Getting a grip on terrorism

For nearly six years now we’ve been hearing from politicians and pundits about how Sept. 11, 2001, “changed everything.” One especially unwelcome change wrought by that day has been that, ever since, large numbers of otherwise sane and sensible people continue to utter the most ridiculous things regarding the subject of terrorism.

Consider a column last week by The Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Ignatius wonders how the nation would react to a future terrorist attack. “Would the country come together to combat its adversaries,” he asks, “or would it pull farther apart?”

Ignatius notes that liberals would blame the Bush administration for needlessly inflaming Muslim anti-Americanism by bungling the invasion of Iraq, while conservatives would blame liberals for weakening the nation’s anti-terrorism defenses, by insisting that, for example, laws requiring warrants for wiretaps and forbidding torture be obeyed.

Ignatius calls this sort of political disagreement “scary,” given that “the British car bomb plots uncovered last week remind us of our vulnerability to terrorist attack, wherever we live.”

“In a politically healthy nation,” Ignatius intones, “the news from Britain would have a galvanizing effect. Politicians and the public would pull together and take appropriate steps to prepare for future terrorist attacks on America.”

And just what would these steps include? Ignatius doesn’t say! He’s strongly in favor of “national unity” — but in order to do what? (All this reminds me of “The Simpsons” episode in which Willie Nelson invites the family to make a presentation at the New Awareness Awards. “When we heard the goal was to promote awareness,” Marge says, “we couldn’t say no!”)

When the subject is terrorism, people like Ignatius seem to have trouble grasping that political disagreement is real. Let me put it as plainly as possible: the reason Americans disagree about how to respond to the threat of terrorism is because they have radically different views on the matter.

For instance, my view is that Ignatius and his ilk have helped create a fear of terrorism out of all proportion to the actual threat terrorism poses; that by doing so they helped drag America into a disastrous war with Iraq; and that they’re now helping to create the conditions that may enable an even more disastrous war with Iran.

Nothing better illustrates this than Ignatius’ claim that the British car bombing plots “remind us of our vulnerability to terrorist attack.” What they remind anyone not already in thrall to the cultural hysteria Ignatius promotes is that all the “terrorists” discovered in America over the past few years were, like the British would-be bombers, thoroughly pathetic figures, who collectively proved themselves incapable of blowing up a phone booth.

In the two hours or so I’m guessing it took Ignatius to crank out yet another 800 words of substance-free alarmism festooned with banal platitudes about the need for “unity,” about 350 Americans died. Since Sept. 11, 2001, approximately 14 million Americans have died.

Some of these people died agonizing deaths on emergency-room floors because they didn’t have health insurance. A quarter-million were killed in car crashes. Around 200,000 were shot to death. Several thousand died of acute alcohol poisoning.

In theory, most of these deaths were preventable. In practice, only some of them were preventable at anything like a reasonable cost. Here’s a question: What would be the optimal number of deaths per year in the United States caused by less-than-ideal medical care, or car crashes, or gunshot wounds, or alcohol poisoning?

I’m sure Ignatius understands why anyone who answers “zero” is saying something nonsensical. So why does he continue to write similar nonsense about terrorism?

(Paul F. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)


  1. anthny

    The only thing we have to fear is another neo-con planed attack.
    And from what Chernoff was saying yesterday that we should have another before the summer is out.
    He knows something, otherwise he would not be stirring the terrorism pot.
    The Neo-Con-Artists bold plan to rule the world is failing and people are hip to there B.S.
    When the twin towers and building 7 fell in a free fall type explosion like that of controled demolishion, people with some intellegence saw right through there plot. It was the plan right from the start and written in there little hand book, “The Project For A New American Century” explined how they needed another Pearl Harbor type incident to have people get behind a war.
    They are getting backed into a corner and when animals are cornered they fight, these people will not go away.
    The United States is being bankrupted by spending 12 billion a month on this crappy war. And the Neo’s have made there share of the money through no-bid contracts and what have you.
    I read yesterday that seniors are on the top of the list for bankruptcies. They just can’t make ends meet in this Neo world.

  2. Dionysis

    I totally agree with both Paul Campos’ article and anthny’s post. With the exception of the 25 percenters who continue to wallow in self-delusion, the rest of the country now understands that without fear-mongering, they have nothing but lies and incompetence to stand behind. And it appears that we are seeing a new round of scare tactics. Consider:

    “The West needs more terror attacks on the scale of 9/11 and 7/7 in order to save a failing foreign policy, according to Lt.-Col. Doug Delaney, chair of the war studies program at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.”

    “In an alarming display of fearmongering, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum has suggested that a series of ‘unfortunate events,’ namely terrorist attacks, will occur within the next year and change American citizen’s perception of the war.”

    “Santorum went on to clearly imply that terror attacks will occur inside America which will alter the body politic and lead to a reversal of the anti-war sentiment…”

    “Ex-Senator Santorum is doing one of two things, or both, in the following article. He is either fear-mongering and/or accidentally letting the cat out of the bag about new BLACK OPS terrorist attacks being planned right now to continue to enable, drive and justify the Neocon/Republican, home-grown Fourth Reich.”

    And now, the apparently incompetent Chertoff is stirring it up with his sage pronouncements based upon (1) the summer season and (2) his ‘gut’.

    Get your heads out of the sand, people. These proto-fascists will stop at nothing to hold on to power.

  3. Steve Horn

    9/11 did change everything – the terrorists wanted to destroy America – what they failed to understand was that our own government would lend a big hand in doing just that.

    Here we sit, strapped for cash, with an exhausted military, a terrible economy (unless you’re a rich guy in the market or happen to own a couple oil wells), faced with rising energy prices that are driving the cost of everything up, with little national self esteem, our personal freedoms stripped, our government about to topple under the weight of the lies they’ve told – who would have guessed that Bin ladens greatest helpers in his desire to destroy America would be named Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney ???

    The America that existed before 9/11 is gone, it’s dead – and I’m not very fond of the one that’s taken its place.




    The agencies will go after the easy arrests as usual so they will look good. Meanwhile a serious threat will be stopped by chance. The real threat as always is the Republican party – an agency of sedition, subversion and treason. Israel, Saudi Arabia, the GOP leadership, and perhaps Pakistan were behind 911. No agency dares to follow up those leads, especially since elements of the CIA and FBI were involved.

    John Hanks, Laramie, Wyoming

  5. mojibyrd

    Must sell they hype!!

    The whitehouse must sell the hype on ‘terrorism’ to put in more controls and eliminate more freedoms of the american public to feed the agenda as set By Bush/Cheney and those who are profiting from this fake much longer are the american people going to realize they are being fleeced and their elected leaders do not work for the people who elected them, but for their own self-interests and their puppet masters….wake up america and realize you are being used/abused/raped and plunged into a future of chaos.

    Impeach Bush Now and Give Dickhead Cheney the boot too.

  6. Wayne K Dolik

    Nice of Paul Campos to question the promoters of fear in America. He is right on in his analysis. The Neo Dems/Reps are total phonies.

    Here is a thought for those who spread the lies of the phony war on terror. Millions of citizens know it’s a fake call sponsored by “state efforts”. The jig is up.


    If we were on a “war” footing we would answer the many legitimate grievances of the Middle East by getting out. We would also stop the saturation coverage of every real and imagined terrorist event.

    John Hanks, Laramie, Wyoming