30 Americans die worldwide from Terrorism annually, while 130,000 die by accident

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The right wing is carping that President Obama is “downplaying” the dangers of Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) in the wake of the Paris and Brussels attacks on soft targets. But whipping up hysteria about the threat of terrorism is a racket that mainly benefits security firms and arms manufacturers. No one will deny that such attacks are horrible affairs that kill dozens of innocents and everything humanly possible should be done to combat them. But it is also just the case that the attacks are intended to provoke fear, terror, hatred and polarization, so such sentiments should be avoided. And these assaults on soft targets should be seen in some sort of perspective. So let us just consider the leading causes of death in the US (2014), a country of some 318 million, in the context of terrorism (defined as non-state actors using violence against civilians to accomplish a political goal).

1. Heart disease: 611,105

2. Cancer: 584,881

3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205

4. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557

5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978

6. Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767

7. Diabetes: 75,578

8. Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979

9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112

10. Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149

From 2005 to 2015,

71 Americans were killed on US soil by extremists, of whom

24 were killed by Muslim extremists (white supremacists etc. were more deadly than Muslims).

That is an average of a little over 7 per year.

In the same period, some 303 Americans died from terrorism worldwide, or 30.3 per year.

People just die in unintended accidents like falling down in the bathtub a the rate of 130,00 a year.

Despite the tiny number of victims (and each life of every one of them is precious), the American government shells out around $500 million on anti-terrorism programs per victim. But the USG only puts out $10,000 on cancer research per victim.

Just having more mental health counseling covered by health insurance would possibly cut down on that 41,000 a year who commit suicide. Militarizing our police, spying on everyone’s internet use, and so forth can’t possibly save a fraction of the number of deaths that better health insurance would.


Related video:

The Young Turks from a few years ago: “Dogs Kill More People Than Terrorists”

19 Responses

  1. According to the weather channel, over a period of the last 30 years, an average of 49 Americans are killed within the US by lightning every year. So, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than a terrorist. Fear is the currency of the right wing.

  2. Thanks much Juan.

    Great post. Much of our education if supposed to be founded on understanding arithmetic and fractions. Too bad most people and especially Republicans don’t understand this grad school stuff.

    The Republicans support the Tobacco industry which is killing over 8 million people worldwide and they instead focus on terrorism.

    There is no powerpoint that can even graphically show the massive difference between these different orders of magnitude.

    Republicans are liars when they say they want to protect lives.

    As you post shows, they lie and too many people fall for these lies again and again.

  3. These are very interesting stats. It is ironic that the US media is able to make the American people fear Muslims, and give the people the impression that Muslim terrorists are the biggest threat to their existence. When it is a white Christian terrorist with a gun shooting at innocent people in a theater, an elementary school, or a Sikh temple, it does not get the publicity that a crime perpetrated by a Muslim extremist does, and most of all you do not get political candidates or leaders, making any statement condemning the use of weapons, or criticize the gun lobby. When it is a Muslim, it is open season on all Muslims, and the ugly racist comments seem endless. It also shows that those owning and running the media are okay with this biased reporting. What else can we conclude?

  4. Problem is, the human cognitive system in its native, automatic mode doesn’t really do numbers. It works by salience and sears into memory what is memorable, not what is statistically significant. It is folly, of course, to develop policy based these natural inclinations and incapacities. But it makes for good politics.

    The real problem is to get the actual risks across to the mass of onlookers in a way that can be grasped viscerally. This is probably as difficult as getting people to see the self-interest that they’re voting against.

  5. Missing from the list are the death caused by States’ terrorism, commonly announced as “war” by the propaganda media that call itself “journalism”.
    The bulk of USA journalism, the Fourth Estate or forth power, is no longer independent. It has become a very sophisticated propaganda machine in line of what the BBC demonstrates in its very didactic series “The Century of the Self”. link to youtube.com

  6. Good points. Further, unlike the expense on disease research which benefits everyone forever, the expense on “terrorism” victims is ongoing, does not solve the problem, apparently increases the problem, and erases the underlying causes from public awareness.

    Terrorizing is a military tactic used by all nations when they think it effective (US attacks on Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Cambodia, Grant’s march though Georgia, secret terror wars in Latin America), not a belief system, while “terrorism” as political belief describes only warmonger tyrants over democracy, against whom Aristotle warned, who must pose a protectors to demand domestic power and accuse their moral superiors of disloyalty.

    Only broad and intensive consideration of the underlying problems can avoid disaster and reduce violence. The right wing revolution, that has destroyed US democracy by controlling its mass media and elections, prevents all consideration of underlying problems in foreign and domestic policy.

    • Good points. The “fear” of terrorism is exploited as a marketing tool. It is considered simply a “normal” part of capitalism, no different than selling nostrums from the first half of our nation promising relief from market driven fears. The only real new issue is that politicians participate in the scam.

      I am reminded relatively recently about McCain (and a few others) lobbying for funds for his rebel buddies in Syria, most of whom turned out to be ISIS and al Queda.

  7. I get the point, and I agree that using war to stop a technique of war is absurd, but I don’t think that merely comparing numbers of deaths by different agents is a good way to understand the impact of a death.

    Per the CDC, as of Feb. 16, 2016, the annual death rate in the United States is 821.5 deaths per 100,000 people. Of a population around 300 million, about 2.6 million people die each year. That is a lot of deaths, but these deaths don’t threaten the stability of the nation, and they don’t have the same impact as do deaths caused by terrorism or by war.

    Losing 50 people in a terrorist blast in an airport has a greater impact than losing 50 people in an ordinary train wreck. The terrorist message is that 1) we can hurt you anywhere 2) we would hurt you this way every single day if we could and we’re working on that.

    It’s the part 2 of the message that gets everyone panicked. A lighting strike or a dog bite has never been the initial “shot heard round the world”. Lighting storms and aggressive dog attacks don’t threaten to increase to the point at which a society could collapse. Terrorism does. It threatens to turn a functioning nation into a failed state. It would take a monumental number of crazed dogs to destroy human civilization. But we have seen nations collapse under the impact of small armed groups progressing from terror attacks to gang warfare to outright civil war.

    Until we’ve seen an Alexander the Great Dane lay waste to cities and conquer kingdoms, people are not going to get that anxious about dog bites!!

    • There isn’t any evidence of terrorism threatening American civilization. In the past ten years it hasn’t had any measurable effect at all. Why spend billions on it?

      • “American civilization.” lol As Ghandi said, it would be a good thing!!!!!!

        However, the response of the USA and Euyrope is playing into the hands of terrorists, as Osama bin Laden once said very clearly.

      • I agree with you 100%. If I had been president on 9/11, I would have pursued the attack as a horrific criminal case and followed the usual procedures of indictment, extradition, arrest, trial, etc. that are at the heart of civilized justice.

        My point is that terrorism is a tactic of war; one terror attack makes people worry that more terror attacks are coming and that the nation COULD be destabilized as a result. Terror awakens people’s personal nightmares about the possibility of war–even if you live in a nation that is well-protected by broad oceans and that is not in any eminent danger.

        The “what if” nightmare of terrorism turning over time into war has enabled political and corporate leaders to scare people into spending billions.

        But no one would be easily scared by a “what if” scenario of a couple of dog attacks leading to dogs everywhere attacking humans. That would be considered ridiculous!

        We need to find a way to show people why a fair judicial system is the best way to deal with ALL kinds of criminals. A suicide bomber who would blow apart strangers is at the same level of evil as a serial killer who murders stranger after stranger.

        Judicial procedure removes those who would use indiscriminate harm from the streets without causing additional destabilization and damage. That is the best way to break the cycle of violence.

    • “Losing 50 people in a terrorist blast in an airport has a greater impact than losing 50 people in an ordinary train wreck. The terrorist message is that 1) we can hurt you anywhere 2) we would hurt you this way every single day if we could and we’re working on that.”

      Are we not then just a nation of cowards?

    • I cannot think of any case where terrorism has won a war or caused a governmental system to collapse. Can you? Terrorism is used as a political tool by those lacking political and military power.

  8. No mention of the huge number killed in poor neighborhoods by the angry and disaffected — talk about innocent people living in fear!! Imagine what those wasted billion$ could do to improve lives and bring hope to those people, enabling them to join the mainstream. But it won’t go beyond our imaginations, as it’s not a money-maker for those who have no personal connection to the problem… or who may actually profit from liquor and tobacco (and drug) sales, and from privatized schools and prisons. So sad.

  9. Those 30 American ‘terrorist’ deaths suck up all the air in the room! Recently read a news article that mentioned more than 30,000 Americans died as a result of handguns,( self inflicted, accidental, homocide and mass violence)! Here’s that link from Oct 2015: link to oregonlive.com thank you for refocusing attention to REALITY! /best

  10. Fear is what fuels the weapons industry. If there was no fear we’d all be rich and war free. It’s about time we all smarten up!

  11. Absolutely loved the article!

    have gotten into serious disagreements with people on the subject, when I raise how many killed in U.S.A. per yr via gun violence. Thank you ever so ,much for all the figures.

    In British Columbia, Canada 81 people per year are killed by distracted driving; another similar amount by drunk driving. Yet our former P.M. thought it was a good idea to pass laws which violated our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to fight alleged “terrorism” in Canada. (we had yet to have 1 incident of real terrorism) Our new P.M. of course is putting an end to that silliness.

  12. Two observations Juan, to add to this nice post of yours:

    1. A helluva lot more people die by gun deaths via crime, accident, and suicide, than by terror attacks – at least in this country. Yet there has been active obstruction against ANY action in that area. Hell, the CDC isn’t even allowed to research guns as an actual public health hazard thanks to ignoramus Republicans and the carnificious (i.e., blood-thirsty), craven, and greedy NRA.

    2. From ancient Athens to the contemporary USA, democracies seem to be pretty shitty at risk assessment at times. Hungry kids who grow up to be dysfunctional adults are a far far worse threat to US security and economic viability than ISIS – period, end of report.

  13. The numbers even out a bit more if you count the number of people killed by extremists on US soil since 2001. The total is 93, 45 by Muslim extremists, 48 by Christian or right wing extremists:

    link to securitydata.newamerica.net

    Also, over 300 African Americans were killed by police in the US in 2015:

    link to mappingpoliceviolence.org

    …while there has already been over 250 total Americans killed by the police in 2016:

    link to theguardian.com

    Americans are more likely to be killed by their own police than by an extremist.

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