Why have there been no terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11? It is ridiculously easy for a single person with a bomb-filled backpack, or a single explosives-laden automobile, to launch an attack. So why hasn't it happened? The answer is surely not the Department of Homeland Security, which cannot stop terrorists from entering the country, legally or otherwise. It is surely not the Iraq war, which has stoked the hatred of Muslim extremists around the world and wasted many thousands of lives. Terrorist attacks have been regular events for many years -- usually killing handfuls of people, occasionally more than that.
Is it possible that there is a simple explanation for the peaceful American homefront? Is it possible that there are no al-Qaeda terrorists here? Is it possible that the war on terror has been a radical overreaction to a rare event? Consider: 80,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants have been subjected to fingerprinting and registration, and more than 5,000 foreign nationals have been imprisoned -- yet there has not been a single conviction for a terrorist crime in America. A handful of plots -- some deadly, some intercepted -- have plagued Europe and elsewhere, and even so, the death toll has been modest.
We have gone to war in two countries and killed tens of thousands of people. We have launched a massive domestic wiretapping program and created vast databases of information once considered private. Politicians and pundits have berated us about national security and patriotic duty, while encroaching our freedoms and sending thousands of young men off to die.
It is time to consider the hypothesis that dare not speak its name: we have wildly overreacted. Terrorism has been used by murderous groups for many decades, yet even including 9/11, the odds of an American being killed by international terrorism are microscopic. In general, international terrorism doesn't do much damage when considered in almost any reasonable context.
The capacity of al-Qaeda or of any similar group to do damage in the United States pales in comparison to the capacity other dedicated enemies, particularly international Communism, have possessed in the past. Lashing out at the terrorist threat is frequently an exercise in self-flagellation because it is usually more expensive than the terrorist attack itself and because it gives the terrorists exactly what they are looking for. Much, probably most, of the money and effort expended on counterterrorism since 2001 (and before, for that matter) has been wasted.
The terrorism industry and its allies in the White House and Congress have preyed on our fears and caused enormous damage. It is time to rethink the entire enterprise and spend much smaller amounts on only those things that do matter: intelligence, law enforcement, and disruption of radical groups overseas. Above all, it is time to stop playing into the terrorists' hands, by fear-mongering and helping spread terror itself.read more
This is an interesting, valuable and important book, and I'm fairly sure almost no-one has or, for that matter will, read it. I will do what I can to change that. John Mueller is from a venerable but sadly rare tradition of Academic commentators: the skeptics. It's that perspective he lends to our "troubled times" and over this course of this tidily executed, thoroughly sourced and entertaining book, Mueller systematically demolishes much of the public hype which holds us up in airport terminals, eats up our tax dollars and does its level best to prevent us sleeping soundly in our beds. He makes, and repeats, a point which many otherwise perfectly sensible and well-informed commentators can't fathom: The biggest source of terror in our lives is not terrorists in Afghan caves, but our own politicians and media pundits constantly blathering about them. The terrorists themselves cause sporadic but, in fact, very limited mayhem. The thousands of hungry mouths who comprise the "terrorism industry" on the other hand - the politicians, civil servants, defence contractors, security analysts and media commentators - each of whom is primarily interested in justifying his own existence or convincing us to open our wallets - each has a vested interest in persuading us we should be soiling rather than sleeping in our beds. Their statements, therefore, we should take with a pinch of salt. But even though we all know we ought to, we don't. We acquiesce: we put up with speculative, unsourced, unattributed, and frequently credulous nonsense - we tolerate queues and being unneccesarily fondled at airports, hikes in tax rates and restrictions on our civil liberties. John Mueller's book sets out to provide us a reality check and ask, pointedly, why we are so easily prepared to do that. By way of preface Mueller lists a series of items which ought to be - but aren't - conventional wisdom. They're all very big points, among them: * Terrorism just doesn't do much damage considered in any reasonable context (nine times as many Americans are struck by lightning in the average year as are killed by terrorists) * Even where Terrorism has horrendous results, it tends to be one-off events (despite six years of anxiety, there has not been another terrorist attack in the U.S. *at all*, let alone one on the scale of 9/11) * Catastrophic events are by their nature are hard to repeat (never again will a plane full of unsuspecting passengers sit and allow unarmed men to fly them to their deaths without intervening, since the assumption "we'll be used as hostages so we're safe for now" no longer holds) * Terrorist actions tend to be counterproductive on almost every level any way: far from throwing New York into chaos, panic and Hobbesian brutality, the direct and immediate result of 9/11 was the sudden blossoming of compassion, cooperation and cohesion in the city on a completely unprecedented scale - a place not usually known for its neighborliness or Samaritan spirit * The cost (both human and economic terms) of the "War on Terror" has been far greater than the cost of Terrorist actions themselves (even taking into account the financial losses sustained in the capital markets) * The "War on Terror", being as it is a war on an idea, is utterly unwinnable. There is no practical way of eradicating the possibility of individuals, for whatever reason, engaging in entirely destructive acts of violence. Like road fatalities (of which there are tens of thousands each year in the US) the risk of terrorist attacks are a fact of life in built up areas which we should take reasonable, dispassionate, measures to minimise bearing in mind the opportunity costs of doing so. Mueller doesn't take an (overtly) political position - his arguments are not based on views about foreign policy nor the moral rights and wrongs of the situation, but an statistical analysis of the costs and risks of the terrorist threat, and acknowledgment of the personal agendas which inevitably inform those who shout loudest. "If it bleeds it leads" - people don't buy newspapers to read good news, so in a competitive market it is no surprise if newspapers tend to dwell on worst case scenarios. Yes, terrorism is dreadful, Mueller says, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep it in perspective. In short, this book is a long overdue and much needed dose of common sense.read more
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A useful volume, but one that leaves many obvious approaches untouched: 1) American militarism (imperialism is all but absent in the book, though it makes an oblique appearance in discussing a discussion of the effects of the Iraq war). Mueller appears to have isolationist and anti-imperial views but does not assert them. 2) The U.S.'s state propaganda machinery. 3) Skepticism about 9/11 is offhandedly dismissed, despite the propagandistic character of the 9/11 Commission and the role of Philip Zelikow. 4) The psychology of fear is not analyzed. 5) The impact in civil liberties is only mentioned but is not explored at all; the Patriot Act is not even mentioned. 6) The military-industrial complex is not mentioned.read more
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