Manhattan Institute

Lightning, Bathtubs, and Banality

Comparing accidental deaths to terrorist murder is a logical and moral falsehood.

Sometimes the attacks are made with firearms. Sometimes they’re done with trucks on busy bridges or thronged thoroughfares or with bombs at rock performances or with pressure-cookers at marathons. Terrorists constantly revise their tactics, but the assurances from the media are unvarying.

make america safe again? inquires a Newsweek headline. but america is already safe. The story goes on to explain that “the attacks in San Bernadino, California, and Orlando, Florida, certainly set people on edge, but Americans have a better chance at being killed by lightning or drowning in their own bathtubs than being killed by a terrorist.” In the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof falls in lockstep. “Most years in the U.S., ladders kill far more Americans than Muslim terrorists do. Same with bathtubs. Ditto for stairs. And lightning.” Boston Globe columnist Michael H. Cohen is more statistical but just as banal: “Even unintentional drowning—in bathtubs, lakes and swimming pools—kills more than 3,500 people a year, a number approximately 1,800 times larger than the number of people killed by terrorism.”

These soothing statements ignore a fundamental fact: bathtubs, ladders, and lightning don’t have as their object the murder and maiming of human beings—jihadists  do. Those who perish by accident are victims. Murdered people are prey. If it turned out that the ladder companies were putting teflon on the top rungs so people would slip off and die, then we would expect the government to respond swiftly to the threat, even if only a few people were killed this way.

In any case, media-made pablum has failed to impress U.S. vacationers. A recent Gallup poll asked respondents about the likelihood of their attendance at crowded events. The pollsters asked three other questions: How willing are you to travel overseas, to fly on airplanes, and to venture into major skyscrapers? The answers are revealing. Some 38 percent of U.S. adults interviewed say that they’d stay away from events with thousands of attendees. This is the highest level of anxiety since Gallup began surveying American attitudes about terror after 9/11.

As for venturing across the pond: 46 percent of U.S. adults say that they’re less willing to travel overseas, up eight percentage points since 2011. Nearly one-third more reluctant to be airborne—up from 24 percent in the same period. And 25 percent are more fearful of entering skyscrapers becaue of potential hazards—the highest percentage since September 2002.

Not to worry, reports Gallup: “Americans largely trust in the government’s ability to protect them from terrorism, with seven in 10 expressing confidence in federal and state authotities.” There was no word, though, about Americans’ confidence in journalists, whose bland reassurances have failed to impress increasingly skeptical audiences. Americans think for themselves, and millions of them  plan to spend their off time this summer within easy reach of their bathtubs.

More from Manhattan Institute

Manhattan Institute4 min read
The Mayor And The World
Michael Bloomberg hasn’t said much about foreign policy in his public career—but that will have to change if he’s serious about running for president.
Manhattan Institute6 min readPolitics
The Administration’s First-String Team
Like many Republican Trump voters, I rue the loss from the president’s inner circle of such wise advisers as John Bolton and John Kelly, but I think that two extraordinary recent speeches by Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike P
Manhattan Institute1 min read
One Trade School’s Path to Success
Kay S. Hymowitz joins City Journal editor Brian Anderson to discuss Pennsylvania’s Williamson College of the Trades, a three-year school for young men offering a debt-free path to high-paying work—and the life skills to help them get there. “Trade sc