.

    I’ve edited your comment to add a link to the SCA, so the poor folk who’ve never encountered this esteemed organization know what we’re talking about.

    (Yes, there’s also an SCA in Australia.)

    I won’t bother linking to Britney Spears, apparently you can find her easily on the Internet…

  5. Actually, Richard, your mention of SRBM versus ICBM reminds me of one of my pet gripes: journalists calling every armoured vehicle they see a “tank” — especially when we’re looking at images of an armoured personnel carrier or something.

    If the same journo was writing for the motoring pages and couldn’t tell the difference between a sedan and a tractor they’d be sacked, but somehow they’re allowed to cover war zones and make mistakes of the same magnitude.

  6. While I agree largely, it’s easy to be overly righteous when Government bashing.

    At what point does terrorism equate to war?

    One bus-stop bomb could be brushed off a random senseless act. If it’s a dirty radioactive bomb, killing and harming many, then lots of people would be behind the government.

    It only has to happen once.

    In Australia, we’d only need one minor act of terrorism for there to be total uproar.

    At any rate, terrorism isn’t just about killing. It’s psychological. And, looking at the world today, it might be working.

  7. JasonB, the psychology of terrorism is indeed “working” — in the sense that people are scared of The Big Bad Terrorists — precisely because the threat is blown way out of proportion.

    We’re not scared of drowning in the bath — even though it’s more likely to happen to any of us — because we don’t have screeching reports about The War on Bathtubs every night, and we don’t have three-page photo features every time it happens.

    By the way, I’d give your comment more credibility if you provided a real email address, and you were posting from somewhere other than an anonymous IP address somewhere beyond a Telstra data centre in Melbourne.

  8. What? Tracking my identity and location? Next you’ll be asking for ID cards! You must work for the evil government. Evil !!! Let’s riot.

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