Terrorism

We Worry Too Much About Terrorism

The chance that extremist violence will touch any of us directly was minuscule before the latest attacks, and it still is.

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Terrorism
Camille Gévaudan

Each of the attacks in Paris that killed 17 people last week was an atrocity, a threat to freedom and an act of terrorism. On those points, most people agree, and they're right. Most people also fear this marks the beginning of a rash of extremist violence in the West. On that, they're probably wrong.

If we have learned anything from the experience since 9/11, it's that the public and its leaders chronically overestimate the danger posed by Islamic militants. This latest episode fits that pattern.

"In the face of rogue jihadists living in the West and urged to attack their homeland, the threat 'is the new normal,' one U.S. government official explained," according to The Daily Beast. "There are thousands more jihadists living in the West than security forces to keep an eye on them. And with the war in Syria raging, there is the potential for that to grow as fighters return from the front lines, potentially radicalized."

Former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman echoes that concern, warning in The Wall Street Journal that "the enemy is stronger today in more places than it was on 9/11 and is gaining more ground than ever." He fears that "the number and frequency of attacks like those in France will increase."

But he and others have a history of sounding alarms that are false or greatly overstated. In 2011, Lieberman expected that the killing of Osama bin Laden would prompt someone to "attempt an attack within the United States in the coming days or weeks." It didn't happen.

In 2003, notes Ohio State University political scientist John Mueller, U.S. intelligence officials expected a flurry of attacks here after the Iraq invasion. Wrong again. Last summer, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the Islamic State "an imminent threat." Nothing came of it.

The biggest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 is the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing—which the soothsayers missed.

Two phenomena are at work. One is our habitual human tendency to worry too much about dramatic, unusual dangers, like terrorism and Ebola, and too little about commonplace ones, like car wrecks and falls, that are far more likely to kill us. When we hear about terrorists shooting innocents, we get cold chills wondering whether we'll be next. When we hear that someone died of a stroke, we yawn.

The other factor is a giant public-private network that has a stake in stoking these fears. The bureaucratic reality is that it's safer to issue warnings about dozens of dangers that never pan out than to downplay a single one that later materializes.

Government officials need a sense of urgent peril to justify their budgets and their powers. Private contractors have reason to inflate the problems they get paid to address. The resulting system, says Mueller, amounts to "a self-licking ice cream cone."

By now, the worry about terrorism is ingrained in us. In the wake of the Paris attacks, a Pew poll found, nearly two out of three Americans are "somewhat" or "very" worried that a terrorist attack will soon happen here.

But public fear has been that high for years. When an attack happens, we expect more attacks—and when no attack happens, we expect more attacks. A plurality of citizens consistently worry that the government is doing too little to combat terrorism.

What is easy to forget is that people in general and Americans in particular enjoy exceptional levels of safety. There was a true threat to our national existence during the Cold War, when nuclear incineration was perpetually half an hour away. There was far more terrorism on U.S. soil in the 1970s, when leftist radicals carried out hundreds of bombings, and even in the 1990s.

The chance that extremist violence will touch any of us directly was minuscule before the latest attacks, and it still is. There simply aren't that many people with the will, resources and acumen to engage in serious terrorist operations.

But don't expect that fact to get much attention. As journalist H. L. Mencken once wrote, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed—and hence clamorous to be led to safety—by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

The danger today is not imaginary, but neither is the danger of being struck by lightning. We don't organize our government or lives around avoiding that risk, and we shouldn't do it for terrorism.

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  1. Where one of our politician’s says something to the effect “the enemy is stronger now than on 9/11” like Lieberman did, the correct follow up should be something like: “So why did we spend so much money and pass so much legislation like the patriot act? What did you do with all of that money? You promised to make things better, not worse.”

    1. He’ll just make the same unfalsifiable claim that all statists make: “Things would have been even worse if we hadn’t done anything!”

      1. To which, I beg of them, please do nothing so that I may see how much worse it might be.

  2. Two phenomena are at work. One is our habitual human tendency to worry too much about dramatic, unusual dangers, like terrorism and Ebola, and too little about commonplace ones, like car wrecks and falls, that are far more likely to kill us.

    Fear is largely irrational in the modern world.

    Humans evolved processing mostly local information that was very germane to their own, current situation. Thus, if you heard about someone getting eaten by a wolf, it as never the one in a million person from the other side of the world; it was more likely one of your neighbors, implying that, yes, there is an actual wolf nearby, etc.. Therefore, it made sense to take seriously any and all threats that were encountered, even if just in word-of-mouth stories.

    You take a species like that and give then the 24 hour global news cycle, and everyone starts running scared from ebola, terrorism, planes that mysteriously disappear, etc. Cops start arresting you for letting your children go outside without an adult 10 feet away, guns start being banned, whatever. It’s just how the villagers cope with the modern world.

    1. Look, it could happen to your CHILDRENZ! IF IT SAVES JUST ONE CHILD…

    2. Video also has a lot to do with it.

      Studies show that, when you watch a video, there’s a logical, rational part of your brain that knows it’s just a video, and there’s another, more primitive part of your brain, that can’t tell it’s not real. This is why people get emotional and scared watching movies (which, when you think about it, makes no sense: video screens can’t hurt you), why people enjoy porn, etc. It’s real to part of the brain, as if it’s happening, in front of you.

      So, when people watch tons of videos of terrorists shooting people, crimes being committed, buildings being burned, riots, protests, part of their brain actually processes it as if it really happened, and responds emotionally.

      Just another reason why democracy is fucked up, frequently.

    3. Bruce Schneier’s latest book ‘Liars and Outliers’ has some good things to say about how we’re wired to miscalculate the probability of bad things happening.

  3. I know its apples and oranges, but given our best conservative estimate of 1,000 people a year killed by cops in the US, our cops have already killed twice as many Americans this year than died in the Paris attacks.

    Just sayin’.

    1. The term “terrorism” is convoluted now. I can’t tell you what it really means because it only has meaning when applied to a specific event.

    2. Just out of curiosity, how many of those killings were of armed guys bent on doing harm to the cop or other non-criminals? Just wondering.

      1. Just out of curiosity, how many of those killings were of armed guys bent on doing harm to the cop or other non-criminals?

        All of them!

        /dunphy

  4. “But…but…caliphate!!!! Mad mullahs!!! We’re all gonna diiiiieeeeee!!!”

    And if you don’t agree, you’re a “kook”. Heh.

  5. For some reason, when the instrumentality of death is another person’s willful act, people naturally freak out. If 12 people died on the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in a bus accident, no one would have batted an eyelash. Terr-rists with guns? Time to shit the pants.

    But from a rational perspective of death avoidance, the instrumentality is irrelevant. Dead is dead, regardless of what killed you. What matters it the statistical odds of event x occurring. And it is very unlikely that anyone will be killed by a terrorist attack. So we (the world) should all calm the fuck down. To do otherwise is (wait for it)….to allow the terr-rists to win.

    1. OTOH in some countries terrorism is a daily experience and it is not unreasonable to assume that those same terrorist will try it here especially since they have stated such and have tried. That being said I fear my own government more than the terrorist and if the government would get around to approving my CCW I will be happy to deal with any terrorist when and if ever I encounter one which would be like the lottery very small odds of it happening.

      1. As soon as acts of terrorism become a statistical risk of death is when you act (and in proportion to the risk). The fact of the matter is, for the U.S. and much of the Western world, the threat is somewhere between auto-erotic asphyxiation and trampling in a stampede.

    2. This is an important distinction, but I think you are wrong. All other things being equal, it’s perfectly rational to fear someone trying to kill you more than an accidental death.

      But this article reminds me of a Salon (IIRC) piece circa 1999, pooh-poohing the risk of terrorism. I think it also used the “struck by lightning” analogy. And then 9/11 happened. Oops! Terrorism was negligible, until it wasn’t.

      1. On 9/11 about 3,000 people were killed in a terrorist attack. In that same year, 2.4 million Americans passed away. 9/11 represented 0.0012% of all deaths in terrorism’s most successful year in the U.S., by far. It was a statistical blip, not even worthy of being called negligible. Sure it was terrible, but in that same year over 700,000 died of cancer, and we sure haven’t changed our entire society to fight cancer.

        1. And 30,000+ died in traffic accidents, but we haven’t banned cars.

        2. since it was small statistic I guess we can just ignore it then. argument complete, being killed by a terrorist is no different then dying of old age. Everybody move along nothing to see here.

          1. Please explain how being killed by a terrorist is so much worse than dying of old age. I’m pretty sure you’re dead either way (especially if you’re killed by a terrorist while old). The difference is the odds of me ending up old and having to worry about dying of it are pretty darn good. The odds of me having to realistically worry about being killed by a terrorist are statistically zero.

            The point that’s being made here is not that terrorism isn’t a terrible thing, but that it’s a terrible thing whose scope is really very small, kind of like serial killers and/or cannibals. Yes, their crimes are horrific and they deserve to be brought to justice, but pretending like there are serial killers and cannibals around every corner is lunacy.

            1. No sense in discussing/arguing with a utilitarian. Dying of old age is the same as dying from torture–you’re still dead.

        3. Broadly speaking, I agree with you, but it’s also worth considering that many of the 2.4 million likely died of old age; one might say that, on average, per individual, more years were taken from the people who were killed by terrorists on 9/11 than those who died of other causes. Also, people are under the impression that we know how to “cure” terrorism, while we don’t have foolproof cures for, say, cancer. Those with that impression don’t take into account costs in terms of civil liberties, injury or death to innocents both in the U.S. and abroad as the result of anti-terrorist efforts, or actual dollar costs. We can eliminate terrorism just as we can “cure” cancer by burning the patient to ashes and declaring him 100% cancer free.

      2. Actually, it isn’t. You can take precautions to improve your chances of avoiding an accidental death. You can’t do much about someone trying to kill you randomly, so why worry about it?

  6. Thank you Steve, you are EXACTLY correct. The odds of dying in a terrorist attack is nearly zero (1 in 20,000,000). You are far more likely to die in your car (1 in 18,000), yet you drive every day. You drive every day and you don’t demand the government spend trillions of dollars to mitigate that threat.

    People are completely irrational.

      1. I’d say that those numbers are flawed right from the beginning; the first item indicates that the total likelihood of death from any cause is 1:1, yet depending on the source, I find that between 6 and 12 percent of every person ever born is still alive. To assume that we will all die is pure speculation!

    1. actually the government is doing everything it can to prevent death in automobile accident thats why some cars cost three times as much as they should. if the government let me I would by a car with no safety features in trade for cheap economical transport. based on that the governments over reaction/protection to/from terrorism is right in line with every other nanny state program.

      1. No, they’re not. They could cut the speed limit to 30 mph. Why haven’t they done it? It might save one child.

    2. Fear of terrorism can be quite rational. The odds are only part of the issue. Yes, life has risks of accidents, but your car is not plotting to kill you in an attempt to install a tyrannical government over you. It’s perfectly rational to fear other humans who are your sworn and ruthless mortal enemies, regardless of how successful they have been in the past.

      1. Think about the odds you will die in a terror attack if you dare to print a picture of Mohammed in a paper your edit. What do you think your odds are now. This is the crucial point you guys are missing. Sure if you keep your mouth shut, you chances of becoming a victim are low. That’s how terrorism works.

      2. Um…NO…it isn’t. Odds of death are odds of death.

        I rest my case. This is EXACTLY the irrational hand wringing I’m talking about.

        Not to say we shouldn’t do anything about it. Just that what we do about it should be proportional to the actual threat it poses. IOW, terrorists should be caught, tried and punished. The frequency of occurrence doesn’t justify preemptive action. In fact, spending resources and giving undue attention to terrorist attacks incentivises such techniques as the entire purpose is to bring attention to their cause.

        You are twice as likely to get stuck by lightning than to die at the hands of a terrorist. Should we declare a war on thunderstorms?

        IRRATIONAL FEAR!

        1. Well, what are the odds that you’ll be killed by a cop? Minuscule. So, by your logic, all the blather on this site about cops killing people is “irrational fear,” right?

          1. But there is a whole range of things cops can do short of killing you: 1) wasting your time; 2) arresting you; 3) fining you; 4) putting you in jail; 5) beating you; etc. So the statistic you’re looking for is “negative encounters with police officers” not “death by police.” Last I checked, being hassled by terrorists isn’t terribly common.

      3. We already have the tyrannical government, we’re just used to it.

  7. Chapman is completely missing the point.

    Nothing was done about the threat to Shalman Ruskdie. Now many major newspapers in the United States and Europe are being intimidated these Islamist extremist because of fear of retaliation. A growing number of prominent writers including Flemming Rose, Daniel Pipes, Onkar Ghate have received credible threats on their lives and their families for daring to challenge these assholes publically. Now half-assed countries like North Korea are getting into the act because they see a huge paper tiger that seems fearful of defending themselves. Freedom of speech has already been compromised in this country and Europe.

    The country has been repeatedly attacked and Americans killed since the the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Iran. Morally, we have the right to defend ourselves and do not have to wait until thousands are killed in some horrific attack to retaliate. Appeasement does not work, and the attacks will continue to escalate.

    Until libertarians can stand up and agree to fight these assholes and crush them, they will not and should not be taken seriously by the American people. It is becoming pretty obvious that a libertarian President could not be depended upon to protect American lives and liberty. Chapman only confirms this.

    1. “Appeasement does not work, and the attacks will continue to escalate.”

      What is the statistical evidence of this for the U.S. and the Western world?

      1. I don’t know, nor care. Terrorism is working its magic even if the odds are very low. Maybe you should ask the people who work for Charlie Hebdo.

        1. “I don’t know, nor care.” I think that pretty much sums up the irrationality that I discussed above.

          1. Where is my irrationality? I admit the odds are low, but the threat for those who speak out is real. And the effectiveness of the threat is working.

            We have been attacked, Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to support terrorism. Leaders in Iran continue to threaten us with extinction regularly. I take them seriously because they have acted upon their words repeatedly. I submit you are being irrational to ignore it when the evidence is overwhelming they wish to do us harm.

            1. “I admit the odds are low, but the threat for those who speak out is real.”

              Think about that a little more. Real =/= likely.

              Being trampled by a rhino is real. That does not mean it is likely.

              1. It is if there are rhinos around and you piss them off.

            2. We have been attacked. For all intents and purposes, once. As I pointed out above, even that most spectacular attack didn’t even amount to a tenth, no, not even a hundredth of one percent of the deaths in the United States that year. Iran and Saudi Arabia, even if they are in fact supporting terrorism with the goal of attacking America, cannot harm us to any appreciable degree. Even if we had a 9/11 every single year, we’d be losing far more people to the flu, and vastly more to cancer and heart disease. And yet we haven’t spent nearly the money on those problems, which literally can strike at any time, as we have on terrorism.

              No, instead we’ve got you and your ilk, who want to continue to spend American money and, lest we forget, lives going from country to country deposing regimes then trying to build new ones, without a shred of evidence that the strategy works. The proof is in the pudding. When Iraq or Afghanistan stop being breeding grounds for extremists, I’ll take your argument a little more seriously. And while we are at it, wishing to do us harm is not the same as actually doing it.

      2. Some handy charts. Overall attacks are down, but I don’t think that’s a trend we can count on.

        1. The one I care about is marked “Deaths.” Note that, without the exception of Oklahoma and 9/11, it is pretty much flat-lined near zero.

          1. So editors or American newspapers including the New York Times have as much as admitted they did not print the cartoons of Mohammed for fear of their employees. Are they stupid, too? Were the executives at Sony stupid for not showing the film? They were not sure the theaters were safe. This is the nature of the threat and this is why these terrorist must be crushed.

            1. these terrorist must be crushed.

              Even if your fear was rational, have you given ANY thought, whatsoever, as to how you’d accomplish that? If so, I’d love to hear it.

              Do you even have the slightest inkling of the scope of that suggestion?

            2. Yes.

            3. I am not sure I am safe right now. I could be killed by an airplane crashing into my house (about as likely as a terrorist), in my car when I leave to go buy groceries, have a heart attack while working out at the gym, etc. There is no such thing as being sure you are safe. Sony’s executives just ended up looking silly. And yes, the editors of newspapers have admitted not printing cartoons out of fear, not out of any reasoned analysis. That’s pretty much Heresiarch’s whole point.

    2. The point isn’t that nothing should be done about terrorism. The point is to not exaggerate the threat it poses, and use it as an excuse for the government to take away our rights and grow endlessly.

      What exactly do you mean by “fight these assholes and crush them?” Invade every country in the Muslim world? More mass surveillance? What the fuck have we been doing for the last 15 years? I wouldn’t exactly call it appeasement.

      1. Declare war on Islamic Terrorist and the governments that support them.

        Start with the easiest: Saudi Arabia. Give the Family of Saud 1 month to stop petro dollars going to terrorist. If the support continues, bomb the hell out of them. It probably would not come to that. I think they would buckle pretty quick.

        Iran is another story. Start with the destruction of their atomic works and go from there. Like in Imperial Japan, after these governments are crushed, time and effort would need to be taken to round up any supporters, but it has to be done.

        1. Declare war on Islamic Terrorist and the governments that support them.

          Hey, Dave, hate to point this out, but that’s EXACTLY what we did. How’s that workin out for ya? Iraq and Afghanistan…remember? Both places present a worse threat now than when we started. And you propose we double down in Iran and Saudi?

          You cannot defeat terrorism with conventional military force. In fact, terrorism came about because it was a way to impose your political will without having to engage in battle with superior military forces.

          The only reason terrorism works is because irrational fear mongers, like some on this board, give the terrorists EXACTLY what they are asking for…ATTENTION. Hunt down the perpetrators as common criminals, try them and punish them. No more is required.

          1. Are editors who print anti-Islamic columns or cartoons of Mohammed irrational in the fear of reprisals. Read the folks that are on the front lines of the battle. They are truly being threatened and the threats are real.

            You folks call yourselves defenders of freedom of speech. I am not seeing it here. I am seeing the same defeatist weasel-words I’d expect at Salon.

            1. Yes.

              The only way to defeat terrorism is to not change your way of life as a reaction to it.

              It’s a cliche around here but that is what terrorism is. They want you to change your behavior through fear. If you do, they have won. Every paper in the world should reprint the C-H Cartoons on their front page in solidarity. And if there is another attack, do it again, instead of crawling in their hole and hiding.

              I’m not disagreeing with your notion of standing up to terrorists. I’m arguing with your methodology. You clearly don’t understand the goals of the terrorist. Killing a bunch of innocent people, isn’t standing up to terrorism. It’s causing it.

        2. Lol, our government has been nominally allies with Saudi Arabia for decades and you think we’re going to start bombing them? Even assuming they fully stopped that, and didn’t covertly resume it, I’m not sure if the already-reviled Saudi government capitulating to American demands is going to be any sort of lasting solution to anti-American terrorism. And I certainly don’t think bombing the Arabian peninsula, home to the holiest sites in Islam, is going to help reduce Islamic terrorism.

          Re Iran, it’s a similar story. Taking out the Iranian government is not by any means a long-term fix to terrorism. Most terrorist groups that have attacked us have been Sunni, sworn enemies of Iran. The comparison to Imperial Japan is not valid, because Imperial Japan fought through conventional means with an army, etc. Terrorists are individuals and small groups that do not operate in such a way.

          I think our recent adventures in the Middle East should show that overthrowing governments and expecting peace and prosperity in the aftermath is not exactly rational.

    3. Morally, we have the right to defend ourselves and do not have to wait until thousands are killed in some horrific attack to retaliate.

      Of course you have the right to defend yourself.

      But here’s the thing, Dave. You only have the right to defend yourself against those who actually wish to do you harm.

      That being the case, who do you plan to attack?

      1. The primary country supporting terrorism: Iran & Saudi Arabia. Qatar maybe, too. There is evidence they are getting in on the act. The governments supporting this crap have to be eliminated. After that it is a matter of mopping up.

        No country building, no giving elections hoping they will vote for freedom, just eliminate the goddamn threat. America has to stand up for itself.

        1. I’m sure that will all go swimmingly, if past performance is any indication.

          But think about what you are saying – we are going to spend billions (probably trillions) of dollars, sacrifice thousands of Americans lives and tens of thousands of foreign lives…all to avoid a nearly infinitesimal risk of death? It’s madness.

          1. That’s just it. We did not go out to defend ourselves, we went out for stupid altruistic reasons: giving countries the right to vote for freedom or not? What a farce. Iraq was not a credible threat, the evidence they were supporting terrorist was weak, especially in comparison to the countries that were: Iran and Saudi Arabia.

            Tons of evidence these countries were both involved in numerous attacks. The Saudi’s were the primary financiers of 911 for Christ sakes.

            1. I’m sure if you invade with a different intentional stance that will make all the difference.

              And I think you forget that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were sold as necessary to our defense. Only after that became a hard sell did we pivot to “but also for freedom, fuck yeah.”

        2. We couldn’t eliminate the goddamn threat in Iraq or Afghanistan in 10 fucking years. In fact, or attempts to eliminate the goddamned threat did nothing but create more goddamned threat.

          And now you want to go to war with the entirety of the Middle East?

          Tell me, Dave, which is more likely?

          Abdul the terrorist lives next door to Caleb in Saudi. The US sends in the bombers and takes out Abdul, but in the process, kills three of Caleb’s children. Is it more likely that Caleb thank the US for getting rid of Abdul or to join Al Qaeda? What would you do?

          1. We did not declare war. And the whole time Bush placated these Islamist all over the place. Both Bush and Obama fought a half-assed wars with all these restrictions on our military. The goal was not to eliminate the threats but to build political favoritism with the people by giving them stuff.

            War was not declared and winning–by defeating our enemies was not a goal. In fact just the opposite happened.

            Compare these so called wars to what was done to Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Wars should only be fought to destroy your enemies–enemies of freedom. That was never declared by either Bush or Obama. Stupid, stupid wars and we are still left with the threats.

            Islamism has to be crushed by bringing the leaders to justice or killing them if they resist. Followers must be humiliated–just like the Nazi’s were and the followers of the Japanese Emperor. Nothing else will eliminate the threat.

            1. I seriously cannot understand how people think Islamic terrorists are in any way comparable as a military threat from a strategic POV to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Those were nation states with conventional armed forces engaging in conventional warfare. Islamic terrorists operate asymmetrically, in small groups or even individually, often independent or mostly independent, do not have central leadership, etc. Also, Islamic terrorists and their supporters are spread across the globe in dozens of countries, blended into civilian populations. To think that we’re going to eliminate the threat via WWII tactics is ludicrous.

              1. We won’t use WWII tactics. It won’t be nearly that hard. We simply have to show we are ready to stand up for ourselves.

                These countries–Iran and Saudi Arabia are weak militarily, they are counting on us not to stand up and defend ourselves. That is the only reason they dare to support these terrorist. But we simply must decided to do this, and the war will be over relatively quickly.

                Otherwise, more NSA, more spying, loss of freedom, more terrorist attacks, more newspaper editors dead, more intimidation of writers who want to speak out.

            2. You don’t have the slightest idea of what asymmetric warfare is or why it’s used, do you?

              Who are these “enemies” you speak of? You cannot eliminate a threat that you cannot identify. That’s why these asymmetrical actors don’t put on uniforms. Because it defeats their enemy’s ability to kill them. They hide amongst the population and strike not to eliminate their opponents, but to demoralize them and eventually outlast them. They will not fight you in the open where they can be killed by superior weaponry. So all you’re doing in such an attempt is wasting resources.

              THE ONLY WAY to completely eradicate such a threat is to kill the entire population. In which case you are punishing innocent people for the actions of another. And you are doing so over incidents that kill one person in 20,000,000.

              Islamism has to be crushed by bringing the leaders to justice or killing them if they resist.

              We’ve been killing their leaders for going on 14 years now. How’s that strategy workin out?

              1. Francisco–you are being a defeatist. The country has faced much greater threats in its past than these piss-ant ME dictators and the terrorist followers. The problem is now that the country has lost its self-confidence in its moral rightness. The country will even stand up and forthrightly defend itself when attacked. It has to say, we are fighting for someone else to vote for freedom. That is wrong, wrong wrong and smacks of a lack of confidence and knowledge of inner goodness. We deserve our freedom and we deserve on right to defend our freedom. End of story.

                It is not a matter of strength, it is a matter of resolve to defeat these people. Libertarians are not helping–especially that idiot Ron Paul.

                1. “The country has faced much greater threats in its past than these piss-ant ME dictators and the terrorist followers.”

                  I’m pretty sure that’s been our point.

                  What universe do you inhabit where the US has been doing nothing to combat Islamic terrorism in recent decades? We “stood up for ourselves” in Afghanistan, did the terrorists wither away and run sheepishly at the sight of awesome Murican military might? Nobody is saying do nothing about terrorism. We’re saying that expecting to end it through a show of military might is pure fantasy, and wastes lives and money.

                2. The problem is now that the country has lost its self-confidence in its moral rightness.

                  The moral rightness of killing tens of thousands of innocent people over the actions of a handful of murderers that manage to kill 15 US citizens a year (on average)…way to take the high moral ground, Dave.

                  We’ve killed more American soldiers in avenging 9-11 than were killed in the original attacks. And the world is less safe now than it was then.

                  You cannot defeat terrorists with conventional military tactics. Attempting to makes the situation worse.

                  We should stand up and defend ourselves. Those responsible should be apprehended, tried and punished. Punishing those who had nothing to do with it (i.e. war), only strengthens the enemy.

          2. What’s your position on fire bombing Japanese cities? The atomic bomb? These deaths are on those that attack us, not on us for defending ourselves. This is the crucial moral point libertarians often miss.

            1. Fire bombing Japanese cities and the atomic bomb were acts that did not need to happen in order for us to win the war and were not strikes against military targets. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor Naval Base, a military installation and a legitimate war target. It did not bomb Honolulu and purposefully attack civilians. Think about how we would view it had the Japanese firebombed San Francisco.

              Look, I believe the United States was on the side of righteousness overall in World War II, but that doesn’t mean that all of our tactics were wise or just. Deliberately incinerating women and children in a firestorm was wrong. The Nazis were wrong for doing it during the Blitz, and we were wrong for doing it in Dresden and Japan.

              1. Study history. Do you realize that it was estimated that 1 million Allied troops would be needed to invade Japan and that casualties were estimated to be 20-30% or more–100,00o to 200,000 troops. It is a very good possibility I would not be here today writing this post if the Atomic bomb had not been dropped. My father would have been one of the invaders. Hardened Allied troops who expected to die in the planned invasion cried with joy when they heard about the Atomic bombs being dropped. They had just been given their lives back.

                1. I’ve studied history, thanks. There was no need to invade Japan from a strict military standpoint. They were beaten and at that point no longer had access to fuel supplies that would have enabled them to keep fighting for any appreciable length of time or in any scale, certainly not to justify the casualties needed to take the Japanese mainland.

                  It’s obviously a very good thing that your father and thousands more troops on both sides didn’t end up dying because America didn’t invade Japan. But that doesn’t mean that the atomic bomb (I notice you didn’t bother arguing the point about the firebombing which cannot be defended as bringing about an end to the war) was anything less than one of the most horrific episodes in a horrific conflict. An estimated 185,000 died in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts, almost all of whom were noncombatants. While I am happy for you and your family that your father didn’t have to risk his life any more than he already did, but the deliberate targeting of the old, women, and children to save your own soldiers lives is still repugnant to me, sorry.

                2. Study history. Do you realize that it was estimated that 1 million Allied troops would be needed to invade Japan and that casualties were estimated to be 20-30% or more–100,00o to 200,000 troops.

                  You do realize you’ve just defeated your own argument, right?

                  The nuclear attack on Japan was a measured calculated response. We could spend 200,000 American lives to win the war or we could kill 135,000 (+/-) Japanese to accomplish the same.

                  You are talking about killing millions of people to avenge 15 Americans killed each year at the the hands of terrorists.

                  Sorry, my friend, I’d rather just treat them as the criminals they are and forgo the genocide.

                  1. Excellent point, Francisco, and well stated. Minor quibble: the 135k was just the Hiroshima death toll. Nagasaki bumped it up by another 50 thousand. Sorry, it’s the history nerd in me.

                    1. Thx CP, I misread my own source.

                  2. “You are talking about killing millions of people to avenge 15 Americans killed each year at the the hands of terrorists.”

                    No Francisco. We have already lost some of our freedoms because of these people. Major newspapers are already parsing what they say because of the threats. Also, the threat of Islam is used to justify the NSA and other 4th Amendment threats internally. Some of my favorite commentators about Islam have had their lives threatened many others are probably watching what they say because they feel threatened by the terrorist.

                    America is losing its freedoms before our eyes and the resolve to do something about seems to be lost. I fear that another 911 will have to happen before the resolve returns. Hopefully, not. More Charlie Hebdo attacks might do it. But it makes me very angry to think that brave people like these guys will have to die before defenders of freedom will finally stand up to these people.

                    1. We have already lost some of our freedoms because of these people. Major newspapers are already parsing what they say because of the threats.

                      The only freedoms we’ve lost to the terrorists are those we’ve taken from ourselves under the guise of preventing terrorism.

                      You cannot prevent terrorism without relegating yourself to living in a police state. The only way to defeat terrorism is to ignore it, by treating it as any other crime, or to eliminate the underlying root cause that spurs the terrorist to act (that’s not to say any terrorist attack is ever justified).

                  3. Who said anything about genocide. I said that when a country does what it has to do to defend itself after an attack, the death and destruction is morally on the country that initiated the attack.

                    In the ME, the US military is so overwhelming, that if it was decided to use it to actually destroy the governments supporting the attacks, the death toll would not be that great. But that cannot be the main concern of the country defending itself. In defense of your life and freedom, you have the right to do what is necessary. You don’t go out of your way to kill innocents, of course, you only do it if it is necessary to end the threat to yourself. That’s what it means to have the right to defend yourself.

                    1. I said that when a country does what it has to do to defend itself after an attack, the death and destruction is morally on the country that initiated the attack.

                      Against whom? You keep dodging the question.

                      – These are NOT government sponsored events. There is no responsible government to retaliate against.

                      – The terrorists are indistinguishable from the general population. You CANNOT IDENTIFY THEM. If you get 10, you can be sure you missed 100. HOW DO YOU FIND THE 100?

                      You’ll kill more innocents than you will terrorists. Turning the friends and families of the innocent into terrorists…

                      Again, tell me, Dave, which is more likely?

                      Abdul the terrorist lives next door to Caleb in Saudi. The US sends in the bombers and takes out Abdul, but in the process, kills three of Caleb’s children. Is it more likely that Caleb thank the US for getting rid of Abdul or to join Al Qaeda? What would you do?

                    2. Very valid points, but I think we can take a step beyond that. Based on the brilliant Wall Doctrine, why don’t we just take out that terrorist haven of Boston, MA? We KNOW that there were two nefarious bombers harbored there; who’s to say there might not be even more?

                3. It is a very good possibility I would not be here today writing this post if the Atomic bomb had not been dropped.

                  I used to be pro-nuke, but if not dropping it and invading instead would have spared us having to put up with you spewing your idiotic shit all over this thread, I think I may have to rethink my position.

              2. Fire bombing Japanese cities and the atomic bomb were acts that did not need to happen in order for us to win the war and were not strikes against military targets.

                I disagree. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki had military facilities, and the Japanese almost did not surrender after Hiroshima. It took two bombs to make it happen. Yes, their position was hopeless by then, but they were fanatics arming women and children with bamboo spears in preparation for an invasion. The bombs were legitimate, ended the war, and saved lives (including Japanese lives) overall.

                1. My brother-in-law worked in Japan a number of years. He said he was constantly being thanked–on the streets unsolicited–for what the US did for their country in destroying the Imperialist government. America gave them their lives, too.

                  My guess is there are many decent people in the ME who would thank us, too. They hate their leaders.

                  1. “My guess is there are many decent people in the ME who would thank us, too. They hate their leaders.”

                    You’re pretty much paraphrasing Bush and Cheney, pre-Iraq invasion. Didn’t work out so well.

                    1. “You’re pretty much paraphrasing Bush and Cheney, pre-Iraq invasion. Didn’t work out so well.”

                      Crappy leaders who fought a crappy war. Iraq was not our #1 enemy. It was never shown they had anything to do with 911. That was the stupidest war since Vietnam.

                    2. “Iraq was not our #1 enemy. It was never shown they had anything to do with 911.”

                      I’m not sure how that’s relevant to your point though. Your argument is based on the notion that us removing oppressive leaders is going to result in a bunch of goodwill and thus a loss of moral support for terrorists. Sadaam being involved in 9/11 or not has nothing to do with that.

                      Also, do you think our current leaders would handle things any better? What nationally-prominent politician would you trust to carry out this mission?

                    3. “Your argument is based on the notion that us removing oppressive leaders is going to result in a bunch of goodwill and thus a loss of moral support for terrorists.”

                      That is a secondary issue at best. My main point is to attack those threatening our freedom until they no longer pose a threat. Simple. The rest is icing on the cake. I could really care less if the people in the ME love us or not or become lovers of freedom for that matter. I care about America and the freedoms we need to defend here.

                    4. Well that was your entire reasoning regarding taking away their moral support.

                      “My main point is to attack those threatening our freedom until they no longer pose a threat.”

                      Do you not realize why this is difficult to achieve against an asymmetrical, dispersed enemy like terrorists through conventional military means?

                      “I could really care less if the people in the ME love us or not or become lovers of freedom for that matter.”

                      Do you not see the relationship between the attitudes of people in the ME towards America and anti-American terrorism? Islamic terrorists don’t kill Americans because they love America.

                    5. The people who support the attack on the US do it because they think they can get away with it and they hate us. I am saying that they shouldn’t. They should be punished.

                      I want these asshole freedom-haters to fear the shit out of us. I don’t think this should be as controversial as it seems to be with libertarians. Oh well.

                  2. No thinks the leaders of ME countries are awesome. What we’re disputing is the notion that getting rid of them through military action is going to result in them being replaced by freedom-loving rulers and bring an end to terrorism. Sadaam, Ghaddafi, the Taliban, etc. were all evil bastards, but kicking them out of power didn’t exactly turn Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan into terrorist-free paradises.

                2. A fair point. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki had areas that were used as military facilities. That being said, the overwhelming majority of the fatalities, as we knew they would be were noncombatants (including American POWs in Hiroshima, who I’m sure were somebody’s dads, sons, and brothers).

                  Look, in war you do have to make very hard choices and there’s no question the atomic bombs will be argued forever as to whether their use was the only way. I happen to fall in the “no” camp, but do understand the arguments of those on the other side. I don’t see a similar argument for the firebombing of cities in Japan. We pretty much knew that wouldn’t lead to surrender or reduce Japan’s military capability, but we went ahead anyway.

                  In this context, though, as relates to our current discussion of terrorism, Dave’s point seemed to be that any tactic is completely justifiable because “they attacked us”, regardless of the massive difference in scale between the few thousands killed in 9/11 and the hundreds of thousands if not millions that would die if we invaded another Middle Eastern country (plus several thousand Americans if recent history is any guide). I think that’s what got my hackles up.

                  1. Burning cities did reduce Japan’s military capabilities. Cities were not just the locations of arms factories, but Japan had dispersed as much weapons manufacturing as they could into small workshops and even civilian homes.

        3. What you are advocating is digging the hole we’ve already dug much deeper. Clearly if blowing up the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq and pouring billions of dollars into making them into democracies has failed to prevent them becoming havens for terrorists, the smart move is to do the blowing up without the rebuilding?

          Further, yes, you do seem quite willing to blow up a bunch of innocent people as well, for a negligible benefit for the U.S., i.e. saving less American lives than are die in swimming pools every year.

          The claim that we are “better” than the terrorists is based on us not killing a bunch of innocent people to achieve our means. If we are doing the same thing, then it’s just a matter of their team wearing towels on their heads and waving the ISIS flag while our team wears camouflage pajamas and carries our flag.

    4. The problem with “fighting and crushing” a diffuse enemy is that the military response encourages more people to join that enemy. Ignoring them would increase our safety. Arresting and trying the perpetrators is the proper response.

      1. No. If you know there is a high likelihood you will be killed if you join America enemies, you will not join. The lesson must be do not become an enemy of America. People should fear us and fear our defense of freedom.

        Winning freedom is not a popularity contest.

        1. Don’t suicide bombers by definition know they will be killed? Didn’t all the 9/11 attackers hijack the planes knowing they would perish? And yet they joined “America enemies” anyway. Maybe you should go back and think long and hard about what you just said and maybe you’ll see why it makes no sense whatsoever.

          1. The people in the governments who supported these attacks are not suicidal. They did not expect to die. But they have nurtured a cult of death for their followers, and they use this to attack and terrorize the West–a culture they despise and feel threatened by. They are the ones the fight must be taken to.

            1. Ah I see. So you just didn’t frame your earlier statement correctly. The denizens of the Middle East are all crazed cultists who are willing to die at the drop of a hat to spill American blood and cannot be reasoned with, but if we but kill their leaders they’ll make like the battle droids in Star Wars and just switch off?

              1. Their means of support–moral support and financial support must be taken away. That is how wars are won.

                Islam has declared war on us. It is time to fight–but this time really fight them. They have already taken some of our freedoms and killed many of our fellow Americans. Ignoring this will not keep them from taking more of our freedoms and killing more Americans. Count on it.

                1. I can at least see how you could attempt to take away their financial support. Granted, I’m not sure how successful you would be, how costly it would be, or how effective it would be (a lot of terrorist plots didn’t exactly have multimillion dollar budgets). How the fuck do you plan to take away their moral support? With bombs?

                  1. Showing we are ready to bring their leaders to justice. Killing Osama bin Laden did a lot to demoralize these creeps–for a while. But there was no effective follow-up. We did not finish the job by a long shot.

                    1. Even bin Laden was in the end one guy who led one organization. Al Qaeda was not and is not the end all be all of Islamic terror, nor was bin Laden the whole org, clearly. Also, al-Qaeda hates the Saudi government and has been fighting it for years. Taking out the Saudi government isn’t going to finish them off, and could end up in a situation like Iraq, where a terrorist org has the chance to achieve control over a large amount of territory.

                    2. Also, we brought Sadaam, Ghaddafi, many high-ranking members of the Taliban, etc. to justice and that didn’t exactly cause everyone in the Middle East to realize we are super awesome and stop fighting us. Terrorists don’t need mass support to do what they do, so even if that worked for most people, that wouldn’t end the problem if there are still a minority of people willing to kill you.

                2. “They” didn’t take away our freedoms. We did. “Islam” didn’t pass the Patriot act, create a domestic spying program, or anything else. We could still be just as free, even more free, than we were then, if we had taken a different path. We could still do so, regardless of the actions of terrorists, if we chose to do so.

                  1. The different path would have been to punish the Iranians severely in 1979 for their support of the take over of the embassy–a clear act of war. By not doing that, we made the problem worse.

                    All of the presidents since then, including Reagan, are responsible for the mess we have now. They did not stand up and defend the country as it should have been defended. It will be harder to end the threat the longer we wait.

                    1. You do realize that we deposed their democratically elected prime minister and put into place a despotic dictator in order to protect British oil interests, right? One that we propped up despite the known fact that he brutally repressed his people? Then we were all shocked when the Iranian people deposed the tyrannical king that we installed and supported, then took over our embassy. We aren’t exactly the aggrieved party here. Maybe we shouldn’t have created the problem in the first place, then we wouldn’t have to worry about making it worse.

                    2. You do realize that Iran is not exactly the leader of global Islamic terror? They are absolutely hated by Sunni groups, who form the majority of Islamic terrorists (as they are the majority of Muslims in general)

                  2. Exactly right. Thank you for saving me the trouble!

            2. Some of the people in various governments are helpful, but not instrumental to the cause of terrorism (as a whole). And in a lot of cases, terrorists are fighting against their domestic government. You seem to think Islamic terrorists are like conventional soldiers who all take orders from Riyadh or Tehran and that taking out a couple regimes will eliminate the threat.

      2. Ignoring them would increase our safety.

        We pretty much ignored them up until 9/11. That strategy didn’t seem to work out.

        1. There was no strategy to defeat those threatening us and defeat them. Our leaders mainly placated and appeased as they fought half-assed with terrible restrictions of engagement and limiting our military in what they could do to destroy our enemies. None of them had to resolve that was needed.

          1. they fought half-assed with terrible restrictions of engagement and limiting our military in what they could do to destroy our enemies.

            Tell me Dave, what ROE would you have changed? Are you advocating the killing of innocent people?

            1. Francisco–I am advocating that we do what has to be done to end the threat to our freedoms–very real threats, by the way. If innocents die as a result of defending ourselves, we are not morally at fault. The people who attacked us are. We have the right to defend ourselves and we must. If innocents die as a result, it is morally not on us, it is on the people who attacked us.

              1. Dave, respectfully, you don’t know fuck-all.

                You haven’t answered one of my direct questions. How do we identify the terrorists and kill them without making more of them?

                You are advocating genocide, because wiping out entire populations is the only way you can eliminate terrorists embedded within a civilian population. You are advocating killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in retaliation for 15 US terrorist related deaths per year.

                You’re batchit crazy, not to mention immoral and we are done.

            2. “Tell me Dave, what ROE would you have changed?”

              Not sure which war and which specific ROEs you are talking about. But as far as the Afghanistan war is concern, war should have been formally declared on Islamic terrorists and any country harboring Osama bin Laden and the terrorists could expect the full force of our military in eliminating them.

              I don’t claim to be a military expert, but the President should have told the commanders in the field to do whatever had to be done to wipe out Bin Laden and his forces out no matter what. Nothing like this was ordered and the military’s tentativeness not to hurt non-combatants enabled this guy to get away. Shameful.

              1. You can’t formally “declare war on Islamic terrorists” because we declare war on nation-states, not non-state actors. What would it even mean to declare war on Islamic terrorists? It would mean exactly what our current metaphorical “War on Terror” means–a slogan akin to the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Poverty.”

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  9. Finally I agree with Chapman. It’s been a few years.

    17 shooting victims is a genuine tragedy and atrocity, but in Chicago they call that a normal weekend.

  10. Auto accidents occur in public roads shared by thousands of drivers, and factors other than the driver cause the accident. They’re not comparable to terrorist acts. Apples and oranges.

    Mass shootings are an outlier, and the shooter is often mentally disturbed. He’s not indoctrinated by an organization who funds and trains terrorists. Stopping this sort of tragedy might be a matter of America’s families and friends actually reaching out to those in isolation.

    Chances of a 9/11 sequel is remote. But terrorism is not an accident or isolated incident. There IS a group dedicated to kill innocent people. Every other year the FBI stops homegrown wannabe terrorists from blowing up buildings. One of these days the amateurs may take their goals seriously.

    Let’s say a ISIS influenced American Muslim shoots up a Jewish bakery and kills 15 people tomorrow. No one here will be caught off guard, right? Because even though the odds of terrorism is rare, America (even with NSA) is just the sort of a place where radical elements can hide somewhere undetected for YEARS and plan out this sort of an attack.

  11. While it is true that few of us will be directly and personally hurt in terrorist acts, all of us will be affected by the changes in society that will occur in response to them. The changes are sometimes subtle and sometimes gross, but they all require us to live differently tomorrow than we did today. Natural disasters and normal accidents, regardless of the number of deaths they inflict, will never engender the same changes. We’re worried about terrorism not only because of its local effects but because of the repercussions.

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  14. chappy gets dumber on a minute to minute basis now

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