Top Six US Problems worse than Terrorism

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Every time a person of Middle Eastern heritage who ought to have been committed to an insane asylum but wasn’t (because rich people who don’t want to pay taxes successfully lobbied to get rid of insane asylums) commits violence, our press and politicians hit the panic button. This is so even though you are more likely to die falling in your bathtub than of terrorism.

So here are some problems that are demonstrably worse than terrorism:

1. Guns. Between 2001 and 2013, over 400,000 Americans died of gunshot wounds. In the same period, 3,380 died of terrorism. One problem seems orders of magnitude more important than the other, despite the numbers being skewed by the inclusion of the highly unusual mass-casualty event of 9/11. Averaged out, about 282 Americans have died in terrorism per year (it falls to more like 9 if you start in 2002). per year. We are told we have to spend trillions, mobilize police and the military, and give our all to end terrorism.

2. Cigarettes . These nasty nail coffins result in more than 480,000 deaths annually in the USA. But Big Tobacco CEOs are not being threatened with deportation.

3. Suicide: 42,773. Expanded mental health care and ore government-funded suicide crisis centers might help, but no one on Capitol Hill is in a frenzy about this one. Veterans are particularly at risk here. Again, Congress don’t care.

4. Automobile collisions (they aren’t “accidents) killed 38,000 people last year, a big rise. Lots of things could be done to decrease this number radically. For instance you could make automobile keys that drunk people don’t have enough coordination to use. But no one cares enough to do them.

5. War on terror. Nearly 7,000 Americans have died prosecuting the war on terror. My guess is that well over half a million human beings have died in it. There is no evidence that the war in Iraq, e.g. had any effect in reducing terrorism, and there is every reason to think that the invasion vastly expanded the scope of ME war and terrorism.

6. Heat waves kill as many as 1400 Americans each year. Climate change will cause that statistic to rise 20 times over, to 27,000 a year, in the coming decades. That is, over a 50-year period, some 1,350,000 people will die that otherwise would not have. Yet no one is speaking of deporting the CEOs of big hydrocarbon companies.


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15 Responses

  1. Juan, you’re completely correct to point out all the risk we accept without question yet while obsessing about terrorism. However, rather than demanding equal accountability on all the other risks you mention I’d like to suggest that we all do accept a certain amount of risk as part of life. In my own life, I happily smoke a tobacco pipe. I am aware of the risk, and accept it. The general consensus among experts charged with assessing costs for medical plans is that smokers add about 10% to overall medical costs. (I know, you’re shaking your head, but you can look it up:) I am willing to pay that surcharge, and then I am quite happy for the tobacco companies to provide me with a product that I do like. I don’t consider them the domestic equivalent of ISIS.
    I’m going to say something that my sound nihilistic to you but doesn’t at all feel that way to me: if no one smoked, those 480,000 deaths would still happen, only later. And who is to say how long we should live? No one else may deliver my soul.
    Thanks for all the good work, just food for thought, as my mom used to say. (who is still smoking at 94!)

    • I bel;eive the worst drug of all is tobaccco. Other top notch drugs are more addicitve than destroyers of the body. Tobacco does that , immune system and all. We all die in the end, but why be miserable while we are here, and smokers do suffer more than non-smokers. I am only and engineer, but I am smart enough to know this about tobacco!

      • Max, I am not miserable. For me and other people tobacco has positive effects: on concentration, mood, and endurance. You’ve a right to your opinion. It is a drug, and all drugs have side effects. Some are strong. But if what I do does not harm you, then until all drugs are outlawed, including caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, then I would ask that society not single my drug out with restrictive laws and taxes.

  2. You are right as usual professor, but you miss out the most important point about death by terrorism. The deaths you mention don’t give the state the excuse to have mass surveillance and a reason for a staggering military budget. Terrorists and paedophiles are the very life blood for mass surveillance and heaven sent for the state. If they didn’t exist they would have to be invented. All the deaths you cite combined don’t give succour to the state machine of control like a few deaths from a terrorist’s attack. The media of course, go along with it. The annual published figures for road deaths will get an hours scrutiny from the media, but a terrorists bomb will get wall to wall coverage for days and that’s even when no one is killed.

  3. 1.5 I need to insert this Juan. Childhood hunger in this country is an incalculable catastrophe resulting in, for all intents and purposes, lost or ruined lives. I’ve written this here before but it bears repeating: Children who are hungry and malnourished generally do not develop into normal healthy adults. Many suffer from damaged immune systems, behavioral and mental problems, and lower intelligence. Imagine how lousy you feel if you are a few hours late for your lunch. Well, multiply that by a half-day, or day or two, then imagine that is being imposed on a developing human being. This is how our children, and many children of the world, suffer. Damaged immune systems in turn mean adult illnesses down the road, meaning stress on an already over-burdened health care system as well as lost productivity and wages from work. Behavioral problems can often be aggressive, resulting in violence and ultimately prison.

    In sum: lost productivity over a lifetime, health problems, prison, means expensive outlays by our health care providers, our schools (where many of the behavioral problems play themselves out), our criminal justice system, and at the same time a loss in revenue as we bandage these problems rather than addressing their root causes. We end up paying out in taxes vast amounts when if we invested a little in, say, free access to food for the hungry kids in our country; this, in turn, would result in healthier kids and adults who are productive and contribute to revenue rather than requiring further expenditure. And when you have fifteen to twenty percent of our children hungry at any one time, that multiplies into a huge drag on our society.

    As for number 4: an interesting fact that is little known is that this issue alone takes up 3% of our GDP in terms of the results and aftermath – yes, 3%. After a while it looks as though we are spending almost all of our wealth on really bad decisions and on being really crappy as a democracy at collective risk assessment.

    • I agree strongly with hunger but also infrastructure. If we take better care of people’s basic needs, the insecurity factors that feed Trumpism will ebb.

  4. My good sir,

    I thank you for the sage words from those who know what’s better for me. Yet, I retort: your first three items are essentially people’s choices. My body, my choice I think the saying goes. I am for reasonable gun laws as well as gun safety, but I also understand the concern that outsiders to our rural communities will not stop there. Columns like this don’t make it easier for me to argue otherwise, in fact.

    For us country folk the three entail yet another effort by denizens in urban and suburban areas to dictate their values to those of us who live in the rural, flyover lands with our poore li’l olden public schoolin’. I’m from Amish country.

    Well, no thank you my good friend. I appreciate your sentiment. You mean well. And I value greatly your opinion on the Middle East where I currently live and work, but I personally plan to choose number three when I get to the point where I am ready to fly a magic carpet away and I’ll be using number one to accomplish it. I’ll likely be living back in flyover country by then huntin and fishin and goin to the range to fire off some rounds on occasion. I love it with tracer rounds!. You might enjoy it if you should ever try it! But I respect your faith may not accord with that. Please respect mine in return.

    In conclusion, I do thank you to keep your nose out of my business, and your laws off my body. But do please continue your good work informing the public about the Middle East region.
    As they say in these here parts: والله على كل شيء قدير
    So we shall see. I’m voting for Hillary btw.

    All the best!

    • Cigarette smoking is not a choice. The tobacco companies spray extra nicotine on the leaves to make sure they addict people. Essentially they doom them to an early grave. My relatives in the hills of northwest Virginia all smoked and most of them died young. We know how to shoot, by the way. Squirrel hunting is not the same as putting millions of Glocks into urban areas. It is silly to suggest it is.

  5. Since you are focusing on mortality, medical errors kill an estimated 250,000 per year, making it the third leading cause of death. link to Additionally, for every 1 million people uninsured, approximately 950 will die needlessly each year. Even with Obamacare, that means over 20,000 unnecessary deaths annually. Add to that the spiraling cost of drugs, and our health system is a leading cause of death in this country.

  6. I was part of the movement that eliminated “insane asylums.” Patients were institutionalized, often involuntarily and for no good reason, but they didn’t receive treatment. I know of one mental hospital in the early 70s that said it practiced “milieu” therapy; in other words, being locked up in a mental hospital was itself therapy.
    The plan was that the institutions would be replaced by community mental health centers. That’s what rich people didn’t want to support with their taxes.

  7. How could you leave out the “DRUG WAR”. It is more destructive to our nation than the four of five you list. Where is your thinking?

  8. Most here are local cultural peculiarities, particularly true of suicide which doesn’t harm anyone or cost the State anything, but terrorist attacks are assumed to have distant roots and be more concerning, a bit like a lot of broken legs or a few cases of Zika.

  9. I’ll forget tobacco and talk about fear, which was the main point. Almost all of us get in a car every day, despite the fact that there is a statistical risk if injury or death. We might hate the traffic, but we do it. We aren’t paralyzed with fear. I thought the point was to face in a similar way the existence of ISIS without fear. And I suppose that if were suddenly to develop a phobia about being in a car I would seek a therapist to help me get back on the road, since I need to get around and that’s how we do it in America. If we continue the analogy the question is how to address the irrational fear of a group. Can you do cognitive behavioral therapy with a nation? What role can national leaders play? In terms of national mood I see Clinton, (questions of policy aside), as trying to guide us to see the thing itself, ISIS, without fear. I see Trump saying be afraid unless I’m driving the car. This will work to the extent that people buy his strong man act.

    • Interesting comment about fear. Also, the first responsibility of government is national security or keeping people safe in respect to enemies. This is where the small % problem comes in. They cave to fear irrationally if just a handful of deaths occur. Americans expect 100%.

      • Fear is an advanced response to a sense of insecurity and a basic ‘animal’ survival instinct that, while it can arise both in isolated individuals and groups, requires the application of individual reason to be allayed. There is therefore such a thing as group fear but not, alas, group reason, and this imbalance is known to be politically exploitable.

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