In the general scheme of manmade disasters, terrorism is trivial. That’s not even debatable, as I’ll itemize below. Westerners who’ve been consuming televised fears for 15 years straight may object, but fear has nothing to do with truth… and very much the opposite.
And I’ll skip through the obvious fact that I’m opposed to people being murdered by maniacs and the equally obvious acknowledgment that terrorism is a very big thing to the people involved.
When deciding whether a statement is true or false, facts should decide. If we let ourselves imagine that fear makes something true, we doom ourselves to lives of abuse.
So, let’s take a look at the facts.
To address this question directly, I decided to take facts from just the past hundred years or so and to stick to the large powers. My apologies to those associated with events I left out; I do not mean to minimize them.
This list shows how many deaths are attributable to each. These figures are from Wikipedia, and if there was a range, I took the middle of it.
Now, would you like to know how many people have died at the hands of terrorists? Here are the numbers, over more years and a larger area:
Terrorism numbers are difficult to define post-2000, because every minor skirmish is now called “terrorism.” So, the numbers above exclude many attacks on government facilities and uniformed government employees. Civil wars aren’t terrorism; attacks on churches, buses, and markets are terrorism.
All told, this comes to 19,113 deaths over 116 years. Compared to the almost 146,000,000 deaths listed above, terrorism amounts to one one-hundredth of one percent: 0.013% to be precise.
Compared to Rudolph Rummel’s data showing 262 million “deaths by government” over the 20th century, terrorism stands at a statistically insignificant 0.0073%
A few more comparisons:
Since 1970, terrorism world-wide has claimed considerably less than 18,000 lives. Over those same years, the War on Drugs has claimed seven times as many in Mexico alone.
In the worst year of terrorism (2001), less than 4,000 died. In just one battle of World War I (Verdun), more than 300,000 died – 75 times as many.
On the worst day of terrorism (Sept. 11, 2001), less than 3,000 died. In one day of World War II (June 6, 1944), only in Normandy and only on the winning side, there were 4,413 confirmed dead.
Our Feelings Are Wrong
To most of us, war feels a lot less scary than terrorism. And the reason for that is obvious: the images that are presented to us and the attitudes of the people around us proclaim war to be normal.
War doesn’t surprise us; it doesn’t shock us. We’ve been trained to believe that wars are contained and that it’s mainly people in uniforms that are affected. The truth, however, is otherwise. Civilian deaths in World War II, for example, were double the number of soldier deaths.
Uniforms, authorizations, and official displays turn our eyes away from the massive horror of war. Everything around us supports the old saying that “one man dying is a tragedy; a million men dying is a statistic.” Everything supports fear of terror rather than fear of war.
Reality, however, is unmoved by our fears: War is death, dismemberment, and impoverishment, and it will never be anything else… just like terrorism, but much, much larger.
Our images and norms are at odds with reality. Consider this, please:
Government-waged war is hundreds of times worse than small bands of crazies. To take a ho-hum attitude toward war while remaining panicked over terrorism is wildly irrational.
When our feelings disagree with realty, it’s time to recalibrate them.
Now, if we care about reality – if we care about our hearts and minds functioning well – we must stop accepting the massive terror of war as normal. Millions of people being killed in political disputes is beyond barbaric.
If this be normalcy, the systems that produce it must be questioned at the most basic levels and replaced. Promptly.
At the same time, we must stop living in fear. Fear makes us stupid; it makes us manipulable. Fear enslaves us.
My point in this article is not that we should ignore the horrors of terrorism. Rather, it’s that we should see the situation as it is. And for those of us in the West, the situation is that terrorism is a political weapon, wielded by politicians in the service of what Dwight Eisenhower termed the “military-industrial complex.”
We should further understand that eliminating terrorism would deprive these people of their greatest tool. If terrorism stopped, they’d have to replace it. The Western status quo requires a frightened and confused populace.
Terrorism is a deadly reminder of just how deceived humans can become. Eliminating it will be awfully hard if we remain terrified and deceived ourselves.